This ground beef pesto pasta is about getting dinner on the table fast without compromising on taste.
Sauté veggies, brown the beef, stir in pesto, toss with pasta – and you’ve got a meal that’ll win over everyone.
I switch up my pesto pasta based on what my mood is – but more importantly, what's in my fridge/freezer.
Sometimes it's just pasta tossed in a creamy pesto sauce. Other times I change the sauce a bit and throw in some chicken. But when craving a tomatoey taste, this ground beef version right here is what I make.
By the way, if you're looking for a simple creamy (no pesto) pasta recipe, try my truffle rigatoni next.
Here are some helpful notes on ingredients you'll need. See the recipe card below for exact quantities.
- Pasta – I prefer penne or rigatoni, but sauce-trapping shapes like fusilli and farfalle are good too.
- Cooking oil – to prevent the boiled pasta from clumping. Also used for cooking the sauce. Use olive oil or any neutral-tasting oil of your choice.
- Garlic – should be finely minced or grated. I use a garlic press. Use fresh garlic, not the jarred minced kind you get in stores.
- Onion – yellow, red, white – all kinds work. But it needs to be small in size. Or use two-thirds of a medium onion. Also, chop it finely. You don't want big chunks in the sauce.
- Green bell pepper (aka capsicum) – I've tested this recipe with red, yellow, and orange ones too and all versions came out great. Dice the pepper into small pieces.
- Ground beef (aka beef mince) – if using frozen, make sure it's completely thawed. Lean options can be used, but I like the fuller flavor that comes with a bit of fat. You can always spoon out excess fat that has separated – before adding pasta.
- Salt and ground black pepper – for seasoning the sauce. Reduce the quantity of salt if the tomato paste or pesto you are using contains salt.
- Dried oregano – to add some complexity to the overall taste.
- Crushed red pepper flakes – use more or less depending on your heat tolerance.
- Tomato paste – an easy way to add tomato flavor. But the saltiness of these can vary a lot. If you see salt mentioned in the ingredient list, reduce the quantity of added salt by half. Then when the sauce is ready, taste and adjust.
- Water – for thinning the sauce.
- Sugar – to balance the flavors.
- Basil pesto – I prefer store-bought. It's less hassle and is available year-round. But feel free to make your own. Here's a good pesto recipe by Daniel Gritzer.
- Parmesan – optional, for sprinkling on cooked pasta. Freshly grated is always better than the pre-grated options, taste-wise and in texture.
- Fresh parsley – some chopped leaves for garnishing.
How to make ground beef pesto pasta
Follow these simple, photo-assisted instructions to prepare this recipe. Check out recipe card below for a printable version that has quantities, instructions and notes in one place.
Step 1: Cook your pasta al dente (see the recipe card below for cooking tips). Meanwhile heat olive oil in a big skillet on medium heat. Add garlic, onion, bell pepper and saute 3 to 4 minutes – or until onions look translucent. Stir constantly.
Step 2: Next add ground beef, salt, pepper, dried oregano and red pepper flakes. Mix well then stir and cook 7 to 10 minutes until the beef has turned brown. Now add tomato paste, water, sugar and mix again. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes –or until the sauce has reduced a little.
Step 3: Turn down the heat to low, add pesto, mix well and leave to simmer a minute or two.
Step 4: Finally add your cooked pasta and gently fold to combine. Let it cook 1 minute so the pasta warms up. Plate the pasta, top with grated parmesan and chopped parsley and serve!
- Overcooked pasta – pasta should be cooked al dente and should have a slight bite. Setting a timer is always helpful. If you accidentally overcook, rinse with cold water immediately after draining or it may turn mushy when you mix with sauce.
- Sauce too runny or too thick – add some water if it looks too thick and simmer some more if you want it to thicken.
- Lumpy meat – break the ground beef into small pieces with the back of your spoon or a potato masher as soon as you add it to the skillet. Continue until the consistency looks right.
- More or less salty – different brands of pesto and tomato paste vary in salt content. If not sure of how salty yours are, reduce or omit the added salt in this recipe. Then do a taste test when the sauce is ready and adjust salt if needed.
