Parsley Pesto Pasta

Who doesn’t love pesto, right? It’s rich, flavorful, and it can turn something completely boring (like pasta) into something spectacular. The only problem is that it’s full of expensive ingredients (fresh herbs, pine nuts, olive oil, cheese, etc.). So, I’ve made this simplified “beggar’s pesto” to satisfy my cravings for pesto pasta.

I can usually get parsley for less than a dollar per bunch so I substituted it for the usual basil. Parsley still lends a bright, fresh flavor, which is needed to balance the rich olive oil and zesty garlic. I skipped the pine nuts all together, but you can also try using about a half cup of walnuts if you’ve got a few dollars to spare. Try to buy the walnuts from bulk bins so that you only have to buy the small amount that you need. I actually forgot to buy a fresh lemon, so I used some lemon juice that I had in my fridge. You can use the juice from one whole lemon and also add in the zest for more flavor.

This recipe for Parsley Pesto Pasta is really quick and easy, and makes a ton. It makes 8 side dish sized servings (2 oz. pasta each), or 4-6 main dish servings. Add some grilled chicken and a fresh side salad for a complete meal! Also, check the bottom of the post for a few variation ideas.

Parsley Pesto Pasta

Top view of a plate of Parsley Pesto Pasta

Print Recipe Grocery List Favorites
4.88 from 8 votes

Parsley Pesto Pasta

Forget expensive basil pasta, this quick and easy parsley pesto pasta packs a huge flavor punch and costs pennies. 
Author: Beth - Budget Bytes
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 25 mins
Servings: 8


  • 1 lb. fettuccini ($1.29)
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley ($0.85)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan ($0.48)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice ($0.12)
  • 2 cloves garlic ($0.16)
  • 1/4 tsp salt ($0.02)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil ($1.26)


  • Rinse the parsley well and shake off as much water as possible. Remove the leaves from the stems and place them into the food processor. Also add the garlic (peeled), parmesan cheese, and lemon juice. Pulse until there are no large chunks of garlic left.
  • Slowly add the olive oil through the spout on the lid as you continue to pulse the mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and pulse until smooth. Taste the pesto and add salt to your liking. I added 1/4 teaspoon. You want the pesto to be slightly saltier than you’d think because it will be spread out thin over the pasta.
  • Cook the pasta according to the package directions (this can done while you make the pesto). Before draining the pasta, reserve about a half cup of the starchy cooking water. Drain the pasta, let cool slighly (about 5 minutes) and then return it to the pot. Add the pesto and stir to coat. If the pasta becomes dry, clumpy, or sticky, use a small amount of the pasta water to help loosen it up. Serve warm!
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
Tried this recipe?Mention @budgetbytes or tag #budgetbytes on Instagram!


Serving: 1 ServingCalories: 361.28 kcalCarbohydrates: 44.46 gProtein: 9.49 gFat: 16.18 gSodium: 194.31 mgFiber: 2.1 g
Nutritional values are estimates only. See our full nutrition disclaimer here.

The equipment section above contains affiliate links to products we use and love. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Top view of a plate of Parsley Pesto Pasta with fork, napkin, olive oil and garlic staged on the side

Step By Step Photos

pesto ingredients on counter
This is pretty much all you need (plus olive oil) to make this simplified pesto. Parsley, lemon juice, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Make sure your parmesan is 100% parmesan and not grated parmesan mixed with fillers.

pesto ingredients added to food processor
Rinse the parsley well and shake as much water off as possible. Pick the leaves from the stems and place them in the bowl of the food processor. To easily remove the leaves, just pinch and the base of each cluster of leaves and pull out toward the end. The leaves (and maybe a little stem) will come right off. Place the parsley leaves, peeled garlic, parmesan cheese, and lemon juice in the food processor.

pesto ingredients pulsed in food processor
Pulse the ingredients until there are no large chunks of garlic left. It doesn’t have to be super fine because you’ll pulse more as you add the olive oil.

olive oil added to ingredients in food processor
Slowly add the olive oil through the spout as you continue to pulse.

finished parsley pesto in food processor
Once the mixture is smooth, give it a taste and add salt as needed. The parmesan is fairly salty on it’s own, but I still added 1/4 tsp of salt because I knew the flavor would be diluted slightly when it was spread out over the pasta.

pesto added to cooked and drained pasta in pot
Cook the pata according to the package directions. Before draining it, reserve a little bit of the starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta, let it cool for a few minutes, and then return it to the pot. Pour the pesto over top.

pasta coated in pesto in pot
Stir the pasta and pesto to coat. If the pesto pasta has become dry, sticky, or clumpy, add just a little of the reserved pasta water to help loosen it up. The starchy pasta water is preferred because the starch will actually help the pesto stick, as opposed to making it slip right off like plain water.

Finished Parsley Pesto Pasta in pot ready to serve warm
Serve the parsley pesto pasta warm!

Plate of Parsley Pesto Pasta with ingredients on side to stage photo
Other variations to try: add black pepper, lemon zest, other fresh herbs, walnuts, cayenne pepper… the possibilities are endless!