You'll love how easy and delicious this Vegan Basil Pesto is to make. Gorgeous fresh basil, toasted pine nuts and a vegan substitute for parmesan cheese, make this delicious green pesto something you'll be confident in whizzing up in no time.
Pesto is one of the most delicious sauces around, and is absolutely perfect whether it's stirred into pasta, used as the basis for a salad, or smeared onto a sandwich.
I like to use fresh basil pesto in this Mediterranean Orzo Pesto Salad, where the green freshness of the basil is perfectly complemented by little juicy tomatoes. You can also combine it in a hearty pasta dish, such as this Mushroom Pesto Pasta.
This vegan version of the classic Basil Pesto, or Pesto Genovese uses the same classic ingredients as the original, but with one exception to make it dairy free and vegan.
- Fresh Basil: freshly picked and aromatic with a sweetly peppery flavour. Choose Genovese or Italian basil varieties for the most authentic taste.
- Pine Nuts: European Pine nuts are traditional to use in this pesto. See below for other varations.
- Crushed Garlic: Usually a single clove of fresh garlic is enough.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Good quality extra virgin olive oil is essential for the flavour and finish of the pesto.
- Nutritional Yeast: Traditionally pesto uses non-vegatarian hard cheeses, including Pecorino Sardo or Parmeggiano Reggiano. We substitute this for nutritional yeast which has a nutty, cheesy flavour that works perfectly to make this pesto both dairy free and vegan.
- Sea Salt: flakey sea salt is a must, as it adds overall flavour and mouth feel.
See recipe card for quantities.
Follow along with these step by step instructions for the perfect basil pesto.
1. First gently toast the pinenuts over a low heat in an unoiled pan. Watch carefully as they go from being untoasted to burnt very quickly. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.
3. Add clean, dry basil to the food processor and pulse, gently adding olive oil.
4. Add the oil slowly and whizz until the pesto comes together but is still a bit textured.
❗️Perfect Pesto Tips
- When roasting the nuts, let them fully cool before whizzing them up with the other ingredients. This ensures they don't 'cook' the delicate herbs which makes the pesto not so delicious.
- Make sure your herbs are clean. No one wants gritty pesto!
- Dry the basil or herbs thoroughly to avoid watery pesto.
🥕Substitutions & Variations
Pesto can be made with all kinds of other delicious combinations. Here are some to try.
- Other Nuts - Traditionally, walnuts were also used instead of tricky to find pine nuts. You can also choose to use pecans, almonds, pistachios, cashews or hazelnuts.
- No Nuts - use pumpkin or sunflower seeds in place of the pine nuts to make a nut-allergy friendly version of the pesto.
- Other Herbs - Combine the basil with parsley or rocket (arugula) to make the basil go further, handy when you don't have an abundance to use. Alternatively use carrot tops, kale, or even broccoli to make pesto variations. I make a lovely Wild Garlic Pesto every year when it's in season.
Alternatively, you can go old-school and use a pestle and mortar and bash up the pesto the way it was made back before food processors were available. Some people even prefer it made that way. To do this, crush the garlic clove first with a little salt. Then crush the pine nuts with the nutritional yeast (cheese substitute) before finally adding the basil bit by bit, drizzling in olive oil as you go.
To store the pesto, put it in a clean, dry jar, then cover the pesto with a little olive oil. This stops air from getting to the pesto and keeps it fresher for longer. It will last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. If you use a portion of the pesto, cover any left up with a little extra oil.
To keep pesto fresh for months (great if you have a glut of basil to use), portion it out into ice cubes containers and freeze. Once frozen into little blocks, pop them out, and put into a freezer bag or container. Use from frozen or thaw as needed all through winter. Delicious when added to soup or to jazz up a stew when it's cold!
When roasting the pine nuts, be extra careful as they go from untoasted to burnt SUPER quickly (I know this because I have ruined more than one batch of them!). Also remove them from the heat of the pan quickly, as even when off the stove top they can continue to cook (and burn)
Vegan pesto is made without cheese or dairy. Regular pesto is often not even vegetarian, as it is made with cheese that traditionally contains animal rennet.
Regular shop bought pesto is not vegan, however vegan pesto is now readily available. Freshly made vegan pesto however is even more delicious and is easy to make too.
If you have added too much garlic to your pesto, it might be astringent. It's probably one of the only times too much garlic can be too much! Adding it directly to hot pasta or on a pizza will help 'cook' the pesto and make it not so intense.
Other handy condiments and dressings:
Looking for other recipes like this pesto? Try these:
Vegan Basil Pesto
For accuracy, I measure all ingredients in metric as standard, then convert and test the recipe for American cup measurements etc.
(Heads up Aussie and UK readers- your measurements in cups are sometimes different, so please use metric or check you have the correct cup and spoon type!!)
- Wash the basil then dry it really well.55 g Fresh basil
- Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan, be careful that they don't burn. Let them cool.75 g pine nuts
- Put the pine nuts and garlic into the food processor and blitz to a fine rubble.1 clove garlic, 75 g pine nuts
- Add in all the other ingredients and blitz.55 g Fresh basil, 22 g nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon Maldon or Kosher Salt, 45 ml Olive oil
- Stop every now and then and scrape down the sides of the processer
- Blitz until smooth- taste for salt. Add more olive oil as needed.
- Transfer to a glass jar & add a bit of olive oil over the top
- Keep in the fridge and use in everything!