No Cheese Basil Pesto

July 16, 2014 § 12 Comments

Pesto Ingredients

This post comes from these two lovely ladies. My mama wrote the post and recipe, and my grandma helped her shoot the photos!



On a beautiful July morning, I was watering my friend Laurie’s flowers while she was away for the weekend and I immediately felt jealous of her gorgeous basil plants.  No wonder she turned down our share of basil at our CSA this week.  I decided to “pay myself back” for the watering help and took handfuls of basil leaves back home with me. I had remembered her saying at our CSA,  “I have so much basil…”


I had my own basil at home from backyard pots and my own farm share, but in my opinion, you can never have enough! In an effort to distract myself from my  gluttonous guilt, I texted Lisa, and told her I was going to make my  cheese-free pesto today! By the time I got home, I got a text back:  “Ooh mama do you want to do a guest post on the pesto?!” The rest is history.

I took at least 40 photos throughout the day (texting them one at a time to Lisa- and she never complained-at least not to me) of my own basil plants, the ingredients, and the process. I even got the help of my artist mom’s (and Lisa’s grandmother’s) advice on photo taking. So this is a multi-generational blog endeavor!  Grandma Selma was also the actual  “hands” model for the cooking shots.  She joked that we should show my hands as they were “younger,” but I explained to her that her smartphone camera technique was not yet ready for prime time.

Garlic Scapes for Pesto Cutting Garlic Scapes

Flashback to a few months ago, when I was visiting Lisa in D.C., and I offered to make pesto as a pizza topping for dinner.  We realized at the last minute that she was out of cheese, so we searched online for advice and got the idea from Heidi at Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom to use lemon and salt as a substitute.  We were intrigued and  thrilled with the results– so light and tangy, we never missed the cheese!

Sauteing Garlic Scapes Toasting Pistachios

A few notes on the recipe that follows:

  • You can play around with the greens, basil is not your only option! I’ve made this pesto with many different greens including kale, radish or turnip greens, spinach, or herbs such as parsley, cilantro, mint….
  • Heidi’s original recipe calls for garlic, but over the past few weeks, our CSA share has included one of my most favorite picks- garlic scapes.  I adore them, both their adorable curls as well as their amazing flavor. I decided to substitute the scapes for the garlic cloves both because I prefer their milder flavor, and because I wanted a picture of their whimsical shapes in my blog post.  By the way, I’ve developed an obsession with roasting them and adding them to salads– a cross between a healthy onion ring and a delicious veggie crouton. Try it, they are amazing!  I thought of roasting them for the pesto, but I was short on time, so I sautéed them quickly on the stovetop.
  • You may notice that there is not a lot of olive oil in this recipe.  Over the years I have gradually reduced the amount, realizing for me that I actually like it better on the lighter side.  Play around for yourself with the ratio of olive oil, vegetable broth, and water.
  • I usually add kale broth as the “vegetable broth” in my pesto.  A favorite summer dish in our house is “kale bites” (hmm, another blog post idea…) which requires me to cook down kale and other greens with tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  After cooking the greens, I squeeze out the liquid, reserving it in the freezer (Lisa and I both love having a stocked freezer!) for future use.  I love the idea of recycling this rich healthy broth. I’ve also substituted the liquid from a can of chickpeas as the broth in the pesto. Feel free to experiment or replace it with water. Note that my kale broth is quite thick and rich which is why I use a small amount.  If you are using a lighter broth, you may want to use more of it and less water.
  • My friend Judy sometimes sautés tomatoes and onions in a pan with olive oil and then adds that mixture to the pesto.  She does this when she wants to soften the pesto taste.
  • I freeze the unused pesto in mini ice cube trays. Once frozen I pop them out and store them in freezer bags.  Then, when I want a quick spread for toast or a sandwich, or sauce for a pita pizza or pasta, it takes just minutes to prepare.

…and remember to try the roasted garlic scapes! Maybe Lisa will invite me back !

Making Pesto No Cheese Pesto No Cheese Pesto on Cracker

Mama, you will definitely be invited back! Thanks for sharing your pesto recipe.

No Cheese Basil Pesto

2 garlic scapes (top flowery part removed, cut into ¼-inch slices) or 2 garlic cloves, minced

5 cups loosely packed basil leaves (or other tender greens, see note above), stems removed

Juice of one lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 tablespoons vegetable broth (see note above)

4 tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shelled pistachios

1 tablespoon cashews

Pepper to taste

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in small sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add  garlic scapes or garlic cloves to pan and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
  3. Transfer cooked garlic scapes or cloves to the bowl of a food processor.
  4. Using the same pan, warm pistachios, being careful not to burn, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add basil, lemon juice, remaining tablespoon of olive oil, vegetable broth, water, salt, and pistachios to food processor.
  6. Blend in food processor, scraping sides several times with a spatula.
  7. Adjust liquids, adding more if the pesto is too thick for your liking.
  8. Add cashews, pulsing several times until coarsely chopped.
  9. Season with pepper to taste.
  10. Transfer to an air tight container and store in the refrigerator. It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, but also  freezes beautifully.

Serve either warm or cold, its delicious both ways.


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