This easy vegan pesto recipe made with pine nuts or macadamia nuts is delicious with or without oil and is just perfect! You will get a round, creamy vegan pesto sauce that can be blitzed up in 5 minutes and will be the perfect dressing for pasta, pizza, or as a spread in your favourite sandwich.
Made with some of the most iconic Italian ingredients (Basilico Genovese, Parmigiano Reggiano, Olio Extravergine di Oliva and Pinoli), pesto is a primi piatti champion in Italy. Everyone loves it!
In this interpretation, we wanted to keep the traditional feeling of eating pesto (basil + umami + creaminess). At the same time, we wanted to veganize it, and find a substitute for the excessive amount of oil called for in the traditional recipe.
We tested two recipes. One with pine nuts and olive oil, one with macadamia nuts and no oil. The verdict? They are both great alternatives to traditional non-vegan Italian pesto, but we prefer the one with macadamia nuts and no oil.
We replaced the pine nuts and the oil (too greasy) with some milder but out-of-this-world-creamy macadamia nut. Umami is added by nutritional yeast, and we also reduced the garlic substantially.
The result is a pesto where the basil is respected and elevated. A perfectly round and creamy sauce, that will win over every single one of your non-vegan friends (yes, even the Italian ones).
Basil leaves: Italian basil is the main ingredient in pesto (best if from the Pra' area in Genova). Make sure you get some young and fresh leaves, preferably cut off of the plant just minutes before making the pesto.
Macadamia nuts or pine nuts: pine nuts are used in the traditional recipe, but we prefer macadamia as they have a more dairy-like consistency when blended.
Nutritional yeast: we add this to replace umami of the parmesan cheese.
Garlic: it goes really well with the basil.
Sea salt: to enhance and bring all flavours together. Avoid using table salt.
Iced water: to cool down the basil leaves while they blend.
Extra virgin olive oil: this is optional but recommended in the pine nuts version of this recipe. If you make the pesto with macadamia there's no need for oil.
You'll need a blender or food processor.
📋 Recipe Card
Vegan pesto alla genovese recipe
- 10 cups basil (loosely packed) (100 grams)
- 0.75 cups macadamia nuts or pine nuts (100 grams)
- 0.40 cups nutritional yeast (25 grams)
- 1/2 clove garlic
- 8 - 10 tbsp ice water
- 4 tbsp olive oil (only if you use pine nuts)
- 2 pinches sea salt
- Put the blades of your blender in the freezer for 15 minutes. Then add all the ingredients to the blender and pulse about 20 times. Don't blend continuously for too long. This will cause the basil to heat up and to lose its flavour.
- Serve with a delicious plate of trofie, fusilli or bavette pasta.
👨🏻🍳 Top tips
Use the right basil
Fresh basil is the most important ingredient of this sauce and it's vital that it has a homogenous green colour and no brown spots on the leaves.
Few basil plants are as aromatic and beautiful as the Italian Genovese basil. Use your nose and search for the most fragrant basil plant to make your pesto a success.
Mortar vs Blender
Traditional pesto is made in a mortar, but if you follow the tips here, you'll be able to get a great vegan pesto sauce in your blender.
Mortar is best because the slower grind will not heat up the leaves of the basil. However, pesto in a mortar takes a longer time to make if you are not an expert, and the basil leaves will oxidate, lose colour, and flavour.
Never heat up the basil
Never cook or heat pesto as the basil becomes bitter and it quickly loses its taste after heating. When blending, be gentle.
Pulse, don't blend
Pulse (on - off - on - off) rather than blending at full speed so that the blades of your blender don't heat up the basil.
Freeze your blades
Put your blades in the freezer for a few minutes before blending the basil. This will make sure the basil stays cool despite the high speed of the blender and you'll have a more flavourful and less bitter pesto sauce.
Opt for macadamia nuts
In our opinion macadamia nuts are way superior to pine nuts for this easy vegan pesto recipe. They are creamier, rounder, and remind us of parmesan cheese. If you use macadamia, you can skip the olive oil.
Mix it with pasta water
When you serve the pesto with your pasta dish make sure to save a cup of pasta water and add some of it to the pesto while tossing it with the pasta.
The starch in the pasta water will make your vegan pesto sauce extra creamy and yummy!
Serve with homemade trofie pasta
The best way to appreciate this easy vegan pesto sauce is to serve it with a homemade trofie pasta. You can follow our naturally vegan recipe for trofie al pesto.
📖 Questions & answers
No. Traditional pesto alla Genovese is not vegan because it contains parmesan cheese and pecorino cheese.
Our recipe is 100% vegan and 100% delicious.
Yes. There is no gluten in this recipe. Serve with gluten free pasta for a delicious gluten-free meal.
Pesto (or pesto alla Genovese) is a sauce originating from Genova, the capital city of Liguria. This region, thanks to its mild microclimate, has some of the best - if not the best - basil in the world.
The word pesto comes from the Italian "pestare", which means "to pound". Traditionally pesto is made in a marble mortar in which the ingredients are crushed and pounded together through a circular motion of a wooden pestle.
Pesto can be served with many pasta types, such as fusilli, spaghetti, bavette, linguine, farfalle, lasagne and even gnocchi. However, the best pasta type remains traditional homemade trofie pasta.
Well. Yes. Bu you won't get the same creamy result. Cashew nuts are not fat enough and they are hard to make creamy unless you have a powerful blender. So, our advice is to stick to macadamia, pine nuts, or as a last resort walnuts.
You could substitute the nuts for seeds, such as sunflower seeds. Again, the result won't be as creamy and you might want to add some more olive oil.
Yes. Our favourite pesto is without oil. To do this, use macadamia nuts instead of pine nuts.
Yes. Vegan pesto freezes well. Our tip is to freeze it in ice cube trays and store it for up to 6 months. When you unfreeze it tough, don't use high heat, but rather let melt in the refrigerator.
Yes. You can make spinach pesto, rocket pesto, zucchini pesto, parsley pesto.
keep the pesto in the refrigerator in an air tight container for up to ten days.
- As a sauce for Zoodles - zucchini noodles. Cook up the zoodles and stirr into this delicious pesto sauce.
- As a spread on bruschetta, Italian toasted bread.
- As a topping on pizza. Pour some big drops of this pesto sauce onto your favourite vegan pizza.
- As a spread in your favourite veggies sandwich.
- On sliced tomatoes with some bread on the side.
- If you make it a bit more runny with some extra water, you can use it as a dressing for your salads.
- As a dressing for your cold pasta salads.
- Our favourite, as a dip for boiled potatoes.
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- Homemade Italian style pizza
- Creamy sparagus risotto
- Vegan tiramisù
If you have any tips or questions let us know in the comments below!