This perfect vegan basil pesto recipe can be whipped up in less than 15 minutes. Fresh basil is the star and shines here! This dairy-free pesto is so versatile; you can add it to your pasta, sandwiches, cream sauces, pizzas, soups, salads, potatoes, and more!
The other week, the basil on our front patio had reached its peak and was almost past its prime. It was time to harvest it. We got nine cups of it. What was I to do with it? I had to make fresh pesto, of course!
I love to make vegan basil pesto during summer when fresh basil is plentiful in our patio garden. This easy-to-make pesto is so fresh, garlicky, and lemony, which adds up to a lot of flavors!
Considering my love for Italy and Italian food, I had to have a pesto recipe on my blog; it's been updated with new photos and improved instructions. Be sure to try this Vegan Marinara Sauce.
The history of pesto
The name pesto comes from the traditional Ligurian method of making this sauce with a mortar and pestle. Traditionally, pesto has been made with a combination of Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, unless it was going to be added to soup or when the household could not afford the cheese.
The heart of this delicious creamy pesto is the fruity extra-virgin olive oil and the fresh basil - the nutritional yeast is entirely optional, however, it adds an element of umami.
See the recipe card for quantities.
- Lightly toasted pine nuts - this brings out the flavor of the pine nuts.
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice for brightness - do not use concentrate.
- Nutritional yeast - optional for a cheesy flavor, I highly recommend it.
- Extra-virgin olive oil - Use the best quality fruity olive oil you can find, it will make a difference.
How to make vegan basil pesto
This pesto comes together quickly - once you have the pine nuts toasted, it's a matter of minutes!
- 1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
- 2) Bake the pine nuts for approximately 8 minutes at 350°F until lightly colored. You can do this on a skillet if you prefer at low-medium heat, stirring the nuts frequently with a wooden spoon, so they do not burn.
- 3) Dice the garlic in the food processor by pulsing a few times.
- 4) Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor - basil, sea salt, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and pine nuts.
- 5) Pulse for several seconds until the mixture is blended.
- 6) Add the olive oil in a slow stream while the food processor is running until you get a creamy mixture.
Hint: If you prefer a thinner pesto, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve the desired consistency.
- Basil - If you're a bit short of basil, use spinach or kale instead. You can use beet greens instead of basil.
- Nutritional yeast - Feel free to omit this, it's not necessary, although I like the cheesy flavor, umami, and creaminess it imparts. You can try a touch of miso instead for umami.
- Pine nuts - Try walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pistachios, or almonds.
- Spice it up - Try spiced almonds instead of pine nuts. Or you can add more garlic. If you like the "bite" of garlic, use large cloves. If you like the garlic to be a bit more subtle, use one or two small cloves of garlic.
- Oil-free - Substitute olive oil with water.
- Budget-friendly - Try it with half cashews and half walnuts or all walnuts.
- Deluxe - Try pistachios instead of pine nuts.
How to serve pesto
This recipe makes approximately one cup. You can get 8 servings that are 2 tablespoons each. Here are ways in which you can enjoy it:
- On pasta - This Perfect Vegan Pesto can be used immediately as a pasta sauce as long as you mix it with some reserved pasta water.
To make a pesto pasta sauce, reserve a cup of pasta water when you drain the pasta. Start with two tablespoons of pasta water and add more in small increments as needed while mixing it with the pesto over low heat. You don't want to cook the pesto; heat it gently with the pasta.
- On pizza - I prefer to put the pesto on pizza after baking the crust because I'm not particularly eager to expose basil to that much heat. I cook pizza at 450°F. If I put basil on pizza, it's always after the pizza comes out of the oven, to avoid charring. A little wilting is ok, but I like basil to be green, not brown.
- As a dip - You can also use the pesto as a spread on crostini or a dip, slather it on sandwiches, or mix it with cooked potatoes.
I love making this pesto with my food processor. I can't imagine making this pesto without it! However, you can make this pesto in a blender such as a Vitamix or the equivalent instead.
Refrigerate the leftover basil pesto in an airtight container for up to 4 to 5 days.
Use the freshest and best quality ingredients you can find. Fresh basil, fresh lemon, fresh garlic - each quality ingredient makes such a difference!
Yes! You can freeze this Perfect Vegan Pesto for up to four months. To freeze it, place it in an ice cube tray and cover it tightly with plastic wrap.
Traditionally, pesto is not vegan since it typically contains Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. In addition, rennet is used to curdle the milk from which the cheese is made. When shopping for vegan pesto, always read the label; some brands are vegan such as Seggiano Fresh Basil Pesto Genovese. Not sponsored, just sharing a pesto I enjoy when I want to have some handy in the pantry!
There are several types of pasta that pair well with pesto such as farfalle, gnocchi, linguine, and trofie. I've tried twirly pasta shapes with grooves that hold onto sauce such as rotini, but they are not my favorite for pesto.
If you make this Perfect Vegan Pesto, please leave a ★ star rating and a comment below. Follow me on Instagram and share your creation with me - just tag me @resplendentkitchen and hashtag #resplendentkitchen. I can't wait to see your creation!
Perfect Vegan Pesto
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 1 to 2 large cloves garlic peeled and cut into large chunks
- 3 cups fresh basil rinsed and dried gently, lightly packed
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast optional
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toast the pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven for approximately 8 minutes. After they turn slightly golden take them out of the oven to cool.
- Chop the garlic in the food processor for several pulses.
- Place the basil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, sea salt, and pine nuts in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse several times until mixed. Scrape down the sides as needed.
- Add olive oil in a steady stream and continue pulsing until it is combined. Use immediately, or refer to notes for storage instructions.
- As noted above, the nutritional yeast is optional but I recommend it for the cheesy flavor. The pesto is delicious without it also.
- If you prefer a thinner pesto, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve the desired consistency.
- If not using the immediately, place in an airtight glass container for up to 5 days.
- Pesto freezes well. Place it in ice cube trays, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and store in the freezer for up to one month.
Resplendent Kitchen offers nutritional information for recipes contained on this site as a courtesy. Although resplendentkitchen.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information from online calculators, these figures are estimates.