Vegan pesto pasta is worthy of a romantic dinner date, but it’s easy enough for a Wednesday night. It’s also a great way to squeeze in lots of raw leafy greens at mealtime – by way of fresh basil.
With the inclusion of garlic, pumpkin seeds, and artichoke hearts, there’s no shortage of vibrant, satisfying flavors. Finish this entree with roasted or air fried chickpeas. Vegan.
Fragrant basil just smells like summer.
Even when the months of July and August are behind us, a big batch of pesto transports me to sunny days and bare feet. That’s why I love making it all year ‘round.
I make it in the summer when I can keep several pots of basil on my front stoop.
And I make it in the winter, when I can pick up a container of basil at the grocery store, by way of a local farmer with a greenhouse.
In addition to its time traveling attributes, pesto is a great way to stuff in some fresh leafy greens. Because while we usually think of greens-heavy meals as kale salads or piles of sautéed collard greens, basil is a dark leafy green vegetable too!
Throw in several handfuls into a food processor along with garlic, lemon juice, nuts or seeds, and a few other ingredients, and you’re there. Just add pasta.
Artichokes make any dish feel special
Speaking of pesto add-ins, one of my favorites is artichokes. For this recipe, they replace about half of the usual amount of basil in pesto.
They add so much flavor, and make any meal feel a little more special.
For this recipe, you can either use artichokes packed in water from a jar or can. (Great for an oil-free pesto!) Or you can use the kind packed in oil.
Keep in mind that if you use oil-packed artichokes, it will add more calories to the dish than what’s listed in the nutrition information in the recipe card.
Pesto without pine nuts
Pine nuts are standard in pesto. However, for this recipe, I use pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas).
Pine nuts are pricey. If you’re going to spend so much on them, why hide them in a sauce?
Roasted pumpkin seeds are less expensive. And they have a cheesiness that works well in a dairy free pesto.
You should be able to find shelled pumpkin seeds in most grocery stores. They come in plastic bags, like nuts and trail mix. And you’ll usually find them with the other nuts, seeds, and salty snacks in the store.
If you don’t have any shelled pumpkin seeds, you can replace them with an equal amount of pistachios, cashews, almonds, walnuts, or of course, pine nuts.
Miso adds cheesiness
When making a dairy-free pesto, I like to add a small spoonful of white miso paste.
Miso paste is fermented soy bean paste. It comes in a tub. You’ll find it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, often near the tofu.
It has a light sweetness to it and umami quality that fills out the flavor.
Umami is the 5th taste sense along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. It’s a savory richness that you’ll find in mushrooms, wine, or cheese. Usually pesto has parmesan in it, and I don’t use that. So the miso rounds out the flavor.
A container will keep in the refrigerator for a long while.
If you would prefer not to use it, no worries. There’s only 1/2 teaspoon in this recipe. So it’s far from essential. You can simply leave it out. Or replace it with a big spoonful of nutritional yeast flakes or vegan parmesan.
What kind of pasta should I use?
For this pesto pasta, I used my favorite vegan pappardelle. (It’s also what I use in buttery garlic noodles.)
However, pappardelle is usually made with eggs. So finding a vegan version can be tricky.
Luckily, you can use almost any pasta that you like for this dish. I especially like fettuccine, penne, fusilli, farfalle, cavatapi, or spaghetti.
What should I do if the pesto is too thick?
Sometimes pesto just won’t flow quite as easily as you’d like through pasta.
So I recommend saving some of your pasta water before draining it. It has leftover starch in it that helps the pasta to cling to the pesto. And it’s good for thinning the pesto a little to help it spread throughout the noodles.
Toss the noodles with the pesto. Then if it’s not coating evenly, add a little bit of pasta water at a time. But go slowly and with a light hand. You don’t want it to be too watery and dilute the flavor.
How to make vegan pesto pasta
Start by boiling water & cooking pasta according to the package directions.
While the pasta and chickpeas are cooking, make pesto.
In a food processor, combine the following:
- Basil leaves
- Artichoke hearts
- Shelled pumpkin seeds
- Lemon juice
- White miso paste
Drain the pasta.
Move the drained noodles to a mixing bowl, and toss them with the pesto.
Move the pasta to serving bowls, and garnish with roasted chickpeas.
Pro tip: If you have any artichoke hearts left in the jar or can, brown them in a little oil in a skillet, and use them as garnish as well.
Make it your own
Pesto pasta is rife with possibilities! Here are some options:
- Replace half of the basil with the green of your choice. Spinach or cilantro works especially nice.
- Instead of pumpkin seeds, you can use almost any nut or seed in the pesto. I recommend pine nuts, pistachios, cashews, or almonds.
- White miso paste adds umami and cheesiness. But you can easily replace it or add to it with a generous spoonful of nutritional yeast flakes or vegan parmesan.
- Canned or jarred artichoke hearts have liquid in them. So this pesto doesn’t require much in the way of oil to smooth it out. However, if you’d prefer a thinner pesto, you can add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to taste. Or thin it with pasta water.
- For a grilled flavor, use jarred grilled artichoke hearts instead of water-packed artichokes.
- Instead of roasting chickpeas, serve this pasta with chickpea cutlets.
What to serve with it
Pesto pasta goes well with any of these appetizers:
- Fried olives
- Tomato bruschetta
- Asparagus bruschetta
- Warmed Castelvetrano olives
- Fried squash blossoms
Round out your meal with any of these side dishes:
Vegan pesto pasta with artichokes & roasted chickpeas
- 8 ounces vegan pappardelle or other pasta
- 1 packed cup fresh basil leaves 1 ounce
- 6 artichoke hearts jarred or canned, drained and squeezed slightly to remove excess liquid
- 2 Tablespoons shelled pumpkin seeds pepitas
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice About half a lemon
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon white miso paste
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil optional
- 1 batch roasted chickpeas
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- While pasta is cooking, combine basil leaves, artichoke hearts, shelled pumpkin seeds, lemon juice, garlic, and white miso paste in a food processor until it is fully combined. Scrape down the sides, as needed, and continue processing until the pesto is mostly smooth.
- After the pasta is finished cooking, drain in a colander.
- Move the noodles to a large mixing bowl, and toss with extra virgin olive oil to prevent sticking (optional). Spoon the artichoke pesto over the pasta, and toss until evenly combined.
- Serve pasta topped with air fried or roasted chickpeas.
Content, recipe, and photos updated September 2020. Originally posted January 2017.