Pesto cavatappi is a fast and easy dinner recipe that’s full of big flavor! The pesto cream sauce comes together in minutes.

Pesto cavatappi

Corkscrew-shaped cavatappi is perfect for pasta’s partner: basil pesto! This pesto cavatappi recipe is a tasty way to enjoy them both that everyone around the table will love. You’ll make a quick and easy pesto cream sauce, then drench the curly noodles and add a few handfuls of shredded Parmesan cheese. It’s simple, but it’s got mighty big flavor! If you prefer not cooking with heavy cream, we’ve got another variation that works with just pesto. Do you eat plant-based? Well, we’ve got a vegan version too. There’s something for everyone! Here’s what to do:

How to make pesto cavatappi: main method

The main method for this pesto cavatappi stars our Easy Pesto Cream Sauce. It’s just 2 ingredients (plus salt)! As long as you have your pesto ready to go, it’s a breeze to make. Here’s what to know about how to make pesto cavatappi:

  • Make your pesto in advance. See below for a few favorite pesto recipes!
  • While the pasta cooks, simmer pesto with heavy cream. All you need is 3 to 4 minutes! The pesto thickens into a beautiful bright green sauce.
  • Combine the two in a bowl! Once the pasta is done, drain it and combine the two in a bowl. We like doing this instead of the pasta pot, which can make the pasta gummy.
  • Add salt until the flavor pops. Here’s the kicker: add a few pinches of salt until the flavor is well seasoned, but not salty. You’ll need a different amount every time, depending on the brand of pesto you’re using (or homemade!), and how much salt you added to the pasta water.

That’s it! You’ll be amazed at the big flavor from just a few simple ingredients. Don’t want to cook with heavy cream? Don’t worry…we’ve got you covered!

Pesto cavatappi

Pesto cavatappi without the cream!

Don’t want to cook with heavy cream? To be honest, we don’t often have heavy cream in our refrigerator. So we have a method that works without the cream! Here’s what to do (or go to Pesto Spaghetti):

  • Reserve some pasta water right before draining the pasta. Pasta water is the key to helping the pasta to coat the noodles with a slick sauce! Otherwise, the pesto gets gummy and dry and sticks to the noodles.
  • Combine the same amount of pesto with the pasta and ½ cup pasta water. Toss until it’s fully combined into a sauce that coats all the noodles.
  • Add salt until the flavor pops. Same thing again! You’ll need a little extra salt to make the flavors sing.
Basil pesto

Vegan variation: use vegan pesto

Don’t worry, you can also make this pesto cavatappi vegan! If you eat a plant-based diet, you’ll know that pesto contains Parmesan. How to make it without that super savory ingredient? Well, we’ve got a secret for you. You can use…miso paste! Yes, this traditional Japanese ingredient is a great substitute for cheese. Go to our Vegan Pesto recipe.

Homemade pesto recipes

This pesto cavatappi is best when made with homemade pesto! There are lots of great storebought pesto brands out there, but nothing compares to the beautiful fresh flavor of homemade with fresh basil. If you don’t have fresh basil on hand, use the best storebought pesto you can find. The quality really varies between brands, so it may take some experimentation to find one you love.

If you do have fresh basil, traditional pesto is made with pine nuts. But don’t let the cost of these nuts stand in your way. You can easily make pesto with cashews or walnuts, and it has a similar flavor! We typically make the version with cashews. Here are our top pesto recipes:

Pesto cavatappi

What to serve with pesto cavatappi

This pesto cavatappi is a little rich, so it begs a fresh and light counterpart! It’s especially nice for a meal if you have a few other filing sides so you can cut down on the portion of pasta you eat. Here are a few ideas for side dishes to make it into a healthy dinner:

This pesto cavatappi recipe is…

Vegetarian. For vegan, see the notes above. For gluten-free, use gluten-free or legume pasta.

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Pesto cavatappi

Easy Pesto Cavatappi

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 3 to 4 small servings 1x


Pesto cavatappi is a fast and easy dinner recipe that’s full of big flavor! The pesto cream sauce comes together in minutes.


  • 8 ounces cavatappi pasta*
  • ½ cup basil pesto
  • ¾ cup heavy cream**
  • Kosher salt
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving


  1. Make the pasta: Start a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta until it is just al dente. Start tasting a few minutes before the package recommends: you want it to be tender but still a little firm on the inside; usually around 7 to 8 minutes. Drain and place the pasta in a bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, make the pesto cream sauce: Place the pesto, heavy cream, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until it just starts to thicken, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. Serve: When the pasta is done, add it with the sauce. Taste and add a few pinches more salt until the flavor pops. (Refrigerate any leftovers; they can become gummy when reheated, so eat at room temperature.)


*This makes modest portions; if you’ve got hungry eaters, you may want to double the recipe.

*If you prefer not using cream, use the instructions in Pesto Spaghetti. For a vegan option, use Vegan Pesto and follow the the instructions in Pesto Spaghetti.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Keywords: Pesto cavatappi

More pesto pasta recipes

Want more recipes with pesto and pasta? Try these variations:

  • Pesto Mac and Cheese A swirl of basil pesto brings so much flavor to this classic comfort food! Also features Havarti cheese for ultra creaminess.
  • Shrimp Pesto Pasta An impressively fast and easy dinner recipe! Cover the noodles in glistening green basil pesto for a meal that pleases everyone.
  • Vegan Pesto Pasta This killer vegan pesto pasta gets big flavor from emerald green basil pesto, ripe cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Pesto Pasta The best recipes are the simplest. Pesto pasta with homemade basil pesto, al dente noodles and a sprinkle of Parmesan? Perfection.
  • Spaghetti Squash with Pesto This easy spaghetti squash recipe dresses up the squash “noodles” with pesto and Parmesan!

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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