By Jennifer Provenza at Good Food From The Heart
This oil free vegan basil avocado pesto pasta recipe has creamy avocado, umami sundried tomato, salty olives, and tangy lemon juice which combine to create a medley of flavors you will want to experience again and again!
Whole foods plant based, oil free, sugar free, soy free, gluten free option, (for nut free omit pine nuts)
Healthy Pesto Pasta
I am going to be honest with you. I am never not in the mood for pasta. If you are like me, read on! Now, in Italy they start most meals with a serving of pasta. I could get on board with that. On the other hand, sometimes I like the pasta to be the starring dish. In this recipe, it will be. Pesto pasta goes by a few different names. You may hear it referred to as pesto alla genovese or even just “pasta with green sauce.” But, traditionally, pesto contains a combination of basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and lots and lots of olive oil. As delicious as that combination may be, it is also not the most healthy. Don’t worry, though, I’ve got you. For those of you (like me) who are avoiding added oil and following a vegan diet, I have created a recipe that is just as delicious (if not more so) than the original. This version though: it’s healthy enough to eat any time you crave it!
For this recipe, I had the idea to simply substitute a whole avocado for the oil. Talk about a whole food! Avocado is full of healthy fats and is not refined like oil. It also contains nutritional yeast for that delicious cheesy flavor. Lemon zest and garlic pack a punch and, finally, I add traditional pine nuts. Making this pesto even more delicious, I add vegetables cooked with fresh lemon juice. This pesto pasta recipe is significantly less caloric than the original, especially when you consider that the vegetables would normally be sauteed in a bunch more oil.
Ingredients and Tips
Avocado: Be sure to choose a nice ripe (but not overripe) avocado. That’s always a bit difficult, but I usually buy a few avocados in case one is not great. A tip is that the avocado should be somewhat soft when you squeeze it, but when you remove the stem piece, it should be green in the space where the stem was (rather than brown).
Pine Nuts: Also called pignoli, pine nuts add a great traditional flavor to the pesto.
Ratio of Sauce to Pasta: 8 ounces of pasta will allow for lots of sauce on the pasta. If you make 12 ounces of pasta, the sauce will be a bit more sparse. You can definitely double the sauce recipe if desired.
Basil: Be sure to use fresh green basil that has not discolored. Use the leaves only, not the stems.
Garlic: Adds tons of flavor and zip.
Lemon Zest: This adds an incredible fresh flavor. If you’ve never had pesto with lemon you are in for a treat!
Nutritional Yeast: The nutritional yeast (sometimes called nootch) adds a great “cheesy” taste and lots of vitamin B12.
Sundried Tomatoes: I recommend sundried tomatoes that are not packed in oil to keep this recipe oil free.
The Pasta: Use any variety of pasta you love, but for health reasons I am obsessed with chickpea pasta! I usually use Banza.
For the basil: This also tastes great made with cilantro, but it is a very different flavor profile. Replacing the basil with spinach or another green, such as kale, is possible, but will give a blander flavor. If you do that, I would add another herb, such as rosemary.
For the pine nuts: You can substitute any nut you prefer or use pumpkin seeds for a nut free option.
For the lemon zest: This can be left out if necessary, but it tastes much better with it.
For the sundried tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes also taste great in this recipe.
For the avocado: The recipe won’t work without avocado.
For the nutritional yeast: This can be left out if you dislike it.
Just follow the recipe! But if you want to know why: the nutritional yeast and salt makes up for the lack of parmesan cheese and the avocado gives you a healthy fat in place of the oil. This makes it vegan and also healthy.
Yes! You can absolutely freeze the sauce alone or even the sauce mixed with the pasta.
You absolutely can! If you don’t like pine nuts (pignolie) or are allergic, feel free to make a vegan cashew pesto, even an almond pesto or a vegan pistachio pesto! If you are allergic to nuts altogether, you can also substitute pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or sunflower seeds.
The pesto will last for three or four days in the refrigerator and for several months in the freezer.
I generally use chickpea or whole wheat pasta. Chickpea pasta is also gluten free and very healthy. Feel free to use regular pasta, gluten free pasta, or whole grain or bean pasta as you prefer.
Yes! This is actually one of my favorite recipes to serve cold for bbq’s and picnics.
This is a seriously simple vegan pesto pasta recipe to make. Simply saute garlic in water or broth and add the vegetables and lemon juice. Fresh lemon juice is a must for this recipe.
Meanwhile, put all the pesto ingredients into a food processor and process until it makes a lovely green paste. Pro tip: you can also use this pesto on sandwiches, toast, potatoes, soup. Really anywhere you want a beautiful pop of fresh basil flavor.
After cooking the pasta to al dente, simply add the pesto and the sauteed veggies, top with So Good It’s Nuts Parmesan (and/or additional basil) and eat.
This is a regular in my repertoire and for good reason. When I eat it, I’m reminded of being back in Italy. It is also absolutely delicious served cold as a pasta salad. If you like pasta, be sure to also try my Mac and Cheese or my Best Ever Vegan Lasagna.
Oil Free Vegan Basil Avocado Pesto
- Non Stick Pan
- Food Processor
- 8-12 ounces whole grain or chickpea pasta
For the Pesto
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 ripe avocado sliced
- 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest grated
For Vegetable Topping
- 2-4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth or water
- 1 can artichoke hearts diced
- 1/2 cup black olives diced
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes diced
- juice of one lemon
- So Good It's Nuts "Parmesan" Topping
- additional basil sliced
- toasted and salted whole grain breadcrumbs
- If you bought roasted pine nuts, skip this step. Otherwise, toast the pine nuts in a non stick pan over medium heat until they turn a golden brown, about five minutes.
- To make the pesto, add the basil, avocado, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, salt and lemon zest to a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
- Fill a large pot ⅔ of the way with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta. Cook according to package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, cook the garlic over medium heat in a non stick pan. Use about ¼ cup of water or vegetable broth to keep the garlic from sticking. Add more as needed. When garlic is translucent, add the artichoke hearts, black olives, sundried tomatoes, and lemon juice. Cook until warmed through. Set aside.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain it and add the pesto sauce. Stir to make sure all the pasta is covered in sauce. Add the vegetables and serve.
- Great toppings for this pasta are toasted and salted whole grain breadcrumbs, more sliced basil, or my So Good It’s Nuts "Parmesan" topping.
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