Basil Pesto recipe- with dairy free variation

Fresh basil pesto is delicious and it has such a variety of uses. I love to raid my mum’s garden when it is in season and make up a huge batch to freeze in small portions to use in the coming months. Check out the end of the post for my favourite uses for basil pesto.

Fresh Basil Pesto


  • 1 1/2 cups of basil leaves firmly packed
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 2 Tb cashews*
  • 30g Parmesan (grated) or 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • squeeze of lemon


  1. In a mortar and pestle or food processor crush the basil, garlic and oil first then add the nuts, parmesan (or salt) and sneeze of lemon and continue to crush until the nuts are crushed to your liking.

*About the nuts: Pine nuts are used traditionally, but I like cashews and they are much cheaper. You can also use macadamias or other soft nuts or even roasted pumpkin seeds for a nut free version. If you like a crunchier, chunky style pesto double the amount of nuts used.

**Dairy Free: Replacing the Parmesan for 1/4 tsp sea salt if you want dairy free pesto is an easy swap. This swap also works well when using pesto in cooking eg to coat chicken breast and pan fry. Parmesan can burn and stick whereas when replaced with salt it cooks and flavours easily.

Tips and tricks

  • Lemon helps to preserve the green colour as the basil oxidises turning the pesto brown.
  • Use basil as fresh and young as you can get it and take care to discard any discoloured leaves and stalks. Old basil and stalks can make pesto quite bitter. 
  • If using a food processor be careful not to over-process as the nuts will pulverise and make pesto sauce. 
On a personal note 

If I have made a large batch of pesto I freeze it either in ice cube trays or in zip-lock bags and use over the next couple of months. Alternatively, it will keep in the fridge for a week or so and if you are worried about it going brown just pour over a little extra olive oil to cover the pesto.

Ideas for use:
  • As a spaghetti sauce: mix with a little hot water and extra olive oil and perhaps a squeeze of lemon if you like
  • Add to creamy or tomato based pasta sauces
  • As a marinade for chicken
  • On a cheese plate
  • Spread on toasted sandwiches or wraps
  • As a pizza sauce
  • With eggs, avocado, fresh tomato and mushrooms on sourdough for brekky.
  • As a salad dressing- just add some extra olive oil and lemon juice to a few spoons of pesto. Particularly great with salads with avocado, ripe tomatoes, feta or fresh mozzarella etc. 

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