Basil pesto sauce is so versatile. Delicious stirred through your favourite pasta, used as a sauce with your roast dinner or just drizzled over vegetables for a burst of flavour. Traditional pesto is usually a no-go for people with nut and dairy allergies. But what if it was possible to make delicious dairy and nut free pesto at home that tastes just as good as the real thing? This quick and easy recipe is perfect for people with food allergies and it’s vegan too.
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Food allergies and traditional pesto
Traditional pesto is an Italian sauce originating from the Genoa region. It is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic and hard cheese (parmesan or pecorino) blended together with olive oil. There are a lot of different varieties of “pesto” available too. Some are made with different herbs, rocket or spinach. Or even sundried tomatoes.
For people with food allergies, pesto can present a few problems. Firstly, pine nuts are a tree nut. Even if you aren’t allergic to pine nuts, there can be a risk of cross contact with other nuts and the pine nuts are sometimes replaced with cashew or almond. Secondly, people with cow’s milk allergy need to avoid all dairy, including hard cheeses. I have seen dairy free pesto available in the supermarket, but usually these are still nut based. And if like us you are allergic to both nuts and dairy, that means no pesto.
For those happy to make their own, there are quite a few allergy-friendly pesto recipes too. However, many vegan and dairy free pesto recipes replace the cheese with nutritional yeast. Or just say to leave out the cheese altogether. But this really changes the texture and the taste.
Luckily it is very easy to make a pesto that is close to the original as possible – without the nuts and dairy – but juts as delicious. And it is very easy to make at home.
This pesto recipe is the perfect addition to pasta, meat, vegetables and can be used in recipes like our vegan cheese twists with nut free pesto.
Dairy and nut free pesto ingredients
So how can you make pesto without pine nuts and cheese? You’ll need:
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1 cup (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup vegan parmesan style cheese
- squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
What to use instead of nuts?
I’ve experimented with a few different types of nut substitutes for pesto, but settled on lightly toasted pepitas as the favourite. Pepitas are a type of pumpkin seed and are a light green colour. When ground, these give a lovely nutty flavour to the basil pesto. You could also use sunflower seeds or even chickpeas – you can read more about nut substitutes in our post – Nut allergy? No problem! 9 Easy Tree Nut Substitutes.
How to substitute the cheese?
While you could leave out the cheese to make this pesto recipe dairy free, it doesn’t quite have the right taste or texture. I prefer to use a vegan parmesan style cheese to make pesto as close to the traditional as possible.
There are lots of vegan and plant based parmesan style cheeses on the market. Just be aware that many vegan cheeses are actually made with nuts (such as cashew) so may not be a suitable replacement in a nut free recipe! As always, check the ingredients and any may contain statements carefully to ensure the ingredients you use are safe for your allergies.
For this recipe I usually use Bio Cheese Grated Parmesano, which is a vegan cheese made from coconut oil. It’s easy to find at our local shops. However, the Bio Life Parmesano comes as thin grated strands. So you will need to either chop it finely with a sharp knife or run in through the food processor to get a finely grated texture first.
Do you need a food processor?
Yes, for best results you will need to use a food processor to make pesto. As a lazy cook, I am always looking for shortcuts to save on dishes. But it’s really the best way to grind the pepitas and pesto and to blend all the ingredients together with the olive oil.
This recipe doesn’t make a large quantity of pesto – just a small to medium jar. For these reason it’s best made in a small food processor bowl.
This is one reason why I love my Breville Kitchen Wizz Pro: it comes with a large food processor bowl (16 cup or 3.8 L) and a smaller mini bowl (2.5 cup or 1L) that sits inside it and can be used with the included smaller blade. The small bowl is perfect for making sauces like this basil pesto. (This food processor goes under Sage branding in the UK.)
Preheat the oven to 200C/390F.
Place garlic cloves on the prepared tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place the tray in the oven and roast the garlic for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, add the pepitas to the tray, spreading evenly. Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Remove the tray and allow the roasted garlic and pepitas to cool slightly.
Place the basil leaves, garlic and pepitas in the bowl of your food processor and process until well ground. Gradually pour the olive oil into the mixer, blending well between additions.
Stir in the vegan parmesan cheese and mix well. Add a small squeeze of lemon juice if desired.
Spoon the pesto into a small to medium glass jar. Your dairy and nut free pesto is ready to enjoy!
This recipe will serve 4 if using a generous amount of pesto as a pasta sauce. If using as a condiment, your jar of pesto will have more than 4 serves.
If not using straight away, store the pesto in the fridge. There should be sufficient oil to rise to the top and form a thin protective layer. If not, you can add a small additional amount of olive oil to the top of the jar to keep the pesto fresh. Be sure to stir well before using.
You can freeze left over pesto for up to 3 months. Make sure to cover any portions you are going to freeze with a thin film of olive oil first. Stir well after defrosting.
More dairy and nut free recipes
Need more delicious dairy and nut free recipes? All of the recipes on our recipes page are made without milk or nuts. For something sweet without nuts, try our nut and dairy free rocky road or our easy gluten, nut & dairy free lemon coconut balls.
Dairy & Nut Free Pesto You Won’t Know is Allergy Friendly
- 1 baking tray (lined with non-stick/parchment paper)
- 1 food processor (small bowl preferable)
- Measuring cups
- 1 Glass jar (small to medium)
- 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves (firmly packed)
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 squeeze fresh lemon juice (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 200C/390F.
- Place garlic cloves on the prepared tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place the tray in the oven and roast the garlic for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, add the pepitas to the tray, spreading evenly. Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Remove the tray and allow the roasted garlic and pepitas to cool slightly.
- Place the basil leaves, garlic and pepitas in the bowl of your food processor and process until well ground. Gradually pour the olive oil into the mixer, blending well between additions.
- Stir in the vegan parmesan cheese and mix well. Add a small squeeze of lemon juice if desired.
- Spoon the pesto into a small to medium glass jar. Your dairy and nut free pesto is ready to enjoy!