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This vibrant green pesto sauce is loaded with all of the traditional ingredients (fresh basil, pine nuts, and olive oil) but made dairy free with the use of creamy, delicious roasted garlic as the stand-in for parmesan cheese. Spread it on crusty bread, toss it with pasta, or use it as a pizza sauce – you can’t go wrong!
This pesto has my heart, always and forever. It’s so rich and full of flavor, but somehow bright enough that I could (quite literally) eat it by the spoonful. I’ll settle for mixing it with chicken (pesto chicken salad-style) and serving it alongside plantain chips or greens – that’s more sensible, right?!
What is pesto?
Pesto is a delicious, flavorful green sauce that is typically made with garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, olive oil, and (in many cases, but not this one) cheese. It originated in Italy and is SUPER flavorful and versatile!
This dairy-free pesto recipe includes roasted garlic to offset the missing cheese flavor, toasted pine nuts (for even more flavor), and a lot of really fresh basil. Don’t worry, the pesto doesn’t scream “GARLIC!” … it screams “holy cow what is in this magic green paste that tastes so amazing?!”
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
Below, you’ll find everything needed for a delicious dairy-free pesto sauce. Substitutions are listed when applicable, and exact amounts can be found in the recipe card!
- Fresh basil leaves – a signature ingredient in pesto! Fresh is key here.
- Garlic – garlic is the star of this pesto show!
- Pine nuts – we’re keeping things traditional with pine nuts here, but if you want to save a few dollars, feel free to grab walnuts or sunflower seeds instead.
- Lemon – fresh lemon juice adds some zing and acidity to the pesto.
- Salt and pepper
Recipe Step by Step
First, roast the garlic…
Roasting the garlic is the most time-consuming part, which is compensated by the fact that your house will smell like an Italian villa for the rest of the day. I love the smell of roasted garlic. Don’t be intimidated by the process! It’s super easy.
- Prep – preheat the oven to 375°F, and peel the outer layers of the garlic skin off, leaving the cloves still attached. Then, cut the top of the bulb off (making sure to cut the tops of cloves hiding on the side).
- Wrap – wrap the prepped garlic bulb in parchment paper with the cut side up, then place the wrapped garlic in a muffin tin to balance.
- Bake – roast the garlic at 375°F for 30-45 minutes.
- Let cool – remove the garlic from the oven and let cool before handling.
Then, make the pesto…
Now that the garlic is roasted, you’re closer than EVER to having a delicious herby sauce at your disposal – lucky you! Here’s how you’ll pull the rest of the recipe together:
- Toast the pine nuts – stirring constantly, toast the pine nuts in a small/medium-sized pan over low/medium heat. Remove them from heat when they’re slightly brown and fragrant.
- Pulse ingredients in a food processor – add the basil, lemon juice, roasted garlic, toasted pine nuts, and half of the EVOO to a food processor, and pulse until everything is evenly combined.
- Pulse the rest of the ingredients – add the salt, pepper, and remaining EVOO to the food processor, and pulse until the pesto is smooth and creamy.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Squeeze the roasted garlic – instead of trying to peel the roasted garlic cloves, use your fingers to squeeze them out!
- Don’t burn the pine nuts – toasting the pine nuts adds A LOT of flavor to the finished sauce. Be sure to toast them just until they’re slightly brown and fragrant, though – they can go from perfectly toasted to downright burnt REALLY quickly.
- Use a blender – if you don’t have a food processor, just a blender (individual or regular) to make the pesto instead!
How to Use Pesto Sauce
Pesto is insanely delicious on SO MANY things. Here are a few of our favorite uses for it:
- As the sauce on homemade pizza
- As a spread on a sandwich
- Pesto Pasta Bake
- Baked Pesto Chicken Recipe
- Pesto Meatballs
- Pesto Chicken Salad
- Pesto Hummus
- Pesto Prosciutto Chicken Breasts
How to Store
Store your pesto in an airtight container (a mason jar works GREAT) in the refrigerator. Stored this way, it’ll last for up to 5 days.
