Cashew pesto with basil takes just minutes to make and has the same flavors as traditional pesto made with pine nuts. Instead, creamy cashews take their place in this more economical twist on a classic basil pesto recipe.
Homemade pesto sauce is a great way to use up your summer bounty of basil and tastes great on pasta, veggies, bread and so much more!
Traditional pesto sauce is made with pine nuts which can be expensive and sometimes hard to find in the supermarket. So I started experimenting with different types of nuts in my pesto sauce and found that cashews, which are a staple in my pantry are the best substitute. They add a similarly savory flavor, and a touch of creaminess.
Why you will love this recipe
- It's simple to make and ready in less than 15 minutes!
- Basil cashew pesto is versatile with many uses!
Here is what you will need
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This is an overview of the ingredients and steps to make this recipe; scroll down for a printable recipe card with exact measurements and instructions.
- Fresh basil leaves
- Fresh garlic
- Parmesan cheese
- Raw cashews
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Food processor or high-speed blender
How to make this basil cashew pesto recipe
Prepare the ingredients: Rinse and dry the basil, and roughly chop the garlic cloves and whole cashews. Measure the oil, shred and measure the Parmesan cheese.
Step 1. Start with cashews, cheese & garlic
Place the cashew nuts and shredded parmesan cheese into the bowl of a food processor.
Step 2. Blend them together
Cover the food processor and pulse several times until the mixture is crumbly.
Step 3. Add the basil
Add the basil to the food processor and pulse again several times.
Step 4. Pour in the oil
Slowly pour the oil into the food processor while the processor is running.
Note: The pesto will have a pasty texture, if you prefer thinner pesto sauce, add a little bit of water to thin it out.
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
The full list of ingredients to make this recipe is above. Below are notes about some of the ingredients, along with ideas for substitutes.
Extra virgin olive oil is less processed than regular olive oil and has more flavor and is my choice when making dishes that aren't cooked. It can be substituted with an equal amount of regular olive oil.
Parmesan cheese - A block of parmesan cheese that's grated just before adding it to the pesto is the best option for homemade pesto sauce. It tastes much better and it's minimally processed without additives that the pre-shredded cheese has.
Parmesan cheese can be substituted with an equal amount of pecorino cheese or asiago cheese.
When you make your own pesto sauce, there are so many ways to change it up, here are a few suggestions.
- Add-ins - add a handful of baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, a mix of fresh herbs or kalamata olives to the food processor for a flavor boost.
- Sunflower seed pesto - Instead of cashews, use sunflower seeds for a nut-free version.
- Spicy cashew pesto- gradually add up to a tablespoon of red pepper flakes for a spicy pesto sauce.
- Vegan cashew pesto sauce - replace the cheese with 3 to 4 tablespoons (to taste) of nutritional yeast for a vegan version.
Ways to use cashew pesto
Serve homemade cashew pesto at room temperature as a pasta sauce over your favorite pasta. We like linguine, penne, fusilli or orzo with our pesto sauce.
In addition to pesto pasta, this sauce tastes great on orzo pesto pasta, baked potatoes, potato salad, roasted vegetables, grilled vegetables, pizza, drizzled on fresh tomatoes, zucchini noodles, or added to marinara sauce.
How to store leftover pesto sauce
Store leftover cashew pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Freeze leftover pesto sauce in portions. An ice cube tray is perfect for individual portions. Once the pesto cubes are frozen, pop them out and store them in a freezer container.
Individual portions from the ice cube tray are perfect for adding to soups, and sauces.
Four-ounce mason jars are also a great way to store your leftover pesto in small portions. These work well if you make a double batch of this recipe. The small mason jars should be enough to serve over two servings of pasta.
Defrost pesto sauce in the refrigerator overnight.
Recipe tips and questions
- Don't cook the pesto! Pesto sauce is made with fresh ingredients; when it's cooked, it will lose some of that wonderful fresh flavor. For best results serve it at room temperature over cooked pasta.
- Toast the cashews for a few minutes in a skillet on top of the stove to bring out more flavor and texture.
If you break basil down too much it can become bitter and over-processed extra virgin olive oil can also cause a bitter flavor. Add the basil just before adding the oil and don't over-process. If your pesto sauce does become bitter, try adding a small amount of honey or a few more tablespoons of cheese.
There are many varieties of basil, and Genovese basil with its sett and slightly spicy flavor is most commonly used in pesto sauce. You can use any variety of basil that you like for different flavor profiles.
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