Store-bought pesto and homemade roasted garlic cream sauce join forces to transform an ordinary pasta dish into a weeknight wonder.
Growing up half Italian, our family gatherings often included pasta…specifically, rigatoni. My great aunt’s family recipe is the go-to dish at family celebrations. It’s one of my kids’ most requested meals.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this recipe (well, the veganized version I created so I could enjoy it alongside my family at special occasions). This recipe and the other pasta dishes my family typically serves feature a traditional red sauce. When I created this recipe, I wanted to use a pesto sauce instead. I was specifically inspired by the vegan kale pesto at Trader Joe’s. I wanted to “sauce” things up a bit so I added the Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce from the Vegan Dinner Club recipe library and found exactly what I was looking for. This Creamy Pesto Rigatoni was born and now it’s one of my new favorites to bring to family events!
Why I love this Creamy Pesto Rigatoni recipe
Instead of your traditional pasta and red sauce combo, this variety offers something a little different. By combining two sauces, the dish is richer and more complex. It seems super fancy, but it’s easy enough to whip up on a busy weeknight.
By using a store-bought pesto sauce, you speed up your prep and simplify the meal. Because it’s 100% plant-based, it’s perfect for serving a family with both vegans and non vegans.
I also love that the pesto and cream sauce don’t include any vegan cheese products. Those can be hit or miss with non vegans so I like that this recipe is guaranteed to please without having to encourage nay sayers before it hits their plate!
Ingredients for Creamy Pesto Rigatoni
Any pasta will do but the flat tubular shapes of rigatoni are the perfect width for soaking up the pesto and cream sauce. Penne rigate would be my second choice for this recipe.
Plant-based Pesto Sauce
I used a store-bought variety from Trader Joe’s. Swap with your grocery store favorite. If you’re feeling up to it, make your favorite homemade blend.
Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce
This rich and velvety sauce gets it creaminess from cashews and just a few other ingredients.
These get folded in at the end for a little tang.
Vegan Parmesan Cheese
This is optional for grating on top of your pasta when serving. My go-to brand is Violife.
Fresh Basil Leaves
Ribbons of basil are sprinkled on top of the pasta for a beautiful garnish and boost of flavor.
How to Make Creamy Pesto Rigatoni
- Make the pasta:
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in your pasta and cook according to the package directions until al dente.
- Make the Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce:
Roast the garlic and then combine with the other ingredients in a blender. Pulse until smooth.
- Combine the pasta and sauces:
Drain your pasta and stir in the sauces and tomatoes.
Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves.
In the case of a nut allergy, pepitas or sunflower seeds can be used instead of cashews.
To avoid gluten, use a chickpea pea or lentil pasta, such as Banza, or any gluten-free pasta variety.
Meal Prep & Storage Tips
Make and store the cream sauce:
- Prepare the Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce ahead of time and store until ready to serve the pasta.
Use airtight containers for storage:
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. When reheating, stir in a quarter to half a cup of vegetable broth to prevent the pasta from drying out.
What to Serve with Creamy Pesto Rigatoni
Enhance this family style meal with one or more of these side dishes:
- Garlic Bread
- This is a classic choice (and personal favorite!) Make it with a spread of vegan butter, minced garlic, and fresh herbs. You can also slice a loaf in half lengthwise, brush with garlic oil, fresh garlic, salt and pepper, and place on the grill. Allow to cool and slice.
- Roasted Vegetables:
- Simply combine, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and garlic cloves with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until tender.
- Green Salad:
- A fresh green salad with a light vinaigrette is simple and easy. Use a mix of greens like arugula, spinach, or romaine and add cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and any other favorite veggies.
- Garlic Sauteed Spinach:
- Sauté spinach with minced garlic in olive oil until wilted. Season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Caesar Salad:
- Combine romaine lettuce, croutons, and a creamy Caesar dressing made with tahini or cashews.
- Grilled Portobello Mushrooms:
- Marinate and grill portobello mushrooms for a meaty and savory side dish. You can marinate them in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and herbs for added flavor.
- Caprese Salad:
- Layer sliced tomatoes with fresh basil leaves and slices of vegan mozzarella cheese, drizzled with balsamic glaze or a basil-infused olive oil.
Absolutely! This recipe is 100% dairy free.
My go-to is Trader Joe’s but many stores offer vegan pesto sauce varieties.
Of course! I recommend that you make the pesto in advance if doing so to make this meal turnkey during the week.
You can prepare the pasta and sauces ahead of time. Simply combine everything in a pot and reheat when ready to serve. Add a quarter to a half a cup of vegetable broth, if necessary, to prevent the pasta from drying out.
Tubular shapes such as penne work best. Farfalle, cascatelli, or fusili would also work well.