When you think of pesto, you probably imagine the light green sauce we know as pesto alla Genovese, made with basil and pine nuts and usually some type of hard cheese. This is my go-to pesto recipe because the flavor of fresh basil is pretty incredible. When I talk vaguely about pesto, this is what I am referring to.
But, that isn’t the only way to make pesto. In fact, all you really need is the right leafy green and you can make pesto out of almost anything. I’ve used carrot greens, spinach, a mix of herbs, sundried tomatoes and now…ramsons!
Making pesto is pretty easy if you have a food processor but if you prefer the old school method that requires a mortar & pestle you’ll need a bit more muscle to get the job done. Either way will work, so pick your method and grab your ingredients.
Let’s start with basic ingredients for vegan pesto!
Pine nuts (I like to lightly toast them)
Nutritional yeast (or vegan parmesan)
Water (if needed and added gradually)
That’s a super basic ingredient list, right? Pesto, for all its delicious flavors, isn’t a sauce that’s over-complicated and that’s certainly part of it’s charm. It’s so flavorful that a little bit goes a long way.
Tip: If you use more than a bunch or 2 of basil, give it a pulse or two on its own before adding the rest of the pesto ingredients. This is especially important if you choose to go oil-free because you won’t get that smooth chop that comes with adding 1/4 cup or more of olive oil to the pesto.
Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl of the food processor and start with a gentle pulse until the ingredients start to blend. If you’re having trouble, add a tablespoon of water and crank up the speed of the food processor until you get the desired consistency.
Tip: Add half the lemon juice up front and the rest as you need more liquid to break up those leafy greens, and then switch to water or you’ll end up with a SUPER lemony pesto.
Tip: Add nutritional yeast a little at a time, tasting as you go. If you use vegan parmesan, please let me know your tips because I have some Violife Parmesan arriving in the mail…
any day now today!
If you make a big batch of pesto, I recommend adding a teaspoon of oil after two days to make the batch last longer. If you make enough for one or two days, feel free to keep the pesto oil-free.
My mother-in-law recently returned from the local Farmer’s Market with a huge bag of ramsons, also known as wild garlic or ramps (pictured below) and once I got a whiff of that yummy garlicky scent, I knew this would be perfect for pesto. The first batch, which I didn’t photograph, was super garlicky because I added about 20 grams of roasted garlic to the pesto. It was delicious but very, very garlicky.
For the second batch, I decided to go with a vegan Ramson Pesto alla Trapanese style vegan pesto which means leafy greens, nuts and fresh tomatoes. I had some heirloom kumatoes that I hoped would work.
Lemon (juiced & zested)
Nutritional yeast or Vegan Parm
Tabasco sauce (just a few drops)
Break up the ramsons with a few pulses in the food processor and then add the remaining ingredients, starting with a slow pulse and then giving them a good go ’round until you have a nice pesto consistency.
If the leaves aren’t broken up enough, add water or lemon juice to keep it an oil-free pesto, but if you don’t mind some extra fat, add oil one teaspoon at a time.
Refrigerate and add to your favorite pasta dishes, sandwiches or whatever else you fancy. In fact, tell me in the comments section how you like to enjoy your pesto. My favorite thing to do besides enjoy it on a toasted baguette or crackers, is to add some veggiegurt to it for a creamy, flavorful salad dressing.
Next time you make pesto of any kind, I’d love to see it so hit me up on Facebook or Instagram with photos!
4 thoughts on “Oil-Free Vegan Pesto – Recipe & Tips”