Pistachios are a really popular nut in Sicily and one that is used to make an amazing pesto. This creamy pistachio pesto sauce includes basil which adds an earthy sweet flavor that happily enhances the salty, sweetness of the pistachios. Get ready to be eating a quick pasta dinner in under 20 minutes!
I love making pasta sauces from scratch. And pesto is such an easy one especially since you don’t have to cook it!
Having made many batches of my classic basil pesto recipe with pine nuts over the years, whether as a cooking instructor or for my family, I’ve been experimenting with different nuts to make pesto like this walnut pesto recipe.
What is pesto?
What do pistachios taste like and why are they great for pesto?
The flavor profile of pistachios is really unique because they can be used in both savory and sweet dishes successfully. The flavor is described as sweet, piney (which makes them a good substitute for recipes that use pine nuts), rich creamy, herby and earthy…all descriptors that align with what you want from a pesto recipe.
Just five minutes and a few simple ingredients makes a quick pasta sauce you’ll make on repeat.
How to make pesto creamy
Lastly, the secret ingredient that makes this a creamy pesto without cream is pasta water. Pasta water is a core ingredient in Italian cooking and the starch from the warm pasta water adds a creaminess to the pesto without clumping.
Step by step directions for basil pistachio pesto
A bar muddler is a great tool to cream in the butter and parmesan!-Josie + Nina
Pesto pasta pairings
Pesto pairs well with most pasta shapes as long as they aren’t too thin. I prefer the diameter of a spaghetti noodle as capellini or angel hair pasta might clump.
Pesto wants to cling to nooks and crannies. Pasta shapes that work well are:
- bow tie pasta, cavatappi or rigatoni
- store bought or homemade fettuccine
- store bought or easy potato gnocchi
Tips for the best pesto
In a sealed, airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto to help avoid the pesto darkening from being exposed to the air.
Pesto can be frozen either in smaller containers (love these 1/2 cup Souper Cubes for pesto!) or ice cube trays for up to 6 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
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Quick Pistachio Nut Pesto Sauce with Basil
- Place the basil, salt, pepper, whole cloves of garlic and pistachios in the medium sized bowl of a food processor or mini prep. Pulse about 5-7 times to chop the basil and garlic. Then, turn the machine on and pour the oil in slowly through the feed tube at the top. Stop when you have a thick sauce, about 30 seconds or so.2 cups of basil leaves, 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 cloves garlic, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, 3 Tablespoons pistachio meats, ⅓ cup olive oil
- Remove the pesto to a medium bowl and add in butter and parmesan cheese. Use a bar muddler to press the cheese and butter into the pesto. This should be really easy especially if the butter is softened as noted above.2-3 T softened butter, ½ cup Parmesan cheese
If using right away with pasta
- Add pasta water as needed to make a thinner sauce as desired. Toss with hot cooked pasta. Add to a warmed bowl (you can use pasta water to warm the bowl or place bowl over hot pan if still warm from cooking pasta).
- Refrigerate in an airtight container with a lid for up to 4 days.
- Freeze small portions in ice cube trays (Souper Cubes are awesome too!) so you can have pesto all year long.
- Defrost in the fridge or at room temperature and stir to blend before using.
- Use roasted and salted sunflower seeds in place of nuts.
- You can use the same base recipe for a classic pine nut pesto or make a pesto with walnuts.
- Other herbs or green to use in pesto are spinach, kale (stems removed) and arugula.
- Never heat pesto directly on the stove. Heat isn’t pesto’s friend. Toss cold or room temperature fresh pesto with hot pasta.
- Limit pesto’s exposure to air by either using immediately or storing covered in an airtight container.
- Press a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of pesto before covering with an airtight, hard lid.
- Freeze as soon as possible if freezing is your intention.