- Oily sauce – it's completely normal for some oil to surface in this sauce. This can come from beef fat or the pesto. If you see a lot of it, just spoon it out.
Substitutions and variations
- Beef alternatives – ground lamb, turkey or chicken can replace the beef. But the cooking times and taste will vary.
- Different cheese – you can use Romano or Asiago instead of parmesan.
- Other additions – sautéed mushrooms or crispy bacon bits will add more texture and flavor.
- Some greens – add some fresh spinach or arugula to the sauce a minute before you add pasta.
- Wine – consider deglazing your beef (after it has browned) with a splash of red wine. Reduce it a little before adding the tomato paste. Oh and skip the water.
- Creamy variation – pour in a splash of heavy cream after adding the pesto for a creamy touch.
- Sun-dried tomatoes – drain and chop these and then add to the skillet just before you add cooked pasta.
- Fresh basil – swap out the parsley and sprinkle chopped fresh basil on the finished dish, if you have some.
What to serve it with
- Caesar salad – for a refreshing contrast from the tangy dressing and crunchy croutons.
- Bruschetta – toasted slices of baguette topped with a mix of fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil – to complement Italian flavors.
- Roasted veggies – think zucchini, cherry tomatoes and/or bell peppers roasted until slightly caramelized.
- Garlic bread – buttery garlic flavor makes a perfect companion for mopping up any leftover pasta sauce.
- Caprese salad – fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, drizzled with a balsamic reduction.
Storage and reheating
- Storage – transfer any leftovers to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. I avoid freezing as the texture changes but you can freeze for up to a month. Don't forget to move it to the fridge the night before you plan to serve – so it thaws.
- Reheating – to reheat on a stovetop transfer the pasta to a skillet/pan. Add a little water to restore consistency and reheat on low heat for 7 to 10 minutes (lid on). Stir frequently. For reheating a small portion, sprinkle some water, mix and then microwave in 30 second intervals until heated through.
Just so you know
- This recipe is a nod to the iconic pasta bolognese but with a vibrant touch of basil pesto.
- Pesto is said to have originated in northern Italy and the name comes from the Italian verb "pestare" (to crush).
- Ground beef is often referred to as beef mince in many parts of the world – especially in UK and Australia.
For cooking pasta
- 8 ounces (227 g) pasta - uncooked, I prefer penne or rigatoni (Note A)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil - or any cooking oil, to prevent drained pasta from clumping
For beef pesto sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil - or any cooking oil
- 4 cloves garlic - finely minced or grated
- 1 small (100 g) onion - finely chopped
- 1 small (100 g) green bell pepper - aka capsicum. Finely chopped
- 1 pound (454 g) ground beef - aka beef mince (Note B)
- 1 teaspoon salt - adjust to taste
- 1.5 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste - (Note C)
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup (60 ml) basil pesto - store-bought (Note D)
- some freshly grated parmesan
- some chopped fresh parsley
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente – according to package instructions (see Note E). Once cooked, drain the pasta, drizzle olive oil on it and gently mix. This will prevent pasta from clumping together.
- While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add minced garlic, chopped onion, chopped green bell pepper and saute 3 to 4 minutes – or until the onions become translucent. Stir constantly.
- Then add ground beef, salt, ground black pepper, dried oregano plus red pepper flakes. Mix well and then cook for 7 to 10 minutes until the beef has turned brown. Break up any lumps with your spoon and stir frequently.
- Now add tomato paste, water, sugar and mix. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes or until the sauce has reduced somewhat.
- Reduce the heat to low, add pesto and mix well. Simmer a minute or two.
- Finally add your cooked pasta and gently fold to combine. Let it cook 1 minute so the pasta warms up.
- Plate the pasta, garnish with grated parmesan plus chopped parsley and enjoy!
- Step-by-step photo instructions
- Recipe troubleshooting
- Substitutions and variations
- Serving ideas
- Storage and reheating
The nutritional information provided here is calculated using a third-party nutrition calculator. These values are estimates, and we cannot guarantee the correctness of the displayed numbers. Please see our disclaimer page.