Quick Pistachio Nut Pesto Sauce with Basil

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!

white bowl of pesto with a black muddler sitting on wooden board with bowl of pistachios
Pistachio pesto is a great alternative to pine nut pesto.

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.

So, I figured it was time to make a basil pistachio pesto sauce. It also would be amazing as a spread with homemade focaccia or used in this pesto and mascapone cheese dressing.

Hungry yet?

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What is pesto?

Pesto is a pasta sauce made by blending basil, nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil together. In Italian, pesto means “to pound,” which refers to the technique used to make it.

You can use make it by hand with a mortar and pestle or use a high speed blender or food processor, as we do here.

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.

Key ingredients

Just five minutes and a few simple ingredients makes a quick pasta sauce you’ll make on repeat.

wooden board with bowl of fresh basil leaves, wedges of parmesan, a knife and plate of shelled pistachios
Only six ingredients are needed (not shown: butter)
  • Pistachios. Look for shelled and salted pistachios. Unsalted is fine too. I get mine from Trader Joes’s. If you want to be really authentic, Amazon has Sicilian pistachios (they have more of reddish-purple hue)!
  • Basil. Whether you choose to cut the fresh basil by hand or use a food processor as we do here, make sure to look for bright green (no black edges) leaves.
  • Olive oil. My favorite olive oil comes from Tuscany but California has several good varieties like Olio Santo Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Parmesan cheese. Added by hand at the end using a borrowed pesto technique from Marcella Hazan.
  • Butter. Part II of the hand mixing at the end that adds a rich, creaminess to the pesto.

How to make pesto creamy

mason jar with pesto and a brass spoon on top
Pesto can be made creamy using starchy pasta water.

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

basil and shelled pistachios sitting in a food processor bowl
Fresh basil leaves and pistachios are added to food processor
pistachio pesto pulsed in a food processor bowl sitting on a wooden board and a gray bowl of pistachios
Pulse the processor 5 times to blend before adding olive oil
pistachio pesto blended in a food processor sitting on a wooden board.
Olive oil added to pesto in a slow stream
  • To the bowl of a food processor or in a mortar and pestle, add basil, pistachios, parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of salt.
  • Turn on the processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil while the processor is running until a smooth paste is formed.
  • Stir in more cheese and butter.

TIP

A bar muddler is a great tool to cream in the butter and parmesan!

-Josie + Nina

Pesto pasta pairings

white bowl of bow tie pasta with pesto garnished with burrata, lemon and fresh basil
Creamy bow tie pasta with pistachio pesto and burrata for an amazing meatless meal

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:


How to keep pesto green

Blanch basil leaves in boiling water for a few seconds and drop into an ice bath to stop from cooking.


Tips for the best pesto

  • Buy the freshest basil you can find. Check the expiration dates on the package or better yet, grow your own in a pot all year round.
  • Don’t refrigerate basil but store it in a dark place on the counter. You can also freeze basil!
  • Use fresh parmesan cheese from a wedge not pre grated or shredded.
  • Select high quality extra virgin olive oil ideally from one country that isn’t a blend.

Storage Suggestions

Store

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.

Freeze

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.


Made this recipe?

I’d love it if you’d share your review and leave a star rating and comment!


white bowl of pesto with a black muddler sitting on wooden board with bowl of pistachios
5 from 1 vote

Quick Pistachio Nut Pesto Sauce with Basil

Pistachios are a really popular nut in Sicily and one that is used to make an amazing pesto. This creamy pistachio pesto recipe includes basil which adds an earthy sweet flavor that happily enhances the salty, sweetness of the pistachios. Get ready to be eating a simple pasta dinner in under 20 minutes!
Prep Time:2 minutes
Total Time:2 minutes
Servings 4
Share by Text

Equipment

Ingredients
 

Instructions

  • 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).

Notes

Storage Suggestions and Tips
  • 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.
Ideas for Nuts and Greens in Pesto
  • 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.
To keep pesto from turning black:
  • 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.
Course: Pasta, Sauces
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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