bowl of rigatoni tossed with pesto and topped with basil leaves

Creamy Pesto Rigatoni

Store-bought pesto and homemade roasted garlic cream sauce join forces to transform an ordinary pasta dish into a weeknight wonder.

Table of Contents

bowl of pesto pasta with a fork and spoon on a slate table next to a gray napkin

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 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. I have two different pesto recipes in the Vegan Dinner Club recipe library.


Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

This rich and velvety sauce gets it creaminess from cashews and just a few other ingredients.


Sun-dried Tomatoes

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.



In the case of a nut allergy, pepitas or sunflower seeds can be used instead of cashews.

To avoid gluten, use a chickpea or lentil pasta, such as Banza, or any gluten-free pasta variety.

How to Make Creamy Pesto Rigatoni

  1. 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.

  2. Make the Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce:

    Roast the garlic and then combine with the other ingredients in a blender. Pulse until smooth.

  3. Combine the pasta and sauces:

    Drain your pasta and stir in the sauces and tomatoes.

  4. Garnish:

    Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves.

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

Create an Italian family style feast 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.
two bowls of rigatoni with a creamy sauce on top


Is this recipe suitable for people with dairy allergies? Absolutely! This recipe is 100% dairy free.

Absolutely! This recipe is 100% dairy free.

Can I use gluten free pasta for this recipe?


Are there any store-bought vegan pesto options available?

My go-to is Trader Joe's but many stores offer vegan pesto sauce varieties.

Can I make homemade vegan pesto instead of using a store-bought version?

Of course! I recommend that you make the pesto in advance if doing so to make this meal turnkey during the week.

Can I make this dish ahead of time and reheat it later?

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.

What kind of pasta shapes can I use instead of rigatoni?

Tubular shapes such as penne work best. Farfalle, cascatelli, or fusili would also work well.
@thestephaniedreyer New year, new blog! I’m working on finalizing my website makeover but the blog is revamped and live. I’ve given several of my old posts a refresh (a work in progress) and of course, new posts will be served up regularly. This Creamy Pesto Rigatoni is one of my favorites. It features my Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce which is a delicious starting point for so many recipes. This one-pot wonder is also “homemade-ish” (my name for a dish that is homemade but takes help from one or more prepared ingredients from the grocery store). In this recipe, it uses Trader Joe’s vegan kale pesto. Head over to ​​ to get the recipe. #veganpestorigatoni #veganpesto #veganpastarecipes #veganrecipes #onemealforthewholefamily #vegandinnerclub ♬ original sound - thestephaniedreyer
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bowl of rigatoni with pesto sauce on a countertop next to a fork and basil leaves

Creamy Pesto Rigatoni

  • Author: Stephanie Dreyer
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


Store-bought pesto and homemade roasted garlic cream sauce join forces to transform an ordinary pasta dish into a weeknight wonder.



For the Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce:

  • 1 head garlic, peeled (about 12 cloves)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews (Soak overnight if not using a high-speed blender.)
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the Creamy Pesto Rigatoni:

  • 1 lb rigatoni pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups store-bought or homemade vegan pesto
  • 1 1/4 cups Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and julienned
  • 1/2 cup vegan Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn


For the Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce:

  1. Roast the garlic: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the garlic on a small sheet of foil. Fold the foil so that the garlic is completely covered and place the foil package on a sheet pan. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until soft and spreadable.
  2. Blend ingredients together: When the garlic is done cooking, remove the cloves from the foil and place in a high-powered blender along with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth.

For the Creamy Pesto Rigatoni:

  1. Prepare the pasta: Boil a pot of water and cook according to package directions.
  2. Add in the sauces: When the pasta is done cooking, drain and immediately return to the pot. Stir in the pesto, Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce, and sun-dried tomatoes.
  3. Serve: Garnish with the vegan Parmesan cheese and basil.


  • Nut allergy? Substitute raw, shelled pumpkin seeds for the cashews.
  • Gluten Allergy? Swap the rigatoni for a gluten-free alternative.
  • Spoiler Alert: Creamy Pesto Rigatoni is best eaten when served but will stay fresh in an airtight container for 3-4 days. When reheating, stir in ¼ – ½ cup vegetable broth to prevent the pasta from drying out.
  • For non vegans: Add cooked, shredded chicken.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Main Meals
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

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