Made with roasted cashew nuts and fresh basil, this cashew pesto recipe is a delicious and cheaper alternative to pesto made with pine nuts. Ready in 10 minutes, this versatile recipe can be served with pasta, used in a dip or to top a pizza, and any leftovers can easily be frozen.
Homemade pesto is an easy and delicious way of using up a glut of basil or other herbs. It adds flavour to a number of dishes and when making pesto at home you can be flexible the recipe: from making pesto without pine nuts like this one, to a nut free pesto altogether. You can also make a vegan and nut free pesto (which is a popular baby led weaning recipe).
Why we love this recipe
- Making pesto with cashew nuts instead of pine nuts is an economical way of making pesto.
- This homemade cashew pesto is a great recipe for using up a glut of basil.
- You can make a small batch of homemade cashew pesto to use up the last of a bunch of basil to save it from going to waste, or freeze any leftover pesto in ice cube trays and pop into soups or stews for a burst of flavour.
- This roasted cashew pesto is gluten free and contains just 5 ingredients.
Ingredients notes and substitutions
- Basil – sweet basil. You can also use the larger leaved Italian Genovese basil. When buying basil look for leaves that are bright green.
- Cashew nuts – use unsalted natural cashew nuts. If you don’t want to toast the nuts you can use roasted cashew nuts, but just be aware of the increased saltiness roasted nuts tend to have.
- Cheese – parmesan or pecorino. This adds a saltiness and richness to the pesto. For a cheaper alternative, I often use a sharp mature cheddar instead. It tastes slightly more cheesy, but is still delicious.
- Garlic – fresh garlic, or a pinch of garlic powder.
- Olive oil – extra virgin olive oil is delicious, but you can also use a neutral oil such as canola or grape seed.
How to make cashew pesto from scratch:
- Fry the cashew nuts in a non stick frying pan over a medium heat until golden brown then allow them to cool completely.
- Place the basil leaves and smaller stalks into a mini food processor or blender with the grated parmesan, garlic clove and olive oil. Blend.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend again until you get your desired consistency. I prefer mine to have some texture, but you can make it smoother if you prefer.
- Serve the homemade pesto immediately or spoon into a small bowl and cover with clingfilm or top with oil to prevent the air from getting to it which will make it turn brown.
Stored in an airtight container, or covered with clingfilm, this pesto will last up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Yes you can! Pesto was traditionally made without a food processor. You need to use a sharp knife, as you want it to cut the basil rather than bruise it.
You can use the thinner basil stems in pesto, but remove the thick woody stems as they are tough and can wrap around the blades of your food processor or blender.
If your pesto is bitter, the most likely cause is that you have over processed it in the food processor. Add a little more cheese or few more cashew nuts to get rid of the bitter taste.
If you pesto turns brown it means that the basil has started oxidising (the chemical reaction that happens when air gets to it). If you scrape the top layer off the pesto underneath should be green.
Pesto should be slightly chunky, not completely smooth, and quite thick.
My recipe tips
- Toasting the cashew nuts in a pan releases their sweet flavour, but if you are pushed for time – and don’t want to dirty a pan – then you can make this pesto without toasting them.
- If you do toast the cashews, leave them to cool completely before making the pesto – otherwise the pesto can become gloopy.
- If you don’t have enough basil to make pesto – or want a mild tasting pesto – add a small handful of fresh baby spinach or rocket (arugula). This pesto recipe is also a great way to use up the last of the bagged salad leaves.
- Garlic – if you don’t like the strong taste of raw garlic, pop a peeled clove into boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes. Cool then place in the blender with the other pesto ingredients. Or use a small pinch of dried garlic. (I often did this when my son was a toddler and wasn’t too keen on the taste of strong garlic.)
Serving Ideas for homemade pesto:
- Pizza – spread on homemade pizza dough or flatbread, top with mozzarella and bake for the most delicious, simple pizza, or turn any leftovers into leftovers pizza!
- Pasta – stir through cooked pasta. Or add a tin of tuna and make tuna pesto pasta.
- Use it in pesto lasagne.
- Stir through gnocchi.
- Make a pesto dip: either stir in a little ricotta for a creamy pesto dip, or stir a spoonful of pesto through hummus.
- Use instead of butter in a sandwich, it is especially delicious used when making a mozzarella sandwich or chicken sandwich.
- Dollop on top of scrambled eggs.
- Cashew pesto with no cheese – if you want to make a vegan pesto or to make your pesto dairy-free, leave out the cheese and add a little more salt.
- Mixed herbs – you can use a mixture of fresh basil leaves and other fresh herbs such as parsley or chives.
- Spinach / rocket – add a handful of baby spinach leaves or rocket / arugula.
- Homemade pesto will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- You can freeze pesto for up to 5-6 months.
- To freeze pesto: spoon in to ice cube trays, packing firmly down with a spoon, then drizzle with a little olive oil to cover the pesto. Place in the freezer and freeze overnight or until firm, then pop out and place in a sealable bag or container and place back in the freezer for up to 6 months. Use the pesto cubes from frozen in your favourite soups, homemade tomato sauce or stews and casseroles, or place in the refrigerator until thawed and use in pesto pasta.
More easy Italian recipes for you
Basil Cashew Pesto
- 35g (1c packed) fresh basil (approx 1 large bunch) ($3.20 / £0.55p)
- 50g (⅓ c) unsalted cashew nuts ($1.25 / £0.49p)
- 25g (⅓ c) parmesan cheese, finely grated ($0.63 / £0.45p)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled ($0.13 / £0.03p)
- 40ml (⅙ c) olive oil ($0.37 / £0.20p)
- Optional step: fry the cashew nuts in a dry non stick frying pan over a medium heat for 5 minutes, shaking the pan regularly, until golden. Tip out onto a plate and leave to cool completely.
- Place the basil, cashews, parmesan cheese, garlic clove and olive oil in a mini food processor or blender, and blend.
- Scrape down the sides with a spoon or spatula and blend again, until you get your desired consistency. I personally prefer it to have a little texture.
- Serve immediately or cover with clingfilm or a layer of olive oil and store in the fridge (if left out in the open the air will make it turn brown), or freeze.