This creamy pesto pasta is a must-have recipe for any vegan kitchen. It's quick, easy, and only needs a few ingredients. As an added bonus, it makes great use of any extra leafy greens or herbs laying around...like cilantro, parsley or basil.
Use this vegan pesto on whatever pasta you have on hand, or slather onto a sandwich, a pizza, some hummus, or even avocado toast. Or mix with some non-noodle pasta and refrigerate for a killer summer pasta salad.
Most of the ingredients for this dairy free pesto pasta already live in your fridge & pantry. It's a great "leftover pesto" to make with spare greens and herbs.
- Greens - spinach and kale both work well here. If you choose to use kale, don't forget to remove any thick stems. I typically use leftover spinach or kale.
- Herbs - basil, cilantro, and parsley are all delish. Use what you have!
- Softened cashews - to soften, boil for 10-15 mins. The cashews add some of the nutty buttery quality that you'd normally get from parmesean. Walnuts also work, just don't boil them!
- Olive oil - use the good stuff, like extra virgin olive oil for best flavor
- Lemon juice - this adds a subtle sour punch and means you'll need to use less salt.
- Salt - to taste. Add once all the other ingredients are blended, and taste. When in doubt, start small.
- Garlic (optional) - self explanatory. If you don't like garlic, leave it out.
- Pine nuts (optional) - these are totally optional, but amp up the flavors and texture. They're buttery and even more nutty than cashews.
While the veggies are totally optional, this is another great opportunity to use what you have on hand. Here are some of my faves:
- Baby tomatoes - during summer tomato season, roast some baby tomatoes in the oven at 400 F for 10-ish minutes with a pinch of salt and drizzle of olive oil. There are few things better than a sweet roasted tomato.
- Sliced carrots - roast these with your tomatoes. They'll take a little longer, so don't mix in with the tomatoes, so you can remove each veggie more easily.
- Peas - these are the simplest ingredient to add. I always have frozen peas in my freezer. Add to your pasta pot when you have ~2 minutes left, or warm in the microwave according to package instructions.
- Sun dried tomatoes - chop these up into small pieces and mix in with your pesto pasta for a little bit of savory tomato flavor without too much work. I always have a few of this in my pantry for pasta like this.
- Roasted bell peppers - similar to carrots, chop into small pieces and roast with other veggies. Make sure to keep all the peppers together for even cooking.
If you're not feeling the fresh vegetables, this pesto shines on the pasta alone.
First, prep vegetables. To roast, preheat oven to 400 F. Toss prepared veggies in a little cooking oil (like grapeseed for it's high smoke point) and salt. Roast for 10-20 minutes, carefully monitoring. Tomatoes are done when they're just a little wrinkled. Carrots and bell peppers may take a little longer.
Meanwhile, boil cashews for 15-20 minutes in a small saucepan, while water boils for pasta in a large pasta pot.
Once cashews are ready, add to blender with the rest of the pesto ingredients and blend until smooth, 30-60 seconds. Make sure to load heftier ingredients closer to the blade, like cashews.
If using a personal blender (like the Nutribullet here) you may need to add more oil, or stop a few times to mix the ingredients.
If you're using a larger blender like a Vitamix, I recommend making a double batch of pesto unless you have a smaller blending container.
Substitutions & Variations
While this fresh pesto pasta is vegan, dairy free and plant based, it can be gluten free with gluten free pasta.
Here are some other easy substitutions:
- Greens - use spinach or kale for best results.
- Herbs - basil, cilantro and parsley all work.
- Use toasted walnuts instead of boiled cashews. To toast walnuts, place into frying pan on medium heat for 1-2 minutes, tossing frequently to prevent burning.
- While extra virgin olive oil is preferred, you may use light olive oil, grapeseed oil, or whatever oil you have on hand
- I've definitely used lime juice instead of lemon juice in a pinch...
You'll need a few pieces of equipment to make this plant-based pesto recipe, nothing crazy...
- Blender, food processor, or immersion blender. A large commercial blender (such as Vitamix) is often too big for a single recipe. If that's what you're working with, make a double recipe. I recommend a smaller blender like a Nutribullet, or food processor. An immersion blender also works - it's just so easy.
