This recipe for vegan pesto pasta takes a classic recipe and elevates it in terms of flavor and nutrition. With veggies like broccoli, chickpeas and caramelized onions, this blend of flavors is the perfect way to enjoy a mouth-watering pasta meal!
While it takes some time to prepare all the components for this recipe, it’s incredibly delicious and always worth it. The caramelized onions take the most time, so try to multi-task while cooking them or prepare your onions in advance.
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Is Pesto Pasta Vegan?
Traditional pesto is made with parmesan cheese and is not vegan. Therefore, pesto pasta is almost never a vegan choice.
However, it’s quite simple to prepare a deliciously rich and flavor-packed vegan pesto at home. Once you’ve prepared the pesto, toss it with cooked pasta and you’ve created a basic pesto pasta!
I love adding additional ingredients to my pesto pasta for a more balanced and delicious meal. This recipe adds broccoli, chickpeas and caramelized onions for some tasty nutrition.
Vegan Pesto Pasta Ingredients
To get started, you’ll need to prepare a batch of vegan pesto. You can of course use a store-bought option if you have access to it!
You’ll also need some caramelized onions, which take some time to make so it’s best to have them ready beforehand.
- Vegan pesto: The most important ingredient for pesto pasta is the sauce! To keep this recipe vegan, either buy a vegan pesto or make your own. I love my recipe for spinach, walnut and basil pesto!
- Caramelized onions: For an incredible boost of flavor, I love using caramelized onions in this recipe. While they are technically optional, the sweetness and rich flavor they offer truly takes the pesto pasta to the next level! This is the most time-consuming part of the recipe, but they can be prepared while working on other components like the pesto sauce.
- Pasta: Select your favorite pasta for this recipe and simply follow package cooking directions. All you really need for a tasty pesto pasta is the pesto… and pasta!
- Broccoli: Another optional ingredient, I love to add some extra veggies to my pasta meals. Broccoli is a simple choice, but you can use whatever you enjoy or have on hand.
- Chickpeas: Pasta meals can sometimes be lower in protein. My favorite easy, quick and cheap way to boost protein content is using some legumes. I use a can of chickpeas for this recipe but also regularly use white beans in pesto recipes.
- Vegan Parmesan: Also technically optional, there’s nothing better than topping your pasta with some vegan Parmesan cheese! I always keep my homemade Parmesan on hand so it’s ready to sprinkle on any meal.
How to Make Pesto Pasta with Veggies
This recipe takes some time to make but is quite simple. I’ve rated it “intermediate” in difficulty simply because there’s quite a few components to prepare, and to make it all within a reasonable time frame you’ll likely need to multi-task.
The steps below assume you have nothing prepared in advance except for the vegan Parmesan. If you don’t have this on hand and want to use it, start by prepping a batch (it’s super quick and easy).
Step 1: Prep Caramelized Onions
The caramelized onions take longest to cook so this is where you’ll want to start.
You’ll need to slice two large onions and cook them in vegetable oil over medium heat, tossing every couple of minutes. Once they’re evenly browned, you’re ready to eat! Add some salt to your liking as well.
I have full, detailed directions on my caramelized onion recipe so be sure to read those if you’ve never caramelized onions before.
Step 2: Prep Pesto Sauce
While the caramelized onions cook down you can prep the pesto sauce. As with the caramelized onions, I have a separate recipe detailing how to make vegan pesto sauce.
Just toss the ingredients, except the olive oil, into a food processor and blend until combined. Turn the processor to low speed while slowly pouring in the oil until you have a smooth sauce.
Keep an eye on your onions while prepping other recipe components. If multi-tasking in the kitchen isn’t your thing, complete one step at a time (but note that it'll take closer to an hour and a half to get everything done).
Step 3: Prep Broccoli and Chickpeas
If you’re multi-tasking, the onions will likely still need more time to cook. While they finish you can prep the broccoli and chickpeas.
For the broccoli, cut it into small florets and cook until just tender with a bit of a crunch (or however you like to eat broccoli). Use any cooking method you like; I use a steam basket that fits into a pot with some water at the bottom. Simply bring the pot to a boil, keeping the lid on, and let the broccoli steam until cooked.
