Cilantro & basil pistachio pesto is a bright & vibrant sauce, full of the flavors of summer. Toss it with hot pasta, gnocchi, or rice. Or use it as a sandwich spread!
No matter the time of year, it always feels like summer when pesto is on the menu. With the herbaceous scent of fresh basil, lemon, and garlic, it’s filled to the brim with garden goodness.
It’s also a terrific way to sneak in dark leafy greens outside of the usual kale and collards.
The word “pesto” comes from “pestare,” meaning “to crush.” Pesto can be made by crushing the ingredients in a mortar & pestle. But I prefer the convenience of the food processor.
When making pesto, I like to include a healthy amount of cilantro in addition to basil. It plays so nicely with the other components.
Pine nuts are the classic go-to in pesto. But I like to vary things whenever I make it.
Pistachios are one of my favorite nuts to include. They have a great crunch and taste that balances the subtle grassiness of the bright green sauce.
Miso paste for umami
One non-traditional ingredient that is never missing from my pesto – white miso paste.
Miso is a fermented paste made from soybeans. It comes in a tub. You’ll often find it near the tofu in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
While many people mostly associate it with miso soup, it’s great anywhere you want added richness, saltiness, and depth of flavor. It’s terrific in jalapeño cashew cheese spread, cashew queso, tofu ricotta, chili cheese dip, and a cheesy udon noodle bowl.
In pesto, miso paste adds saltiness and umami that one would typically get from parmesan in a non-vegan pesto. (For even more cheesiness, add a Tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast flakes.)
If you’d rather not use miso, you can simply omit it. Or replace it with your preferred amount of vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast.
How to make pistachio pesto
Here’s what you’ll need.
Add the following to a food processor:
- Lemon juice
- White miso paste
- Pinch of salt
Cover & turn the food processor to low. While it blends, add extra virgin olive oil through the food processor chute.
Stop and scrape down the sides, if necessary. Taste & add more salt, if needed.
Make it your own
Pesto is rife with variations. You can change the ingredients & tweak the recipe, depending on your preferences & pantry ingredients.
- If you’re not a fan of cilantro, use more basil instead. Or replace it with spinach, kale, or arugula.
- Garlic can be swapped with garlic scapes.
- Instead of pistachios, use the standard pine nuts. Or go with pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, cashews, or walnuts.
- Include flavorful additions like sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, or olives.
- For extra cheesiness, add a couple Tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes.
- Go lighter or heavier on the oil, depending on what you prefer.
- To go totally oil-free, I like to add water-packed artichoke hearts for extra bulk and moisture.
One word of caution: Don’t replace fresh basil with dried. Dried basil has its place in soups and sauces, but it just won’t work in pesto. Actual leafy greens are a must.
Ways to use it
There are so many ways to use pistachio pesto!
- Have pesto pasta with roasted chickpeas
- Stir it on roasted gnocchi
- Make pesto rice
- Spread it on sandwiches
- Stir it into soups like corn chowder
- Toss it with roasted, steamed, or grilled vegetables like broccoli, baby potatoes, or green beans
- Spoon it onto pizza
If you have it on pizza, it can be a replacement for the typical marinara. Or have it in addition to marinara by adding generous dollops of pesto all around the pie.
Reserve pasta water
If you’re planning on making pasta with pesto, remember to reserve some of the water that the noodles are cooking in.
Drain the pasta, and put it in a large bowl or pot. Then add your desired amount of pesto.
Add a splash of the reserved water to thin the sauce, allowing it to spread through the noodles.
Also, that water has starch in it, which helps give the sauce body & cling to the pasta. (Don’t go overboard with the water, though. You don’t want watery pasta.)
What to serve with it
Pesto pasta goes well with any of the following:
- Fried olives or warmed Castelvetrano olives
- Tomato bruschetta or asparagus bruschetta
- Fried squash blossoms
- Red wine mushrooms
- Roasted cauliflower
- Grilled vegetable skewers
- Grilled Portobello mushrooms
- Tomato cucumber salad
How to store pesto
Keep any leftover pistachio pesto in an air tight covered container in the refrigerator. It will keep for about a week.
If you’re concerned about it oxidizing and losing its bright green color, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil to minimize its contact with air.
Pesto also freezes beautifully. Simply move it to a small freezer safe jar, container, or bag. It can be frozen for 9 to 12 months.
Another popular option is freezing pesto in an ice cube tray. Once solid you can pop out the cubes and keep them in a freezer bag.
Cilantro & basil pistachio pesto
Makes roughly 1 cup of pesto.
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves lightly packed
- 1 cup fresh cilantro rough stems removed, lightly packed
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup shelled pistachios roasted and salted
- 2 teaspoons white miso paste
- 2 to 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
In a food processor, combine basil, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, pistachios, and miso paste.
While the food processor is running, drizzle extra virgin olive oil through the chute until it has become a smooth sauce. You may need to stop once or twice to scrape down the sides.
If you like a saucier pesto, go with 4 Tablespoons (¼ cup) of extra virgin olive oil. If you prefer a lighter sauce, use 2 Tablespoons.
Taste and add more salt, if needed. (Go with a light hand at first. Remember, both the miso paste and pistachios are salty.)
Do not replace fresh basil with dried. Dried basil won’t work in a pesto recipe.
How to incorporate pesto with pasta
- While the pasta is boiling, reserve some of the noodle cooking liquid.
- Drain the pasta, and then add your desired amount of pesto.
- Slowly add some of the reserved water to thin the sauce, which will allow it to spread evenly through the noodles. The water has starch in it, which gives the sauce body & helps it cling to the pasta.
- Be careful not to go overboard with the water, though. You don’t want it to become watery.
Content, recipe, and photos updated July 8, 2021. Originally posted July 29, 2015.