The Best Simple Pesto Substitutes

pesto substitutes

No pesto? It’s OK there are options! Here are the best pesto substitutes, including alternatives if you need something nut-free or dairy-free.

What is Pesto?

It’s a super delicious Italian sauce traditionally made with basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

It’s most commonly stirred into cooked pasta or used as a topping for soup. However it also tastes wonderful as a sauce for meat, fish, eggs or vegetables.

The Best Pesto Substitutes

1. Basil oil

The quickest and easiest substitute for pesto is to make a simple herb oil by finely chopping a bunch of basil leaves and stirring in enough extra virgin olive oil to give you a chunky paste.

2. Other Herb Oils

If it’s not Summer or you don’t have any basil, other herbs can be used in a similar manner to make a herb oil. Parsley oil is the closest match to pesto / basil oil.

However you can also make herb oils with mint, oregano or coriander (cilantro). OR a combination of any of the above. These will all have a different flavour profile to basil / pesto and can make a refreshing change.

3. Other Sauces

The other option for pesto substitutes is to use a different sauce. This will take your dish in a completely different direction, however that may not be a bad thing.

For example you could use a tomato based sauce for pasta instead of pesto. Or if it’s a soup, a dollop of garlicky mayonnaise will give the same richness and flavour boost.

Dairy-Free Pesto Substitutes

1. Sicilian Nut Pesto

In Sicily they make a pesto using a mix of nuts instead of the parmesan. I use this interchangeably with regular pesto.

Just replace the parmesan with extra nuts when making your pesto. My favourite is cashews but almonds or walnuts or Brazil nuts work well (and a are less expensive than pine nuts)! Or see my complete Sicilian Nut Pesto recipe.

2. Basil / Herb Oil

The basil or herb oil options mentioned above are also great if you need to avoid dairy.

Nut-Free Pesto Substitutes

1. Basil / Herb Oils

These are a great option for those with nut allergies or special dietary requirements.

2. Nut-Free Pesto

Just replace the pinenuts with either sunflower seeds or extra grated parmesan.

How to Make Pesto

To make your own pesto just process 1 big bunch basil leaves, 1 – 2 cloves garlic, 1 large handful pin nuts until everything is finely chopped. Then stir in 1/4 – 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1 large handful grated parmesan.

Taste and season with salt. Sometimes if it tastes a bit flat I add a squeeze of lemon.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can finely chop the ingredients by hand. Or pound everything in a mortar and pestle.

Favourite Pesto Recipes

Delicious Pesto Flavour Pairings

  • Pasta & Pesto
  • Chicken & Pesto
  • Fish & Pesto
  • Eggplant & Pesto
  • Zucchini & Pesto
  • Goats Cheese & Pesto
  • Olives & Pesto
  • Steak & Pesto
  • Tomato & Pesto

More Ingredient Substitutes

Also see see the Simple Ingredients Substitutes Index.

Have fun in the kitchen!

With love,
Jules x


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