For long-term storage, freeze your pesto for up to 3 months.
Dairy Free Pesto FAQs
Is pesto unhealthy or healthy?
Whether or not pesto is healthy or not is really dependent on your body and how it reacts to different kinds of foods. If you do well with the ingredients in this pesto recipe, then it’s a delicious, healthy option for you that is chock-full of anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy fat.
What do you eat pesto with?
You can truly eat pesto with ANYTHING! It’s incredibly delicious on a sandwich or pizza and can also be used as a toast or scrambled egg topper for breakfast.
Is pesto Italian or Mexican?
Pesto is an Italian basil sauce originally created in Genoa, Italy.
Is pesto usually served hot or cold?
Pesto can be served either way! You can heat it up for pasta or pizza or leave it cold for a sandwich spread. Either way is totally delicious.
Is it worth making your own pesto?
There are definitely some jarred pestos that are really yummy and made with simple ingredients, but honestly, nothing beats homemade, so if you’ve got the time, I recommend whipping up a batch of your own.
What can I use instead of pine nuts in pesto?
Pine nuts are typically pretty pricy, so if you’re looking to save some dollars, feel free to swap them for walnuts or sunflower seeds.
- 1 cup packed (4 ounces) fresh basil leaves
- 1 garlic bulb
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Cracked pepper to taste
- Roasted Garlic
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Peel the outer layers of the garlic skin off, leaving the cloves still attached. Then, cut the top of the bulb off (making sure to cut the tops of cloves hiding on the side).
- Wrap the prepped garlic bulb in parchment paper with the cut side up, then place the wrapped garlic in a muffin tin to balance.
- Roast the garlic at 375°F for 30-45 minutes.
- Remove the garlic from the oven and let cool before handling.
- Stirring constantly, toast the pine nuts in a small/medium-sized pan over low/medium heat. Remove them from heat when they’re slightly brown and fragrant.
- Add the basil, lemon juice, roasted garlic, toasted pine nuts, and half of the EVOO to a food processor, and pulse until everything is evenly combined.
- Add the salt, pepper, and remaining EVOO to the food processor, and pulse until the pesto is smooth and creamy.
Lovely detailed instructions! And so much healthier without the cheese..
Thank you! I agree …much healthier!
Alicia Jay (@aliciajaybird) says
Mm, the pesto looks divine! I’ll have to try this on my favorite summer dish: zucchini noodles and cherry tomatoes (usually mixed lightly with olive oil and black pepper). The little jar is charming as well.
That sounds delicious!! Zucchini and cherry tomatoes just made my weekly grocery shopping list! Thank you 🙂
I made this pesto, and although tastes amazing, it’s not as creamy looking at yours. suggestions?
Hi Jordan! Hmm … the difference could be in how quickly you added the olive oil to the rest of the pesto. Next time you give it a try, add the olive oil in more slowly (not quite as slowly as you would when making mayo) and see if that helps the texture.
Chloe Chase says
I love the tip on roasting garlic in foil. I’ve tried that before it works great if you seal the garlic very tight.
Thanks, Chloe! You’re so right – sealing it very tight is important!
The Husband and I are CrossFitters, and while we generally adhere to clean eating, we haven’t taken on the paleo challenge. Until now, that is. I made this delicious pesto and used it, along with some tomatoes, to top our freshly caught fish tonight and we loved it! Thanks for the recipes. Keep ’em coming!
It’s my pleasure, Rachel! Thank you for the note! I’m so glad y’all liked the pesto.
I made this tonight and slathered some on grilled chicken. Ahhhh-mazing!!!! So delicious, thanks for the recipe….and the house smells amazing, too!
Awesome! I slather it on everything 🙂
OH MY GOD. This is the first recipe I’ve tried for pesto (ever!), and my god its amazing!!!! Literally eating it with a spoon. Thanks for the easy to follow instructions!
Haha nice!! Welcome to the world of pesto obsession. I’m so glad you like it!
Thank you so much for this amazing recipe, Cassandra, I couldn’t believe how delicious this was. Please try it over roasted spaghetti squash, so good!
