Creamy Pesto Sauce

published Apr 8, 2022
summer
Creamy Pesto Sauce Recipe

Take pesto up a notch with some cream for the dreamiest sauce ever.

Serves4 to 6

Makesabout 1 1/2 cups

Prep8 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook3 minutes to 5 minutes

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finished creamy pesto in a food processor
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Micah Morton

Herby, cheesy, garlicky pesto is already a pretty perfect sauce to have around, but adding one extra ingredient takes it into a different direction. If you’re a fan of Alfredo sauce and a fan of pesto, this creamy pesto sauce merges both together into something that mingles easily with hot pasta or spreads onto bread for more interesting sandwiches. Turn a big bunch of basil into creamy pesto and it won’t be hard to find a lot of ways to use it up.

The easiest way to use creamy pesto is to toss it with hot pasta for an easy, comforting meal, but you can also use this sauce as a dip for crudités, spread it on toast and top with an over-easy egg for a luxe brunch, or stir it with cooked cooled pasta and veggies for an summery pasta salad.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Micah Morton

What Is Creamy Pesto Made Of?

Creamy pesto is basically regular basil pesto with the addition of heavy cream. This makes the sauce a bit milder but much creamier than regular pesto. You’ll also need nuts (walnuts or pine nuts work well here), fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

How Do You Make Pesto Smoother?

For smooth pesto, process the ingredients in a food processor in stages to make sure everything gets well-blended.

  • Start with the cheese and garlic.
  • Pulse in the basil and salt.
  • Pour in the olive oil with the motor running and process to a paste.
  • Stream in the cream last. You want to add the cream separately so that it’s in the food processor for the minimum amount of time and doesn’t turn into butter!

How to Store Creamy Pesto

Creamy pesto browns easily if exposed to air, so transfer it to the smallest container possible and then press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface or pour a layer of olive oil on top before sealing the container. It can then be refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to two months.

Creamy Pesto Sauce Recipe

Take pesto up a notch with some cream for the dreamiest sauce ever.

Prep time 8 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook time 3 minutes to 5 minutes

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup

    raw pine nuts or walnuts

  • 2 ounces

    Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 2/3 cup store-bought grated)

  • 1

    large or 2 medium bunches fresh basil (about 4 ounces total)

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/2 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1 pound

    dried pasta (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts in a small frying pan over medium heat. Cook, tossing occasionally, until light golden brown, toasted, and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and let cool. Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients.

  2. Grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese on the smallest holes of a box grater (about 3/4 cup, or use 2/3 cup store-bought grated). Pick the leaves from 1 large or 2 medium bunches fresh basil until you have 4 loosely packed cups.

  3. Add the cheese and 2 peeled garlic cloves to the food processor and process until finely chopped, 15 to 20 (1-second) pulses. Add the basil leaves and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. With the motor running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil and process until a paste forms, about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula. With the motor running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup heavy cream and process until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

  4. To serve with pasta: Cook 1 pound dried pasta in a large pot of heavily salted water according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Add all of the pesto and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Toss to combine, adding more of the pasta water a little at a time as needed to thin out, until the pasta is well coated with sauce. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store pesto in the smallest container possible with the smallest top surface area and thoroughly pack it in to eliminate air pockets. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface or press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pesto, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.