Nut Free Pesto

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This delicious nut free pesto is a wonderful alternative to pine nut-heavy Pesto alla Genovese. All you need is a few wholesome ingredients, a food processor, and a couple of minutes to create this rich and flavorful sauce!

Love pesto? Try my Zucchini Pesto Pasta, Asparagus Pesto Pasta, or Tuscan Kale Pasta.

Why You’ll Love It

Although I’m a major fan of an old-school basil pesto with pine nuts, this allergy-friendly version is just as tasty.

And believe it or not, you need just a few minutes and a trusty food processor or small blender to make it.

Oh, and did I mention that this recipe freezes like a dream? 

Yup – you can extend the life of a single batch to last you throughout an entire season.

Now, that’s what I call meal prep madness!

What is Pesto?

Traditional pesto is a sauce that originates from the Italian region Liguria.

It’s typically bright green and is made with fresh basil leaves, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and pecorino.

It’s a velvety condiment filled with herbal richness and cheesy creaminess. 

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Fresh basil leaves: If you can find it, go for Italian basil (AKA: Genovese basil) as it’s tender, small, and has gorgeous light green leaves.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: I always recommend using the best quality Italian EVOO you can find. Ligurian olive oil is the best for pesto, but any high-quality will work.
  • Garlic cloves: Try to use a sweet variety of garlic, as it will be used raw in this recipe. It’s also important to cut the cloves in half and remove the germ (or center of the clove). This can develop a stronger taste when blended and is also difficult to digest.
  • Grated parmesan: Using high-quality Parmigiano Reggiano DOP is the way to go here, as it’s made from grass-fed cows without any additives. It’ll give the pesto a rich and nutty flavor that you simply won’t get with the lower-grade stuff!
  • Sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds give this pesto extra creaminess. If you don’t have them handy, you can sub for an extra 2 tablespoons of parmesan.
  • Ice cubes: Optional – To slow oxidation (see notes for more info on why!)

Top Tip: Use the freshest and highest-quality ingredients you can find

This might go without saying, but using the best basil leaves, olive oil, and cheese you can find will make your pesto taste divine.

Ingredients for nut-free pesto: olive oil, sea salt, garlic, grated parmesan cheese, sunflower seeds, and fresh basil leaves.

How to Make Nut Free Pesto

Step-by-step overview. Full ingredients and instructions are in the recipe card below.

Prepare the basil leaves and garlic: Wash your basil leaves before patting them dry with a towel and put them aside (photo 1). Remove the garlic germ by cutting the garlic clove in half (photo 2).

Blitz your ingredients: In a food processor, add the grated parmesan, basil leaves, garlic (remember to remove the germ!), salt, extra virgin olive oil, and ice cubes (if you’re using them!).

Blend the mixture until creamy. To reduce the chance of clumps, scrape down the side of the food processor to make sure everything’s nice and smooth (photo 5).

Give it a taste test: Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning if needed. It’s easy to add an extra pinch of salt or a touch more garlic if you need to!

Transfer the pesto to a jar: Move your pesto to an airtight jar like a mason jar (photo 6). Top it with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent it from browning. Then, place it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

The Best Tricks to Keep Your Pesto Bright Green

  • Using ice cubes. When you blend the basil leaves in a food processor, the leaves will break, and the blades will heat.  This causes natural oxidation and will make the pesto turn brown quite quickly.  If you use ice cubes, the oxidation slows, and you’ll be left with brighter pesto for longer!
  • Don’t be tempted to warm up your pesto. Wait until the very last minute to remove your pesto from the jar before serving it. And avoid heating your pesto. It won’t go bad, but the heat will cause oxidation, and your pesto will turn brown. For the same reason, avoid overmixing it in your food processor.

How to Use Pesto Sauce

There are countless ways to use nut free pesto in your cooking (although using it as a pasta sauce has my heart!).

  • Pasta sauce: You can mix this nut free pesto with zucchini noodles, penne, spaghetti, or any other kind of pasta you fancy!
  • Meat and fish: Spread your pesto over grilled meat or a slab of salmon for summery freshness.
  • Sandwiches: Spread it over everything from focaccia to a caprese sandwich for the ultimate fresh bite. It’s also amazing for making bruschetta!
  • Salads: Thin out your pesto with some extra olive oil and water and use it as a fresh and simple salad dressing.

How to Store

Refrigerator: Leftovers will last in the fridge for a couple of days in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Freezing: If you want to keep it for longer, freeze it in an airtight container or jar for up to 3 months! To minimize waste, I suggest freezing it in manageable portions and defrosting your pesto as you need it. You can even pop your pesto into ice cube trays to create smaller portions!

Jar filled with nut free pesto.

If you try this nut free pesto recipe, please leave a comment and a rating and let me know how much you liked it!

Nut Free Pesto

This delicious nut free pesto is a wonderful alternative to pine nut-heavy Pesto alla Genovese. All you need is a few wholesome ingredients, a food processor, and a couple of minutes to create this rich and flavorful sauce!
Prep Time10 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 1 cup
Calories: 66kcal
Author: Sara Trezzi

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves - note 1
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil - note 2
  • 2 garlic cloves - note 3
  • 6 tablespoons grated parmesan - note 4
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds - note 5
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 3 ice cubes - or 3 tablespoons icy water – note 6

Instructions

  • Wash the basil leaves, and dry them with a towel, making sure not to press too hard to avoid causing oxidation.
  • In a food processor, add the grated Parmesan, garlic (note 3), basil leaves, salt, extra virgin olive oil, and ice cubes (if using) and blend until creamy.
  • If needed, scrape the side of the food processor to make sure everything is nice and smooth.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  • Transfer in a jar. Top it with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent it from browning. Refrigerate until ready to use. This pesto can last in the fridge for a couple of days (note 7). If you want to keep it for longer, you can freeze it for up to three months.

Notes

Note 1 – Basil: You’ll want to use, if possible, the freshest, small basil leaves you can find. If you find it, opt for Italian basil (Genovese basil). It has tender, small, light green leaves.
Note 2 – EVOO: Use the best quality Italian Extra Virgin Olive oil. Use a delicate and light extra virgin olive oil. If you can find it, Ligurian olive oil is best for pesto.
Note 3 – Garlic: As we’re using raw garlic, try to use a sweet variety. It’s best to cut the cloves in half and remove the germ (the center of the garlic clove), as it can develop a bitter taste and it’s less digestible.
Note 4 – Parmesan: Make sure to use high-quality Parmigiano Reggiano DOP. Real Parmesan cheese from Italy is made from grass-fed cows without any additives. Original pesto uses a combination of Parmesan cheese and pecorino. If you can find it, sub two tablespoons of grated parmesan for pecorino.
Note 5 – Sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds give this pesto extra creaminess. If you don’t have them handy, you can sub for an extra 2 tablespoons of parmesan.
Note 6 – Ice: This is one of the best tricks: when you blend the basil leaves in a food processor, the leaves will break, and the blades will heat, causing oxidation. This will make the pesto turn brown quite quickly. Adding ice cubes will slow oxidation, giving your pesto a bright green color for longer.
Note 7 – Storage tips: If your basil pesto develops a brown layer on top, don’t worry. This is normal oxidation. Once you mix it into your pasta, it will turn green again. Wait until the last minute to mix it, and do not heat it. If you freeze it, let it thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate per tablespoon.

Nutrition

Serving: 1tablespoon | Calories: 66kcal | Carbohydrates: 0.8g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 6g

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