Awesome idea!! I will!
Emma Spouse says
Absolutely delicious!! Thank you so much xo
My pleasure, Emma!
10/10!! Thanks for sharing, all of your recipes are amazing 🙂
Thanks, Lenny! 🙂
Heather B says
Hi! I was wondering.. I recently went paleo and am now experimenting with different recipes. I make my own pesto any time I need pesto, but instead of using pine nuts I use walnuts, can I do that with this recipe as well?? Have you tried other nuts?
Hi Heather! Walnuts are a great substitute in this recipe!
I just made it now, and it tastes amazingly delicious. Wow. Thank you lots 🙂
I’m so glad you liked it!
I just made a jar of this and used a couple of spoonfuls to top my barramundi, broccolini and pumpkin and holy crap it was amazing!! I have always loved pesto but gave it up and now I can enjoy it again! I love all your recipes!
That sounds SO delicious! I’m so glad that you can enjoy pesto again! Thanks for the awesome feedback 🙂
Can’t wait to try this! Can you tell me how you store it (freezer vs. fridge)? How long will it last in the fridge?
Absolutely! I’ve stored it both ways before. In the fridge, it’ll last about 7 days. To store in the freezer, I’ll actually spoon it into ice cube molds to freeze, then transfer to a freezer-safe Ziploc bag for a couple months. That way, you can just grab the exact amount you need without defrosting the whole batch. Hope that helps!
This was my first go at homemade pesto, and wow! I’m in love. That’s so much!
Homemade is so much better than the store bought varieties! So glad you liked it Sara!
This looks so yummy! Haven’t made pesto in a very long time! You inspired me again! 🙂
Homemade is the way to go! Hope you try it out and love it Kristina!
This looks great… is there another nut that we can use vs pine? Or can we get away without using nuts at all?
Hi Nicki, you can try almonds or cashews. Just make sure you use a high powered blender or food processor. I would definitely use nuts though! Hope that helps!
I love this! One tip I have for roasting the garlic is to drizzle some EVOO and salt on top of the bulb before sealing the aluminum foil 🙂
Great tip Madison! Thank you!
Nadja Lagercrantz says
That pesto looks amazing! Can’t wait to try it.
Sadly, I noticed that someone used one of your photographs without linking back to your blog. I know this is an “old” blog post, but I cant help to find it very disturbing when people don’t give credit to the original source;
Thank you for the heads up Nadja. I agree with people not giving credit. Bloggers work very hard on posting recipes and taking gorgeous pictures.
How come you don’t add the garlic as well…why just the juice? Cant wait to make this, thank you!
Thank you so much for sharing this. This is my first time to try to make pesto and it taste wonderful but it is not as green as yours. I dipped my small sweet peppers in it for a snack and it delicious. I spread some on chicken breast and have it in the oven now, can’t wait to eat it. Thanks again for sharing
This is delicious! First time making pesto and it came out amazing and so easy to make. I am very lactose intolerant so I was excited to find a recipe that didn’t have cheese!
What is EVOO?
Amber Link says
Extra virgin olive oil!
Not going to lie. I made this with the intention of adding Parmesan because it’s pesto and pesto and parm go together like pb and j. Well i made it and taste tested it. IT WAS DELICIOUS. Then i realized i didn’t even add the parm! You can’t even tell it’s missing. Another slam dunk from fed and fit!
Brandi Schilhab says
Yay! So awesome, Megan! We’re so glad you enjoyed this recipe!
I have made this several times and it’s always delicious. I find the amount of roasting you do is important as the depth of garlic flavour changes. I Enjoy a well roasted flavour personally, let it really caramelise. Also the biggest thing I vary is adding double garlic (have been known to triple sometimes if I’m in the mood), I also start with a whole bunch of basil and work my way up from there to taste. It’s always best I find to let it sit overnight as that’s when the flavours do their magic and really come together!
If there was a rating above 5 I would give it
Brandi Schilhab says
Thanks so much, David! These are great tips!!