Easy Pasta w/ Creamy Arugula Pesto & Bacon (30-Minute Meal)

creamy pesto sauce recipe with bacon

Tired of the usual basil pesto? Here’s a delicious creamy pesto recipe that you should definitely try! I use it all the time and it’s never turned me down. 

Meet: arugula pesto. 

We all love a good genovese pesto made with fresh basil. Anyway, from time to time, you might want to spice things up a little. Over the years, I’ve tried making pesto with lots of different herbs and vegetables – and with its saltier, peppery flavor, arugula is by far my favorite alternative. 

I make arugula pesto whenever I don’t know what to cook. And since I use it mostly to dress pasta, I summarized my method into this pesto pasta with bacon recipe. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do. 

Why This Recipe Works

There are many things I love about this recipe: 

  • It’s very creamy and packed with savory flavors;
  • It’s budget-friendly and can feed 4-5 people at once. And even if you decide to cut on some ingredients to save more money, it will be delicious anyway;
  • It comes together in less than 30 minutes, so it’s perfect for both busy weeknights and weekend meals;
  • You can use leftover pasta;

… and most of all, it’s super easy – a great way to make something tasty without putting in too much effort. 

delicious pesto cream sauce ingredients

What You’ll Need

This pesto cream sauce recipe works with just a handful of simple ingredients that can be found in every grocery store. Here’s everything you need. 

Pasta: any size is fine, so feel free to go with your favorite pasta shape. I think this recipe works best with tubular and semi-short shapes, such as penne pasta, fusilli or mezze maniche, but it will be delicious with everything you choose. If you want to try it with long pasta shapes, bucatini are an excellent choice. 

Arugula: the real star of this recipe. With its peppery, slightly spicy taste, arugula gives pesto a special flavor. The fresher, the better!

Parmesan cheese: or, even better, a mix of parmesan and pecorino cheese. It is not mandatory, but any pesto tastes better with a mix of these two cheeses. 

Walnuts: when making pesto, every herb matches better with a specific type of dried fruit. In the case of arugula, I find walnuts to be the perfect match, but you can also use almonds or pine nuts if you prefer. If you are allergic to nuts or can’t spend too much money, go ahead and skip this ingredient. 

Extra virgin olive oil: if you can afford to spend on that, do it and choose a high-quality one. It will make a huge difference. 

A clove of garlic: no pesto recipe is complete without it. Avoid dried garlic, get a fresh clove and enjoy its flavor. Just don’t overdo it. You don’t need the full head! 😀

Coarse salt: you’ll need it to salt both the pasta cooking water and the pesto. 

Bacon: or pancetta, if you prefer. Cut it into thin strips or cubes and toss in a saucepan before adding the pesto cream. 

Chili flakes and black pepper (optional): given the spicy flavor of arugula, why not enhance it with a little chili? Take some of your favorite chili flakes and add them to the pesto cream just before combining it with the pasta! You can also add a hit of ground black pepper, if you want.

Milk or half and half (optional): this, if possible, is even more optional than the other ingredients. However, it can make your pesto creamier. So if you are not satisfied with the consistency of your sauce, add about 3 fl oz about 10 minutes before combining with the pasta.

Of course, you can cut all these ingredients except the pasta and bacon and use store-bought pesto. But to be honest, I’ve never found a ready made pesto that I liked. Plus, making it from scratch is so straightforward that it won’t save you much time. So, I recommend using pre-made pesto only if you’re on a tight budget. 

Necessary tools

This recipe doesn’t require many specific tools. You’ll need:

  • a pot and a saucepan;
  • a cheesegrater;
  • either a pasta strainer or a salad spinner (you can use it both to rinse the arugula and strain the pasta later);
  • a food processor or an immersion blender;
  • a wooden spoon, or anything that helps you stir the ingredients in a saucepan without scratching it.

As usual, the exact measurements for each ingredient are in the recipe card at the bottom of the post. Now, let me show you how to make this delicious arugula pesto pasta at home!


Cooking bacon

Start by cutting the bacon into strips or cubes (if it’s not already prepared). Then, sautee it in a saucepan with a drizzle of water – more on that in the tips and tricks section. You won’t need oil or butter for that. The water will allow the bacon fat to melt and grease the surface of the pan before the meat cooks. 

