Creamy Pesto Sauce

One of my favorite indulgences to lighten up is creamy pasta sauce.  After many trial runs, I’ve found that 2% milk strikes the perfect balance between rich creaminess and a lower-fat nutritional profile. If you prefer to go even lighter, 1% milk will do, but skim milk just doesn’t yield the silkiness that I seek in a creamy pasta sauce.

This recipe starts with sautéing shallot and garlic in a bit of olive oil, then whisking in flour for a healthier roux – sans butter. Reduced fat milk is whisked in until a gloriously thick consistency develops. Basil pesto is stirred in as the finishing touch to this delicious sauce. I used Buitoni Reduced Fat Pesto here, but am already anticipating making different pesto versions for this recipe (walnut and parsley comes to mind as a nice flavor combination).

I folded al dente-cooked spinach linguine into the creamy pesto sauce, but it can also be used as a layer in lasagna, a sauce for pizza bianca, or as you see fit. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools, so let it rest for a little while if you plan to use it as a white pizza sauce.

Creamy Pesto Sauce

yields sauce for 3 hearty servings of pasta

  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store-bought


  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium/medium-high heat.
  2. Add shallot and cook for about 5 minutes, until the shallot starts to soften, stirring often. Reduce stove heat to medium.
  3. Stir in garlic, and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
  4. Whisk the flour into the shallot, garlic, and oil. Cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk. Bring to a gentle simmer, whisking often. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 minute, whisking constantly, until sauce has thickened.
  5. Add pesto to sauce. Stir over low heat until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve tossed with cooked spinach linguine, or pasta of your choice, and topped with shavings of parmesan cheese.

5 thoughts on “Creamy Pesto Sauce

  1. Tried this tonight and it was FABULOUS! Even my pickiest eater didn’t leave a drop. I added mushrooms in after the shallots simmered and it was really tasty.

  2. Made this last night for dinner, using skim milk instead of 2 percent and it worked out great. I added cooked chicken, zucchini and mushrooms to the pasta and sauce and it was an awesome meal. Husband votes to have it three times per week!

  3. I tried this tonight with spiralized zucchini as the “pasta”. I also added grilled corn, roasted cherry tomatoes and sautéed spinach. Home run! My fiancé and I are trying to eat healthier before our wedding in 3 months but refuse to cut back on good quality flavor. I’m so happy I found this. I will continue to work it into many summer recipes. Thank you!

  4. Just cooked this for my parents who LOVE pasta but absolutely need to eat healthier. Used 1 cup of 1% milk but added a tiny bit of shredded parmesan. IT WAS AWESOME. Added mushrooms (like Addison recommended in the comment above) and mixed linguine with spiralized zucchini (like Brooke recommended) and it was PERFECT. Chopped up a tiny bit of chicken sausage because, well, you know–most baby boomers need a meat protein for a meal to be considered legitimate. THANKS to the original author AND the comments!

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