This green jewel-like vegan sauce is based on the traditional pesto alla Genovese. Pesto alla Genovese is an Italian no-cook sauce that has its origin in the city of Genoa, on Italy’s North-Western Ligurian coast. It is traditionally prepared with fresh sweet basil leaves, garlic, salt, extra virgin olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Some pesto recipes include a duo of cheeses, Parmesan and ‘Pecorino’ (a sheep’s milk cheese). Even though this is a vegan recipe, you can easily add the cheese of your choice when coating the pasta with the pesto.
Traditionalists pound the ingredients in a pestle and mortar until a nice green paste is formed. They start with the garlic and salt, then add the basil leaves, pine nuts and finally the cheese. For convenience, I use a food processor to speed up the process but do not to over-process it.
You can also make pesto using a combination of greens, for instance, basil with arugula, basil with parsley (parsley will boost the green color), or combining all these three ingredients together. You can also add a touch of other herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram.
Instead of pine nuts, you can use walnuts, cashew, pistachios, Brazil nuts, almonds, and why not try some seeds such as pumpkin seeds. Toasting the nuts of your choice contributes to more intense flavor and aroma.
- 3 large bunches of basil (about 3 cups packed basil leaves)
- ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly roasted
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for storing
- Heat a small frying pan over a low heat. Lightly toast the pine nuts until golden, stirring them frequently. Remove from heat and allow the nuts to cool down.
- Gently wash the basil, pulling all the stems off and preserving only the leaves. Extra tender stems can be included. Remove the excess water and allow the leaves to dry on a clean towel.
- Add the garlic, basil leaves, and toasted pine nuts into a food processor cup and process well. If needed, stop the processor a few times to scrape the pesto from the sides with a spatula.
- Pour the extra virgin olive oil slowly and continue processing until the pesto is creamy. Taste the sauce and season it to your taste.
- Pour the pesto into a jar and cover with some extra EVOO to prevent oxidation, then seal the container and store it into the fridge for up to two weeks.
- For freezing, add pesto to small freezer-friendly containers and cover the sauce with some extra EVOO.
- Makes approximately 250 mL.
– To serve pesto with pasta, prefer kinds of pasta that have a special shape such as ‘fusilli’ or ‘gemelli’ to allow the pesto to cling into the rivets of the pasta.
– Combine the pesto with a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. The starch in the cooking water will further help the sauce to cling to the pasta.
– The recipe above is vegan, but if you wish you can add grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino cheese while stirring the pasta with the sauce. Another great option is to add fresh mozzarella pearls.
– Add some cherry tomatoes for color and flavour. It also helps you to add vegetables to your plate.
– In addition to the traditional ‘pasta al pesto’, this sauce can be:
- added to a tomato-based pasta sauce or to finalize your pasta dish or a risotto with a small dollop of pesto on top
- spread into a sandwich
- beaten into softened butter then over boiled potatoes or a protein of choice
- combined with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese for a Caprese salad
- partnered with summer vegetables, especially tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants and new potatoes, and with fresh cheeses, like mozzarella, ricotta, and goat cheese. 
Keep frozen pesto up to 6 months in the freezer. To thaw it, remove the container from the freezer to the refrigerator a day before using it.
Learn more about basil…
- Madison, D. (2013). Vegetable Literacy. New York, Ten Speed Press.
- Petterson, J. (2012). Vegetables revised. New York, Ten Speed Press.
- Crosb, G. (2012). The Science of Good Cooking. America’s Test Kitchen.