Sautee the bacon over medium heat for a few minutes until the water starts to evaporate, then turn it down to low heat and keep cooking it, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water, put it on the stove on high, and make the pesto as it comes to a boil. 

creamy pesto sauce recipe-cooking guanciale

Making a creamy pesto

Quickly rinse the arugula in a pasta strainer or salad spinner, then add it to your food processor. Also add a peeled and crushed clove of garlic, a pinch of coarse salt, and two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. 

Blend until smooth, then add the grated cheese, walnuts, and the remaining olive oil. If the cream is too thick, adjust it with a tiny bit of water. Finally, blend again. 

mixing the ingredients for pesto in a bowl with a blender

Cooking the pasta and putting it all together. 

By the time you have finished making the pesto, the pasta water should have come to a boil and the bacon should be golden brown. 

Add a tablespoon or two of coarse salt to the water, and wait for it to return to a rolling boil. After that, add the pasta and cook it over low heat for the time indicated on the package instructions. 

In the meantime, take out half of the bacon fat, and add your arugula walnut pesto to the saucepan. Stir with a wooden spoon, and cook that over low heat as well until it’s time to strain the pasta. It should take 8-9 minutes. Towards the end, add the optional milk and chili flakes. 

When the pasta is al dente, strain it and combine it with the pesto cream in a bowl or directly into the saucepan (if it fits). 

Serve with a little more grated Parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

creamy pesto sauce recipe-creamy pesto pasta sauce

Expert Tips

Even in its most basic form, this recipe is assured to be a hit. But if you’re like me and never get tired of learning new tricks, here are some tips to make it even more outstanding. 

1. Boil some water in the saucepan before adding the bacon

I use this trick whenever I need to cook pancetta or bacon for a sauce. 

As I said before, using a trickle of water will allow you to oil the pan directly with the bacon fat, without wasting oil or butter. But there is another reason why you should do this.

Before adding the bacon, heat the water until it starts to form small bubbles. The sudden contact with the boiling water will cause the meat’s pores to close, keeping some of its juices inside. This way, your bacon will retain some tenderness on the inside, while turning out crispy on the outside. 

2. Remove the garlic core. 

When you crush the garlic, be sure to remove the green germ at its core. This will make it less pungent and easier to digest. 

3. Add some of the cooking water to the sauce. 

Halfway through the pasta cooking process, take a ladleful of the cooking water and add it to the pan with the pesto cream. The starch in the water will combine with the fats in the parmesan cheese and make the pesto creamier. Just don’t overdo it, or you will make it too runny, and remember to keep the stove on low heat at all times to remove all the excess liquid. 

4. Mantecare la pasta!

If the pesto cream is still not creamy enough for your taste, here’s another trick that’s good to know. In Italy we call it “mantecare.” It’s a technique used most for risotto, but it’s also good for many pasta dishes. 

Once you have combined the pasta with the sauce in a bowl or pot, add a few dices of butter on the surface, cover with a lid, and let it sit away from heat sources for five minutes. You don’t need a lot of butter, half an ounce will be enough for 5-6 servings. 

The butter will act as an additional binding agent, making the dish creamier and more flavorful. 

After the five minutes are up and the butter has melted, give it a quick stir and serve. 

creamy pesto sauce recipe-freshly made pesto

Substitutions & Variations

I hope you enjoy cooking this creamy pesto pasta recipe. If you are not completely satisfied with some ingredients or want to try other combinations, here are some tips for customizing your pesto. 

  1. Make a chicken pesto pasta: instead of bacon, you can use some strips of chicken breast. Cook them in a saucepan with a knob of butter, and then add the pesto cream as I showed you above. 
  2. Use other vegetables: if you don’t particularly like arugula, but still want to use something that gives your pesto a more outstanding flavor than the usual basil, try using other vegetables such as valerian or parsley. Both are well suited to making a pesto cream that goes with meat. 
  3. Make it vegan: You can replace the meat with soy strips and the cheese with nutritional yeast, and you can cut out the milk and half-and-half altogether. If you want to use some alternative thickening agent, cornstarch and potato starch are your friends. 
  4. And since we mentioned milk: milk/half and half are not mandatory for this recipe. However, if you want to use some dairy product to make your cream thicker, you can also use heavy cream or any cream cheese depending on what you have on hand. As mentioned above, cornstarch and potato starch are awesome alternatives if you want to cut back on fat. 

