Chickpea Pesto Pasta

Chickpea Pesto Pasta in 3 bowls

This Chickpea Pesto Pasta recipe happened on a whim. It was a work (from home) day, I didn’t have much time, I had very few ingredients in the pantry, and I was hungry enough to make some questionable eating decisions. Luckily, my ravenous brain went straight to pasta— short pasta, like penne or rotini, that I could easily stab with a fork and shovel into my mouth. I wanted fast, effortless prey. 

My next thought landed on chickpeas, something I always have in the pantry that usually comes with an easy-open flip top. I still marvel at the convenience of this quick, inexpensive, and healthy protein. I kept half of the chickpeas whole, then smashed the other half with the back of a spoon to create a kind of creamy, chickpea pasta sauce. A jar of pesto, a couple splashes of olive oil, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and a dollop of butter were the only other provisions I needed to make a satisfying, hearty, vegetarian (and vegan-friendly!) recipe.

Pasta with chickpeas makes a comforting pandemic work-week lunch, and it would also be delicious for a fast weeknight dinner or as a summery pasta salad to bring to a cookout— in the hopes that normal life resumes soon. No matter what you make it for, this recipe yields wonderful leftovers that you’ll be ecstatic to find in the fridge all week, during future moments of hunger-induced panic. 

Quick note: This pesto pasta uses jarred pesto for a bit of flair, not for the full flavor. I didn’t want the pasta to be drowning in green stuff, I wanted it to have a nice balance of creamy chickpeas, punchy pesto, sweet cherry tomatoes stewed in plenty of garlic, and salty Parmesan cheese. Only a few tablespoons of pesto are needed to lend an herbaceous punch to the recipe. 

How to make pesto pasta salad

To turn this into a pesto pasta salad for your next backyard barbecue or just a hot summer night at home, you’ll need to make a few adjustments to the recipe:

  • Cook the pasta completely according to package directions. Drain and return it to the pot
  • Make the tomato-garlic chickpea sauce as directed, but do not smash the chickpeas. Leave them whole. 
  • Continue on with the recipe, but stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil at the end instead of butter. Olive oil holds up better in a cold or room temperature pasta.
  • If you leave out the Parmesan cheese, this can be a vegan pesto pasta salad. 
  • I always prefer pasta salad to be room temperature, not ice cold, so leave it out of the fridge for an hour or two before enjoying
  • Add extra red wine vinegar to taste, pasta salad should be a little tangier than regular pasta

What protein goes with pesto pasta?

Chickpeas are essential to this recipe because mashing half of them contributes to the creamy sauce, but if you want to double-up on protein I’d suggest chopped or shredded chicken breast, grilled shrimp, or any mild-flavored protein that won’t overwhelm the bold flavor of the pesto.

How to make this Chickpea Pesto Pasta recipe vegan

  • Most store-bought pestos are not vegan, so look for one that is, or whip up your own. Here is a recipe you can try. 
  • Swap out the Parmesan cheese for 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast 
  • Use 2 tablespoons of olive oil instead of butter

More healthy pasta recipes:

Let’s make Chickpea Pesto Pasta

After cooking your desired pasta shape (Note: I shot these photos over the course of a couple days and used two different pasta shapes— the rotini worked better than the short, wide pasta in the final photo. Penne would also be great), you’ll make the chickpea sauce.

It starts with lots of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes, then a cup or so of sweet, juicy tomatoes.

Tomatoes and garlic in skillet

Add the chickpeas and cook them for a few minutes, then mash half of them with the back of a spoon or a potato masher. This makes a creamy sauce-like texture.

Tomatoes, garlic, and chickpeas in skillet

Stir in red wine vinegar and pesto to taste. It’s important to actually taste it here, and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Tomatoes, garlic, chickpeas, and pesto in skillet

Add the chickpea sauce into the pasta with 1 cup of of the pasta cooking liquid and stir vigorously for at least 1 minute. This creates a creamy, emulsified sauce that coats every noodle.

Chickpea pesto pasta in large pot with wooden spoon

And now for the best part: Parmesan cheese lends a salty richness that helps the entire sauce come together. Use half the amount of nutritional yeast instead to make this recipe vegan.

Chickpea Pesto Pasta

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Dinner; Lunch American; Italian
By Samantha Serves: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 25 minutes

A quick, hearty lunch or easy weeknight dinner, this creamy, punchy, healthy pesto pasta makes a great vegetarian meal or pasta salad to bring to a summer cookout.

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1 lb rotini, penne, farfalle or other short pasta
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 heaping cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 15.5 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • ⅓ cup jarred pesto
  • ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Instructions

1

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Drop the pasta into the water and cook for 1 minute less than package directions. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain. Return the pasta to the pot.

2

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for about 1 minute or until the garlic is fragrant, then add the tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to soften. Season with salt and pepper.

3

Increase the heat to medium, add the chickpeas and season with salt and pepper. Cook until they start to soften, about 3 minutes, then mash half of them with the back of a spoon or a potato masher. Give everything another stir, then stir in the red wine vinegar and the pesto. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

4

Add the chickpea pesto mixture to the pot with with pasta, along with 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid. Gradually add the Parmesan cheese, stirring constantly and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed (you may not use the full 1 1/2 cups), until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce is creamy and emulsified, about 2 minutes. Stir in the butter until it melts. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired.

5

Serve in bowls, topped with extra Parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper.

Notes

To turn this into a pesto pasta salad for your next backyard barbecue or just a hot summer night at home, you’ll need to make a few adjustments to the recipe. I explain the adjustments within the introductory text in the blog post. -- To make this recipe vegan, look for a store-bought pesto that is vegan, or whip up your own. Then, swap out the Parmesan cheese for 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, and use 2 tablespoons of olive oil instead of butter.

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