Recipe Review

Almost as Good as the Real Thing: Low-Fat Pesto

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

So we’ve been challenging ourselves lately to make a low-fat pesto that we love as much as the real thing.

The problem with most low-fat pesto recipes is that they just don’t have that punch of basil flavor, or they aren’t very creamy. Most of them replace the oil with something less caloric, but yogurt is too tangy, and chicken stock doesn’t have the rich mouth feel that we love so much.

Using we analyzed a basic pesto recipe to find that just 4 tablespoons contain 237 calories, and 25 grams of fat. That’s a lot for just one component of a meal. (And if you’ve ever watched Ina Garten cook, you know that when she says add a cup of oil, it often looks like much more than a cup!)

We haven’t entirely succeeded yet, but we have managed to come up with a lower-fat recipe that still tastes strongly of the summery basil we love so much. Our current version has just 132 calories and 11.8 grams of fat for 4 tablespoons, so about half of the traditional kind.

We use just a bit of ricotta cheese, and keep in some of the oil and the Parmesan. But we omit the traditional pine nuts – though we love their flavor, they just didn’t live up to their caloric weight.

Recipe: Lower Fat Basil Pesto
makes about 1 cup

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
2 medium cloves of garlic
1/4 cup part-skim ricotta
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 oz parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor, whiz the basil and garlic until minced. Add the ricotta, and use the feed tube to stream in the olive oil and water. Stir in cheese and seasonings and serve. If serving with pasta, add a few tablespoons of the pasta water to loosen the sauce.

Though we’re pretty happy with the texture and flavor, we’d still like this to be a bit healthier, so we can enjoy it more often. We’d love to hear any suggestions you have for making great lower-fat pesto!

Image: Nina Callaway