An authentic Italian Pesto tastes incredible – good olive oil, fresh basil and a barely-there hit of garlic; what’s not to love? But the traditional recipe calls for pine nuts, which are sometimes hard to find. My solution has been to use cashews and sunflower seeds instead! The cashews lend a richness to the sauce; and the sunflower seeds, a bit of earthiness that compliments the basil so well! [Bonus benefits: sun flower seeds are a great source of fiber and Omega-6 fatty acids]
This Pesto recipe has come to my aid time and again when I’ve had to put together a meal that’s a little bit special, in a tearing hurry. Seriously, you can have a pesto-pasta on the table in 15 minutes or less! I prefer using Fusilli, as the sauce gets into all its little grooves and adheres to the pasta really well! If you’re not a pasta person, this Pesto also works great as a marinade / pour over sauce for chicken, shrimp or roasted veggies like sweet potatoes and pumpkin.
I do use Parmesan cheese in this recipe, but you can definitely skip it for a vegan version. Parmesan has a slightly salty, sharp flavor; if skipping this ingredient, just remember to season well with salt, up the cashew-sunflower seed mix to half a cup, and up the lime juice by half a tsp.
Recipe: Cashew & Sunflower Seed Pesto
- A Mixer / Food Processor / Mortar & Pestle
For the Pesto Sauce
- 2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves
- ⅓ cup Cashews & Sunflower Seeds [equal mix of both]
- 4 small cloves Garlic [peeled]
- 1½ tsps Lime / Lemon Juice [the juice of half a small lime]
- ¼ cup Freshly Grated Parmesan [optional]
For the Pasta
- 3 cups Fusilli / any other pasta of your choice
- 9 cups Water
- 1½ tsps Salt
- Freshly Grated Parmesan to garnish [optional]
To make the Pesto
- Place the basil, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, garlic cloves (peeled) in a blender/ mortar and pestle. Sprinkle over half a tsp of salt to act as an abrasive and blend/crush to a coarse paste. Do NOT add the cheese at this point.
- If using a blender, pulse for 5 seconds at a time, opening and stirring in between, so that mixture remains coarse. You do not want it to grind down into a very fine paste. Add the juice of half a lime, and 1 – 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil midway to help loosen up the paste. Here’s what the paste should look like:
- Transfer the paste to a mixing bowl and gently stir in a quarter cup of grated Parmesan1.
- Once the cheese is well incorporated, taste check; If needed add more salt. Also add a tbs of olive oil and stir well. That’s it!
To make the Pasta
- Bring at least 9 cups of water to the boil in a saucepan; add a one and a half tsp of salt and stir well.
- Next, add 3 cups of uncooked pasta to the boiling water and stir gently for the first 30 seconds to ensure the pasta doesn’t stick together.
- Cook on medium heat until al dente (until cooked, but still firm to the bite). This usually takes 6 – 8 mins, but refer the instructions on the pasta package for specific timing depending on the type of pasta you are using! Remember to stir the pasta every minute or so, to avoid any clumping.
- Once cooked, immediately drain the pasta and toss with as much pesto as you like. Plate and garnish with a final sprinkling of grated Parmesan.
1Do not add the Parmesan while blending/ crushing the other ingredients. You want the grated Parmesan to retain its structure and not disintegrate, so that its sharp taste is perceptible in every bite and not overpowered by the other ingredients.
This Pesto stores really well for upto 2 weeks in the refrigerator; just make sure to use an airtight jar so that it doesn’t dry out.
The next time you are looking to cook something indulgent but don’t quite want to spend too much time, try a Pesto Pasta! 🖖