Pea Pesto Pasta
on Apr 18, 2022, Updated Jul 08, 2023
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The sauce for this simple pea pesto pasta is made with incredibly convenient frozen peas, arugula, lemon, garlic, scallions, Parmesan and olive oil. Stir it into fusilli or penne, shapes that will really hold on to the pesto.
After making it through the cold of winter and months of root vegetables, you would think the only thing that I would be excited about would be the start of farmer’s market season and everything fresh that the warm half of the year has to offer. While that is true, there is one spring veggie that I am more likely to start with frozen rather than fresh. Can you guess what it is?
Peas, of course!
So you might be thinking then why not eat them all the time if you buy them from the freezer case? I do cook with peas year round for stir-fries, but when it comes to this pea pesto pasta, I just don’t enjoy it as much as when I do in season from March through June.
The pesto is a combination of thawed peas, garlic, scallions, arugula, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper that I puree in a food processor and toss with cooked noodles. Easy peasy. (Sorry. I just couldn’t resist.)
Are Frozen Peas Really Better Than Fresh Peas?
On bags of frozen peas you often see the words “flash frozen.” This just means that these green peas are picked and frozen at their peak level of ripeness. They’re not only a win on flavor, but they’re also a budget friendly vegetable.
Nestled snugly in their pods, English peas are incredibly charming when you see them at farmers markets, but they have a fraction of the shelf life. Also, you have to pod them, so they require more work. At least once during the season, I do buy them fresh and make a delicate salad with things that complement peas like, leafy greens, fresh mint, shaved pecorino and lemon.
A Nut-Free Pesto
If pesto could have a number 1 fan, I would be it, or at least I would tie with my mom. With that said, I do like to bend the rules on what’s officially pesto. You will see in this recipe that I don’t include nuts. I find that it doesn’t need them for taste or texture. Since the pesto is mostly peas with arugula instead of basil leaves, it is already thicker, so I don’t want to further thicken it with pine nuts or walnuts.
Also, I know there are a lot of people who have nut allergies. If you or someone you are cooking for happens to fall into this group, don’t skip pesto because you think you are obligated to use nuts. You’re not. Have confidence to stray from the traditional recipe and look at it as a starting point.
Ingredients & Substitutions
This is what you need:
- Peas from the frozen section at the grocery store are best for this pesto recipe. Take advantage of this convenient, easy-to-find vegetable.
- Arugula: With its peppery leaves, arugula takes the place of basil or other fresh herbs. If you want, you can swap it with baby spinach.
- Garlic: Keeping with the classic, I include a couple garlic cloves.
- Scallions give the sauce light oniony flavor.
- Parmesan cheese goes into the food processor with the rest of the ingredients, and then I also stir more into the pasta for a final garnish. You can swap it out and use Pecorino cheese instead.
- Olive oil: My recommendation is to use extra-virgin olive oil for the best taste.
- Lemon juice adds lovely bright citrus.
- Red pepper flakes give it a touch of heat.
- Salt & pepper season the pesto and help bring out the flavors or the peas and arugula.
- Pasta: You can use any noodle, but my preferences are penne with its ridges and fusilli or rotini with their corkscrews because they almost grab on to the pesto.
How To Make Pea Pesto Pasta
- Make the pesto. Place the peas, arugula, garlic, scallions, lemon juice, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Chop the ingredients. Then with the motor running, drizzle the olive oil through the feeder tube, pureeing until fully combined.
- Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve a half-cup of the pasta cooking water.
- Place the pasta in a large bowl and stir in the pesto. Drizzle in a little pasta water as needed to thin it out.
- Stir in the remaining arugula and Parmesan.
- Spoon the pasta into bowls or on plates to serve.
This pea pesto pasta is wonderful for a spring – summer lunch or dinner. Serve it with a simple arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette. You can also pair it with a side like roasted asparagus or red cabbage.
If you want to add a protein, you can serve it with roasted chicken or stir grilled shrimp right into the pasta.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge up to 3 days. You can warm them in a skillet on a stove with a little olive oil or zap them in the microwave. Or eat leftovers cold like a pasta salad.
Other Ways To Eat Pea Pesto
You don’t just have to think of pesto as a sauce for pasta. Spread it on crostini or as the base for avocado toast instead of mashed avocado and top it with roasted tomatoes. You can also stir it into sturdy cooked grains like barley or farro.
More Spring Recipes
Udon Noodle Stir-Fry with Asparagus, Mushrooms and Peas
Roasted Asparagus Soup
Chickpea Spinach Pasta
Carrot Salad with Lemon Tahini Vinaigrette
Strawberry Cucumber Pasta Salad
Pistachio Goat Cheese Strawberry Salad
Sesame Tofu Asparagus
Pea Pesto Pasta
- 1-1/2 cups frozen peas thawed
- 1-1/2 cups baby arugula
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 scallions thinly sliced
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 8 ounces fusilli rotini or penne
- Put the peas, 1 cup arugula, garlic, scallions, lemon juice, 1/4 cup Parmesan, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Finely chop everything. Then with the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil through the feeder tube to puree the pesto until it is fully combined.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente according to package instructions. Reverse a half-cup of pasta water before draining. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl.
- Stir in the pesto add a small amount of the reserved pasta water as needed to thin the pesto and coat the noodles (Start with 1 tablespoon. You may not need any of it.)
- Stir in the remaining arugula and Parmesan.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.