Creamy, nutty, salty vegan pesto that comes together in basically as long as it takes to cook pasta.
I know buying ready made pesto is easy, so easy - I did it for a long long time. It's only once you make your own that you realise homemade pesto is in a whole other league of flavour, is so much more customisable, and just has a better feel than what usually comes in a jar. Everyone in Italy makes pesto differently and there are hundreds of ways of making authentic Italian pesto. What they all have in common, however, is using good quality ingredients as well as using enough basil, olive oil and salt. One thing that does vary is the type of nut that is being used. In Genova they stick to pine nuts alone, whereas in Sicily they tend use pistachios - I love them both and alternate based on what I have. Use what you have on hand and try them both to find your favourite.
Traditional pesto tends to have either parmesan or pecorino cheese, which gives it extra tanginess and richness. When testing this, I made a couple batches of it with nutritional yeast to try to replicate that flavour, but I found it slightly overpowering and felt it detracted from everything else going on. I tried a batch without and felt it was flavourful and rich enough on it's own. If you're a big fan of nutritional yeast, feel free to add a tablespoon's worth to test out whether it works for you - you might love it.
If you're making this recipe for a couple people rather than six, instead of halving the recipe, I'd suggest making the same quantity and simple storing it in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for a couple of months. There are so many ways to use good pesto - in salads, in sandwiches and even on its own as a snack with some fresh tomatoes. I can confidently say you will finish your jar before the week is up.
2 garlic cloves, peeled
40g pine nuts or pistachios
80g fresh basil
½ - 1 tsp salt, to taste
100ml olive oil
550g spaghetti or rigatoni
20g vegan parmesan, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160˚C. Spread the pine nuts or pistachios evenly on a baking tray, and toast for 5-6 minutes, until golden. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Add garlic to a food processor, and pulse until minced - scraping down the sides a couple times if necessary. Add the cooled nuts and mix until finely ground, around 1 minute. Add fresh basil and ½ tsp salt and mix for 30 more seconds, until the basil has broken down.
With the motor running, drizzle in 70ml olive oil in a steady stream. Taste for salt and adjust to taste. Transfer the pesto to a tupperware or jar, and top with remaining 30ml olive oil, to loosen up the pesto.
If serving six people, add all of the pesto to a large serving bowl. If you’re only making this for one, two or four people scoop 2-3 tbsp of pesto per head, into a large bowl.
Cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Before draining the pasta, reserve 150ml of cooking water. Add 100ml (for six people) of cooking water to the bowl with the pesto and stir to loosen. Add the drained pasta, and toss to combine, until the pasta is glossy - adding more reserved cooking water as you go if necessary.
Divide the pasta amongst plates and serve topped with vegan parmesan, if using.
Valentina is our Food Creative, who dreams up our tasty dishes and recipes for our social channels. She has loads of experience cooking up a storm in Italian kitchens, so it’s no surprise she can’t live without good-quality olive oil (don’t come between her and her olive oil) and fresh pasta.