What To Serve With This Creamy Pesto Pasta?

This recipe is a complete meal in itself. It has enough carbohydrates, fat and protein to meet your daily need, and it also has plenty of fiber thanks to the arugula. 

If you want to pair it with some other dishes, my advice is to match it with something light and possibly plant-based, such as a salad or broccoli rabe. If you wish, you can also accompany it with some slice of toasted garlic bread to scoop up the pesto cream left on the plate when you’re done with the pasta. 

As for wines, choose a light white wine with good delicacy and flavor – even better if it is dry and aromatic. 

If you’re making this recipe for a date night, however, try serving it after starting the evening with a Negroni or an Aperol Spritz.  

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Creamy Pesto FAQs

1. How long can I store the pesto?

In my opinion, this creamy pesto is at its best when consumed freshly made. However, you can put it in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 

2. Can I add a little lemon juice?

Personally, I don’t. Iif you like it, my advice is to add it at the end of cooking. The reason is that this pesto sauce takes about 8 to 10 minutes to cook and there are a lot of dairy ingredients, so if you add the lemon juice too early they might curd. 

3. How much pasta should I serve per person? 

Usually, restaurants and official recipes use about 80 grams per person. However, I use 100 to 150 grams per person. 

Conclusion & Recipe Card

Writing about this arugula pesto pasta gave me cravings. I think I’ll head to the kitchen. But before I do, here’s a complete recipe card with scalable measurements for the ingredients and concise instructions. I am sure it will become your favorite recipe – let me know what you think about it in the comments!

Make it nice!

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creamy pesto sauce recipe with bacon

Pasta w/ Creamy Arugula Pesto & Bacon

  • Author: Mortadella Head
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x




16 oz pasta (preferably fusilli or mezze maniche)

4 oz bacon, diced or cut into small stripes

For the pesto cream:

5 oz fresh arugula

4 oz grated cheese (either parmesan or pecorino, or a 50/50 mix of both)

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

2 tbsp milk or half and half (optional)

Calabrian chili flakes (optional)

coarse salt to taste


Prepare the Bacon:

  1. Cut bacon into strips or cubes.
  2. Sautee in a saucepan or a large skillet with a drizzle of water on medium heat until the water evaporates.
  3. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking while you go through the next steps, stirring occasionally.

Start the Pasta Water & Make the Creamy Pesto:

  1. Fill a large pot with water and place on high heat to bring to a boil.
  2. While the pasta water is heating, rinse arugula and add to a food processor.
  3. Include one peeled, crushed garlic clove, a pinch of coarse salt, and 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Blend until smooth.
  4. Add grated cheese, walnuts, and the rest of the oil to the processor. If the pesto is too thick, adjust with a little water. Blend again.

Cook Pasta:

  1. Add 1-2 tablespoons of coarse salt to boiling water, then add pasta.
  2. Cook on low heat according to package instructions.

Combine Pesto with Bacon (as pasta cooks):

  1. Add the prepared pesto to the saucepan with the cooked bacon.
  2. Stir over low heat for 8-9 minutes. If desired, incorporate milk and chili flakes towards the end of cooking.

Finish the Pasta:

  1. Once the pasta is al dente, strain it.
  2. Combine the cooked pasta with the bacon and pesto mixture in a bowl or directly in the saucepan, depending on size.
  3. Serve the combined pasta, bacon, and pesto with additional grated Parmesan cheese on top.


  1. This recipe is designed to be made with dry pasta shapes, as you’ll make the pesto cream while the pasta cooks. If you want to use fresh egg pasta, which has lower cooking times, you’ll need to make the cream in advance and add the pasta later.

 Disclaimer: The nutritional information provided for this recipe is only an estimate generated with VeryWellFit’s online calculator. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed. If you need this information for medical reasons please check with your doctor.

  • Prep Time: 10 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 Minutes
  • Category: Pasta
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 598
  • Sugar: 4.2g
  • Sodium: 998mg
  • Fat: 32.7g
  • Saturated Fat: 8.8g
  • Carbohydrates: 59.9g
  • Fiber: 2.6g
  • Protein: 22.3g
  • Cholesterol: 31mg

Keywords: fresh pesto, creamy sauce




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