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Best Vegan Pesto

July 16, 2011

As I write this (several days before you’ll read it), I am getting ready to go to California for a week to visit my family. One of the things on my to-do list before I leave is to pick as much of the basil from our plants as possible, since I know plenty of new growth will happen the week I’m gone. I’ve been quietly building a little army of frozen pesto batches in our freezer, reinforcements to call in during the winter when we miss garden-fresh summer flavors.

So, as promised, here is our standby recipe for pesto without the parmesan cheese you typically find in it. We make this frequently throughout the summer. I’ve tried freezing it flat in quart-size plastic bags that you can easily stack or stand up like books on a shelf, and also in ice cube trays so you can choose whether to defrost a lot or a little at a time. Both those methods were fine, but this year I am trying it in glass Pyrex containers covered with plastic wrap before I put the plastic lid on top. This recipe makes the amount we like for 1 box of pasta.

If you’d like to know the very precise way we measure our basil for this recipe, see the photo below:

Best Vegan Pesto

(adapted from The Complete Vegan Kitchen by Jannequin Bennett)

  • approximately 3 tsp. garlic (we usually use 3-4 relatively large cloves)
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • at least 4 cups packed whole basil leaves
  • 6 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (We usually go over the 1/2 cup mark but not all the way to the 2/3 mark. You can start with 1/2 cup and add more to taste if you’d like. 2/3 cup is too much for us, but too little oil definitely doesn’t taste right either.)


1. Cut the garlic cloves in half or thirds, and put in your food processor. Sprinkle the salt over top. Process just briefly to combine, and let set a couple of minutes.

2. Add the basil and pine nuts to the food processor. Process 5 – 10 seconds, until pretty well combined.

3. Scrape down the sides of the processor with a flexible plastic spatula. Put the lid back on, but leave open the hole you can pour things through. Start the processor, and then pour in the oil in a nice, steady stream. Give it a couple of seconds to combine after you’ve poured in all the oil.

4. Scrape down the sides again and mix anything around that needs to be incorporated with the spatula. Taste, and add more salt or oil if desired. You can process it again to get it to the smooth consistency you like, but I usually try to keep the processing to a minimum since it heats everything up and might change its flavor or start turning the basil brown.

5. Serve immediately on hot pasta, or freeze for later use. Makes enough pesto for 1 box of pasta.

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