- Small saucepan to soften your cashews
- Large pot for cooking pasta
- Baking sheet for roasting veggies if desired. Style points for a silicon mat or parchment paper for easy cleanup.
Refrigerate pesto in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Store creamy pesto pasta with vegetables in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
To reheat pasta on the stove, place into frying pan on low heat with a little cooking oil or leftover pasta water. An extra dollop of pesto never hurts...
Frequently asked questions
Use this vegan pesto on...
- Pizza - spread it on a flatbread with some tomato slices and your favorite vegan mozzarella, and place into an oven set to 350 F until the cheese melts. I'm a big fan of Miyoko's mozzarella wheel and Whole Foods plant-based mozzarella.
- Sandwiches - I love a good pesto and hummus sandwich. You could also make a caprese sandwich with the pesto, some vegan mozzarella, sliced tomato, and a little bit of balsamic vinegar...or slather onto this gorgeous roasted carrot sandwich.
- Pasta - it's no secret that pesto's best friend is pasta. If your pasta is flying solo with pesto, I suggest a noodle like spaghetti, capellini, or fettuccine.
- Veggies - tomatoes, carrots and bell peppers, oh my! Use whatever veggies you have that are roast-able, and enjoy!
Noodles like capellini, spaghetti, and fettuccine work well without any veggies. If you're making vegan pesto pasta with vegetables, fusilli, casarecce, and orecchiette are among my favorites - it'll be much easier to pick up pasta and veggies with a fork with these more compact shapes, and the pesto will sneak into the crevices.
No - simply add fresh pesto to warm pasta. The warmth from the pasta will release the oils in the herbs, heightening their flavor without overheating. In general, pesto shouldn't be heated on its own.
Roasted vegetables go well with pesto pasta. Roasted tomatoes are particularly delicious, but some fresh peas or sun dried tomatoes are also delish.
Blend pesto well...it's ok to stop and stir. And don't forget to taste!
Need more pasta in your life? I've got you covered.
Vegan pesto pasta with vegetables is a staple for any plant-based kitchen. Use it on pasta with some veggies, and use the rest on a sandwich or pizza.
- 2-3 cups greens - spinach and de-stemmed kale work well
- ½-1 cup fresh basil leaves (can use cilantro or parsley)
- ½ cup olive oil, up to 1 cup if needed
- ½ cup softened raw cashews (boil raw cashews for 10 mins, then strain)
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- Juice of ½ Lemon
- Salt to taste (start with 1 tsp)
- 1 tbsp pine nuts (toast for extra nutty flavor)
Veggies and Pasta
- 2 bell peppers, diced
- 1 package cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup baby carrots, sliced into wheels
- Olive oil to taste
- 1-2 T salt
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 pound pasta of choice
- Preheat & prep: preheat oven to 400 F. In a small saucepan, boil water for cashews. In a large pasta pot, boil 4-5 quarts of water for pasta, adding a generous pinch or two of salt.
- Prep vegetables: if roasting vegetables, chop and toss a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Pro tip: toss each set of vegetables separately and roast in same section of pan. Vegetable cooking time varies a bit, if your tomatoes are done before your carrots, it's much easier to remove. Roast for 20 mins, then remove from oven and flip with spatula. Put back in the oven for 10-20 mins until they begin to brown. When the tomatoes start to wrinkle and flatten, they're done. If using frozen peas, add to pasta pot when pasta has ~ 2 minutes left, or warm in microwave according to package instructions.
- Soften cashews: when water is boiling, add cashews and boil for 10-15 mins. Then strain and add to blender.
- Cook pasta: once water is boiling, prepare pasta according to package instructions to al dente, then strain.
- Prepare pesto: blend all pesto ingredients together. Add more olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time if pesto is too thick.
- Combine & enjoy: add a serving of pasta to a bowl, toss with a few Tbsp of pesto and as many veggies as desired. Gently mix with fork, tongs, spoon, etc. Add more pesto and salt to taste, and enjoy!
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