Pesto is an aromatic basil-and-garlic-infused sauce with way more character than your average red sauce. It tastes best when prepared fresh (vs. buying it pre-made), and it’s surprisingly easy and affordable to make at home. A food processor or blender is commonly used to speed up the traditional process of making pesto. If you don’t have either, you can use this as an opportunity to work on your fine dicing skills like a true Italian grandmother. Pesto is incredibly versatile. Add it to pizza, pasta, or salads, or spoon it on top of vegetables for a burst of flavor.
Most of the ingredients within this recipe can be substituted for ingredients at your disposal. This recipe uses sesame seeds as a nut-free option; however, you can use your choice of nuts or seeds (pine nuts are the traditional option, though they tend to be expensive). Some other great options include walnuts, cashews, almonds, or hemp seeds.
This recipe also uses nutritional yeast to create a “cheesy” flavor while keeping it plant-based. This seasoning is becoming more accessible and can be found in the organic section of most major grocery stores. I highly recommend trying it out, but you can substitute with parmesan—which is traditional—or any sharp, dry, hard cheese for a non-vegan version. Although cream cheese isn’t typically used in pesto, its use within this recipe thickens the pesto and deepens the “cheesy” flavor. If you don’t have vegan cream cheese, you can omit it or substitute dairy cream cheese.
Store extra servings of this sauce in an airtight container with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- 7.5 ounces pasta
- 2.5 ounces fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon vegan cream cheese (or dairy cream cheese)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (or preferred nut)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast (or grated parmesan)
- Lemon juice
- Red pepper flakes
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and save 1/4 cup of pasta water.
- Add basil, cream cheese, garlic, sesame seeds, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast (if using) to a food processor; pulse until basil leaves are well chopped. Slowly drizzle olive oil into the food processor while pulsing for proper emulsion. Add lemon juice and pulse until ingredients are combined. Set pesto aside.
- On medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan, combine cooked pasta with reserved pasta water. Immediately add pesto. Mix pasta and pesto vigorously until well combined. Serve pesto pasta with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and nutritional yeast, if desired.