If you don’t have a steam basket, cook the broccoli in an inch or two of water directly in the pot. Bring the pot to a boil and cook until the broccoli is tender (about 5 minutes).
I used canned chickpeas for this recipe. If you do the same, all you need to do is open the can, drain the liquid and rinse the chickpeas in fresh water.
Step 4: Cook Pasta
Depending on how dark you want to cook the caramelized onions, they may or may not be done at this point.
Either way, you’ll need to cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain excess water from the pasta pot once you’re finished cooking so that you can mix other ingredients in with this cooked pasta!
Step 5: Assemble Meal and Serve
Toss until everything is evenly coated with pesto, then serve hot topped with vegan Parmesan cheese!
How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
As this is a pasta recipe there’s plenty of tasty carbohydrates. You can use any pasta you like for this recipe; whatever you enjoy!
I also toss in some chickpeas as this is a quick and easy way to boost the amount of plant-based protein in this meal. Protein helps fill you up and keep you full (on top of being an essential nutrient).
For healthy fats, there’s olive oil in the pesto. If using caramelized onions, you’ll also have some oil coming there as well. Fats are essential to make food taste delicious, help with nutrient absorption and, along with protein, keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer.
When it comes to vegetables, a widely accepted recommendation is to fill half your plate with veggies. It doesn’t necessarily happen with this meal, but you certainly get some greens from the spinach and basil in the pesto, along with the steamed broccoli! If you like, you can also serve your pasta with a side salad.
Pesto Pasta Variations
There are endless ways to prepare and serve this recipe. While I create spinach and walnut pesto, you can make any type of pesto you like!
You can also add any extra veggies or legumes to this recipe. I include broccoli but any vegetables you like can also taste delicious with pesto. Why not try zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, bell peppers or even artichoke!
I’ve also selected chickpeas as a legume but have made this many times with white beans and it’s equally delicious.
How to Refrigerate Leftover Pesto Pasta
Refrigerate leftover pasta in an airtight container for up to 5 days. You can reheat extras in the microwave, or by placing the pasta into a pot and heating it on the stove over low heat.
If you make this recipe, please rate and comment below to help others benefit from your experience!
Vegan Pesto Pasta (with Broccoli, Chickpeas and Caramelized Onions)
Step 1: Prep Caramelized Onions
- Caramelized onions take the longest to prepare. It’s best to start here first. I have a full recipe with detailed directions on how to make vegan caramelized onions so follow that.¾ cup caramelized onions
Step 2: Prep Pesto Sauce
- If you’d like to multi-task, prep some pesto sauce while the onions caramelize; just keep an eye on the onions while you work on other aspects of the recipe.
- I have a full post detailing how to make vegan pesto sauce so read that if you’re making pesto. You can also use a store-bought option if that’s available to you.1 cup vegan pesto sauce
Step 3: Prep Broccoli + Chickpeas
- After prepping the pesto, your onions may or may not be cooked. If they’re still caramelizing, keep an eye on them while you prep the broccoli and chickpeas.
- Cut the broccoli into small florets and cook until tender with a slight crunch (or however you like your broccoli).2 cups broccoli
- I steam broccoli using a steam basket that fits into a pot, with some water at the bottom. I place the lid on the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat for about 5 minutes.
- You can also cook the broccoli directly in 1-2 inches of water, with the lid on the pot, for about 5 minutes (or until cooked to your liking).
- For the chickpeas, simply open your can, drain the liquid and rinse.2 cups chickpeas
Step 4: Cook Pasta
- Cook your pasta according to package directions.3 cups pasta
Step 5: Assemble Meal + Serve
- I like to add my cooked, strained pasta back to the pot then add pesto sauce, caramelized onions, steamed broccoli and chickpeas.
- Toss until everything is well coated with pesto.
- Serve hot topped with vegan Parmesan cheese.vegan Parmesan cheese
More Vegan Main Meal Recipes
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a vegan Registered Dietitian (RD) and founder of Lettuce Veg Out.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes and easy-to-understand nutrition science.