This vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers and lemon zest is perfect both as spread and as pasta sauce. An entirely plant-based pesto, it gets its texture from sun-dried tomatoes in oil and toasted pine nuts. Add extra lemon zest for a refreshing combination of flavours.
Green basil pesto alla genovese is probably the first that comes to mind to many, when picturing pesto in their minds. There are more varieties of pesto in Italy than only the famous Ligurian one. Pesto alla calabrese is a delicious combination of roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta and chilli pepper. Pesto alla trapanese is made with tomatoes, basil and almonds.
The traditional way of making pesto – what gives it its name in Italian – is by crushing (pestare) the ingredients in a mortar with a pestle. Therefore, it’s not the green basil leaves per se that make a sauce qualify as pesto. It is the process, the way it is made. By crushing, although nowadays many prefer to use a food processor. This explains why there are so many pesto varieties that do not resemble the genovese one at all.
The addition of cheese (parmigiano, pecorino, but also ricotta) is a common feature in pesto recipes. In this post I’m sharing a dairy free pesto. By leaving the cheese out, this pesto is vegan. It takes just a few minutes to put together and only a handful of ingredients: sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, capers, pine nuts, lemon zest. Garlic is an unmissable pesto ingredient, but you can choose whether to include it or not. Read on for the full vegan sun-dried pesto recipe.
How to make sun-dried tomato pesto
Making pesto is really just a matter of collecting all the ingredients and blitzing them in a food processor. In this vegan pesto we are adding one simple step at the beginning, that is toasting the pine nuts. To do that, you add the pine nuts to a hot skillet and keep them on medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. It is very important to never lose sight of them as it only takes seconds for the pine nuts to burn.
Move the pine nuts around the pan constantly to ensure all the sides get in direct contact with the hot pan. Immediately remove from the pan when done to stop the toasting as well as to let them cool down a bit. This step will not take more than 5 minutes and really elevates the overall flavour of your pesto. Check for yourself by tasting a pine nut before toasting and then tasting a toasted one. I challenge you to stop at one.
Once your toasted pine nuts are ready, it’s just a matter of adding all the ingredients to a food processor. I recommend using sun-dried tomatoes in oil, as they are super moist and flavourful. Plus, we’re gonna use that very oil, which is also nicely flavoured from the tomatoes itself. If there was not enough oil in the jar, please add some extra olive oil or mild seed oil. Blitz until all the ingredients are crushed.
Garlic in pesto: yes or no?
As I said before, garlic is one of those unmissable ingredients in pesto alla genovese. Yet, basil pesto without garlic does exist, even in Italy. Some people are quite sensitive to garlic and prefer to avoid it to prevent later digestive issues. Other just do not enjoy its strong flavour. In either case, this is okay. The wonderful thing about making food is that recipes can be tweaked and adjusted to best suit flavour preferences or dietary restrictions.
Should you use garlic in this vegan sun-dried tomato pesto? I say you should try making it both ways. While I have included garlic in the ingredient list, mostly because I really love garlic in pesto alla genovese, I personally prefer my sun-dried tomato pesto without garlic. While you might be missing out on the garlic’s “bite”, leaving it out you’ll have a milder, sweeter pesto where the lemon zest truly comes to the front. So you basically get to choose whether you wish to spice it up or not.
What to use sun-dried tomato pesto for
This vegan sun-dried tomato pesto is an excellent spread. Actually, leave out the garlic and proceed to rub a clove directly onto a slice of toasted bread. Then spread this sun-dried tomato pesto on the bread. Here you have a lovely appetizer!
Don’t need to keep it vegan? Spread this sun-dried tomato pesto on a slice of bread, top with diced mozzarella and bake it in the oven until the cheese has melted and the bread has nicely toasted for some fantastic sun-dried tomato pesto crostini!
Otherwise you can use this vegan sun-dried tomato pesto for its most classic purpose: as a pasta sauce. The quantity of pesto you get from this recipe can be used with 250-300 g of pasta (the weight is that of uncooked pasta). For best results, just like with basil pesto, you should cut the pesto with some of the pasta’s cooking water. Stirring in a couple of tablespoons of hot water makes any pesto creamier. It will have a better texture to go with pasta.
For the ultimate summer pasta dish add some extra capers and a sprinkle of fresh lemon zest to your sun-dried tomato pesto pasta. This way you can get a delicious vegan pasta recipe that will surprise you with its bright flavours. Don’t need to keep it dairy free? Stir in a couple tablespoons of cream!
This vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers is such a delightful recipe. You’ll love how easy and quick it is to make – really, the hardest part is toasting the pine nuts! You choose if you want to add the garlic or if you prefer it without. You choose if you want to use it as a spread on toasted bread or as sauce to your favourite pasta. What’s to love is that with only 5 ingredients you can whip up a delicious vegan pesto in minutes. And once you try it, you’ll want to make it over and over again.
Vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers
This sun-dried tomato pesto is made with capers and lemon zest for a refreshing full flavour. Make it with or without garlic and enjoy it on bread or as pasta sauce. Completely plant-based.
- 150 g sun-dried tomatoes in oil drained
- 130 g olive oil, or oil from the sun-dried tomato jar
- 50 g pine nuts
- 1 tbsp capers
- 1/2 lemon zested
- 1 garlic clove (optional)
Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. Keep a constant eye on them and move them often to prevent burning. Remove from hot skillet as soon as pine nuts are done.
Add sun-dried tomatoes, oil, toasted pine nuts, capers, lemon zest and garlic (if desired) to a food processor and blitz. Alternatively, you can add all ingredients to a container and blend with a hand blender. If the sun-dried tomato jar did not have enough oil, add some olive oil.
Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.
If using on pasta, this quantity will work great with 250-300 g pasta (uncooked weight). Cut the pesto with some of the pasta cooking water to smooth its texture for use as pasta sauce.
Leaving out the garlic will bring the lemon zest forward. For an even more lemony flavour I would recommend also adding freshly grated lemon zest over your pasta.