Here's the awesome-tastic nut-free pesto sauce you've been waiting for!
Wish you could make an allergy-friendly pesto sauce that rivals the original and put it into a full plant-based meal? We've got you covered with our penne with basil spinach pesto combined with sauteed mushrooms and artichokes. We even have variations for those with discerning taste buds ;)
We've substituted nutritional yeast for the sharp, funky flavor of Parmesan in the classic recipe, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds for the nutty contribution of pine nuts or walnuts from the classic recipes.
To increase the nutritional content and the smooth spread of the sauce, we've added spinach to the pesto.
We use avocado oil instead of olive oil for a milder oil flavor and because we can use it in the sauce that is raw and cook it in the pan on high heat. Olive oil is best in cool and warm temperatures.
This recipe works just as well cold as it does warm so don't be shy about making it for a picnic. It is a great cold pasta salad.
The pesto sauce is delicious with pasta but works just as well as a spread for sauteed veggie sandwiches or wraps - we suggest reducing the recipe by half or more in that case, since otherwise you'll have quite a bit of pesto on your hands. This recipe makes about 2 cups of pesto sauce.
The pesto is best when eaten the day of but it can last about three or four days in the fridge. Each day you have it the flavors become less pronounced.
Only making the sauce? It takes 10 minutes to put everything together and process and then it's set to go!
If you're trying to pair this meal with a wine we suggest white or sparkling varieties.
Recipe Tips & Variations:
We only suggest using fresh herbs, mushrooms and spinach in this recipe, otherwise the texture and flavors will be sacrificed.
We use baby spinach in our recipe for a faster prep time but if you use adult spinach be sure to remove hard stems before sauteing.
Fresh basil is a staple of most pesto sauces however if you're not a basil fan or you'd like to try something a little different, then you can use fresh parsley instead. The flavor will be slightly different and a little sharper, but still delicious.
We like the combination of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds but you can easily use just one or the other and still have a bangin' recipe.
The sundried tomatoes in this recipe provide that necessary saltiness that makes the recipe all that it can be. If you need to substitute them you can use kalamata olives. The flavor won't be the same but it'll be plenty tasty. We do not suggest substituting with green or black olives; the flavor profile will be off.
If you want to add fresh tomatoes we suggest grape or cherry varieties and add them as you serve, rather than mixing altogether in one pot. Try to stay away from larger tomatoes, and add the tomatoes last, to avoid wateriness and coming out with a soggy mess.
We suggest using frozen artichoke hearts in this recipe because they saute crisper than canned or jarred artichokes, with less of the questionable additives and excessive oils.
Some homemade pesto recipes call for avocado for creaminess. It is also a useful ingredient if you are trying to cook oil free with whole foods. While an avocado would work fine in this recipe it isn't necessary for the sauce to be creamy and it also speeds up the spoiling process. If you do add an avocado to the recipe you don't need more than one and you should plan to finish the sauce while it's still fresh on the same day. If you add an avocado to your pesto you can reduce or even eliminate the oil from the sauce.
You can use other types of pasta instead of penne for this recipe. We think fusilli, cavatappi, rigatoni and ziti are good alternatives. Macaroni can work well too. Be careful not to choose a pasta that's too small that it's overpowered by the other ingredients (such as orzo) or too delicate that it breaks apart when mixing everything together (like farfalle, otherwise known as bow ties).
We prefer Andean Dream brand gluten-free pasta for this recipe because it holds up well warm or cold. We also like using the BioNaturae brand of gluten-free pasta.
Recipe: Penne with Basil Spinach Pesto and Sauteed Mushrooms and Artichokes
Course: Main Dish or Sauce
Skill Level: Intermediate for recipe, Beginner for sauce
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 8 (2 cups each)
For the sauce -
2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp roasted sunflower seeds (unsalted)
4 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
2 cups fresh basil
2 cups fresh spinach
7 cloves garlic (about 1 ½ Tbsp, minced)
¼ cup avocado oil
For the pasta -
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp avocado oil
2 red onions
24 oz frozen artichoke heart halves (about 3 cups)
16 oz cremini or baby bella mushrooms (about 2 cups)
4 cups (about 16 oz) fresh spinach
3 cloves garlic (about ½ Tbsp diced)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pitted kalamata olives (optional)
½ cup sundried tomatoes
16 oz gluten free pasta
Thaw frozen artichoke halves by leaving out in room temperature for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Alternatively, rinse with warm water and strain thoroughly. Chop artichoke hearts in half if not already halved.
Slice onions and saute on medium-high heat in 1 Tbsp of avocado oil for about 10-12 minutes.
While onions are sauteing, clean and slice mushrooms. Clean the mushrooms by using a damp paper towel or cloth to lightly rub off the dirt, to avoid getting the mushrooms too moist. Wet mushrooms don’t saute but instead quickly become soft and mushy in the pan.
Peel, rinse and dice garlic.
Once onions are starting to caramelize, add halved artichoke hearts, salt, pepper and diced garlic to pan and continue to saute on medium heat, turning occasionally so nothing sticks too hard to the bottom of the pan.
In a large pot, boil salted water with a Tbsp of avocado oil for pasta.
While artichoke hearts are sauteing and pot of water is set to boil, rinse and chop fresh basil and fresh spinach for pesto sauce. Remove excess stems.
Combine pumpkin seeds, unsalted toasted sesame seeds, nutritional yeast and salt in food processor and process until well combined, about 30 seconds.
Add fresh basil, fresh spinach, garlic cloves, and ¼ cup avocado oil to food processor. Process until all ingredients are combined and the sauce is creamy, about 1 minute.
Cook pasta in boiling water for 1 minute less than the package instructions.
Drain pasta and return to hot pot and toss with 1 tsp of avocado oil. Because you are not rinsing the pasta with cold water it will continue to cook a bit as it remains warm and the oil locks in the heat.
Once artichokes are browned on one side remove artichoke-onion mixture from pan, and add to pasta, mixing to combine.
Add 1 teaspoon of avocado oil to emptied pan and saute cleaned and dry mushrooms. It should take about 2 minutes for one side to brown and then toss the mushrooms to brown on the other side for 1-2 minutes.
Add the remaining fresh spinach to the pan and toss with the mushrooms, sauteing for about 1 minute so that they soften but don’t become soggy.
Turn off heat and combine mushroom-spinach mixture with pasta and artichoke mixture.
Add olives (optional), sundried tomatoes and processed pesto sauce to pasta and vegetables until thoroughly combined.
Pasta can be served warm right away (with fresh halved grape or cherry tomatoes if you like) or refrigerated for 1 hour to cool for cold pasta salad. Pasta with pesto sauce will last about 4 days in the refrigerator and can be sprinkled with water when reheated or eaten cold. We do not recommend freezing.
Tell us how you liked our pesto! Did you try the whole recipe or just the sauce? What did you try the sauce with? Let us know in the comments below!