Creamy Cilantro Pasta

Creamy Cilantro Pasta is a South of the Border inspired spin on classic pesto pasta elevated with a touch of cream, some lime, and garlic! The perfect easy office lunch or quick vegetarian pasta dinner. 

overhead shot of a bowl of creamy cilantro pasta with a spoon

Mexico Meets Italy – Creamy Cilantro Pasta

I have a weakness for pesto pasta. I usually make up a big batch of classic basil pesto, then toss it with chicken,  use it for dressings or make this Caprese Pasta Salad aka my FAVORITE thing to bring to a potluck. But sometimes, I crave for a change in my pesto rut, so I thought of using cilantro instead.

Cilantro is very present in most Asian and Latin American kitchens and its flavor is loved by many, alas not by all. So today I will cater to those of you who love cilantro as much as I do and will show you how to make a banging pasta sauce based on cilantro!

closeup of a bowl of creamy cilantro pasta tossed with rotini pasta with a fork and fresh cilantro

To avoid the pungent cilantro from overwhelming the taste completely, I made this pasta sauce rather creamy and added some lime and garlic too.  As for the cream, you can use half and half or light cream (20% fat). This one is a great lunch to take to the office and it was a big hit in my family of cilantro lovers. Try it!

overhead shot of a pot with creamy cilantro pasta

How to make Creamy Cilantro Pasta:

Prep: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Cook pasta according to package instructions.

picture collage demonstrating how to make cilantro pesto in a blender

Step 1 – 3:  While the water is heating and pasta is cooking, make the cilantro pesto. Place all the ingredients, except olive oil, in a food processor and pulse until combined and it looks like a rough paste, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. While the food processor is running, pour olive oil in a steady stream and process until smooth.

creamy cilantro pasta sauce being prepared in a saucepan and tossed with rotini

Step 4 – When pasta is ready, save about 1/2 cup of pasta water (don’t forget, it’s important for the sauce!) and drain the pasta in a colander. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, and cook garlic for 30 seconds or so, until fragrant. Pour cream and mix.

Step 5Turn off the heat and stir in cilantro pesto.

Step 6Add cooked pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Add a little bit of pasta cooking water, a little bit at a time, until you reach a perfectly smooth texture. Taste and adjust salt as needed. Serve immediately.

Can I make the sauce in advance?

In part, yes. You can make the cilantro pesto in advance, store it in a jar or bowl, and cover it with a thin layer of oil to prevent discoloration. Proceed with Step 4 once you’re ready to eat and have cooked your pasta.

Leftover pasta stores in the fridge for 3 days.

Tips & Variations:

  • Use any nut or seed you like for the sauce. Pine nuts, macadamia or sunflower seeds would work really well.
  • You can use lemon juice if you cannot find any limes.
  • While any shape of pasta works here,  I recommend you use something like rotini or fusilli as their curves and grooves hold pesto sauces especially well and allow for the sauce to stick to the pasta.
  • For a tangier pasta sauce, you could stir a couple of tbsps of cream cheese into the pasta sauce once the pasta water has gone in. Delicious!
  • For some extra zing, add some lime zest along with the juice. 1/2 tsp should be just right.
5 from 5 votes
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Creamy Cilantro Pesto Pasta

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian, Mexican
Keyword cilantro pasta, creamy cilantro pasta, easy pasta recipes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 727 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta (500 g) any shape of pasta will work here.
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half (12% fat) or light cream (20% fat)

Cilantro Pesto:

  • 2 cups cilantro packed - you can add the stems, too
  • 1/2 cup roasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup red onion chopped
  • 1/4 tsp crushed pepper flakes more or less to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  2. While the water is heating and pasta is cooking, make the cilantro pesto. Place all the ingredients, except olive oil, in a food processor and pulse until combined and it looks like a rough paste, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. While the food processor is running, pour olive oil in a steady stream and process until smooth.
  3. When pasta is ready, save about 1/2 cup of pasta water (don’t forget, it’s important for the sauce!) and drain the pasta in a colander.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, and cook garlic for 30 seconds or so, until fragrant. Pour cream and mix. Turn off the heat and stir in cilantro pesto. Add cooked pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Add a little bit of pasta cooking water, a little bit at a time, until you reach a perfectly smooth texture. Taste and adjust salt as needed. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

  • Use any nut or seed you like for the sauce. Pine nuts, macadamia or sunflower seeds would work really well.
  • You can use lemon juice if you cannot find any limes.
  • While any shape of pasta works here,  I recommend you use something like rotini or fusilli as their curves and grooves hold pesto sauces especially well and allow for the sauce to stick to the pasta.
  • For a tangier pasta sauce, you could stir a couple of tbsps of cream cheese into the pasta sauce once the pasta water has gone in. Delicious! 
Nutrition Facts
Creamy Cilantro Pesto Pasta
Amount Per Serving (1 /4)
Calories 727 Calories from Fat 279
% Daily Value*
Fat 31g48%
Saturated Fat 6g38%
Cholesterol 17mg6%
Sodium 321mg14%
Potassium 494mg14%
Carbohydrates 93g31%
Fiber 6g25%
Sugar 4g4%
Protein 20g40%
Vitamin A 700IU14%
Vitamin C 6mg7%
Calcium 127mg13%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

f you tried this Creamy Cilantro Pesto Pasta Recipe, don’t forget to rate the recipe below and let me know how it went in the comments – I love hearing from you! You can also follow me on InstagramPinterest and Facebook for more deliciousness and behind-the-scenes!

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Italian Inspired Main Dishes Meal Prep Pasta Quick & Easy Meals Recipes Sauces Spring Recipes Summer Recipes Vegetarian
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