How to Make Creamy Pesto Sauce
This creamy pesto sauce is so easy to make. Pair it with pasta, salads and even sandwiches.
Pesto is one of the most flavorful, colorful and vibrant sauces there is. It’s packed with fragrant basil leaves, garlic and Parmesan cheese, plus some texture from crushed pine nuts. Pesto is especially delightful in summer when fresh basil is in season and abundant.
But hang on: It’s possible to make pesto even better. Creamy pesto sauce is simply a blend of fresh pesto with heavy cream. Warmed together, they meld to become a thick and creamy sauce—a perfect texture to cling to homemade pasta or or roasted vegetables. The cream also mellows and softens the intense flavor of pesto sauce.
Easy Creamy Pesto Sauce Recipe
This recipe comes from Justin Weber of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who shares that it’s less “heavy” than traditional pesto. It makes 2-3/4 cups of creamy pesto sauce.
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 4 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 regular lemon’s worth)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
See what olive oil brands our Test Kitchen recommends.
Step 1: Toast the nuts
Pour the pine nuts into a small skillet placed over low heat. Toast and stir the nuts for 3-5 minutes until they’re fragrant and lightly browned. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the pine nuts cool.
Step 2: Add ingredients to a food processor
Pour the cooled pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor, followed by the basil leaves, grated Parmesan, lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, salt and pepper. (Here’s our favorite hack for juicing lemons.) Attach the cover and pulse the ingredients several times to blend them.
Step 3: Pour in the oil
With the processor running, pour the olive oil in a thin stream into the bowl through the feeder tube. Scrape down the bowl once or twice, and process until the sauce is smooth.
Step 4: Finish the sauce on the stove
Pour the pesto into a small saucepan, and then stir in the heavy whipping cream. Place the pan on medium-low heat to gently warm and cook the sauce. (Keep the heat on the low side so as not to curdle the cream.) Cook and stir the sauce for 5-10 minutes until it’s slightly thickened.
How Can I Use Creamy Pesto Sauce?
The sauce is, of course, perfect to pair with pasta. Because it’s thick and creamy, it’ll cling to any pasta shape whether long strands of linguine or the twists of cavatappi. Use the sauce in cold pasta salads too, with shredded chicken or garden veggies.
The texture of creamy pesto sauce also makes it perfect to serve as a dip for raw vegetables, crackers and crostini. Or, use it as a condiment to spread loads of flavor on sandwiches, over burgers and chicken tenders. Elevate your eggs Benedict with a dollop of this creamy pesto.
How Do You Store Creamy Pesto Sauce?
First, allow the creamy pesto sauce to cool. To prevent the basil in pesto from darkening from exposure to air, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface. Or, cover the top of the sauce with a thin layer of olive oil. Then cover the container tightly. It can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days
The sauce can also be stored in the freezer for 3-6 months. Pour the sauce into an airtight freezer container with plastic wrap pressed to the surface. Or pour the sauce into freezer-proof, resealable bags with all the air pressed out.
Frozen cream sauces have a tendency to break once thawed; whisk over medium-low heat to bring the sauce back together. Another option is to freeze the pesto without the cream, then add it in when you heat the thawed pesto.