This pantry pesto is the answer to the question: "Can you make pesto with dried basil?" (Yes!)
Pesto made with dried basil is the perfect budget friendly, shelf stable seasoning blend for when you have a pesto craving and no fresh basil on hand. It's also a great dinner shortcut to stash in the pantry.
To serve, just toss a few tablespoons of dried basil pesto with olive oil on your fave pasta, veggies, or protein. So easy!
I have plenty of friends who are vegan and when I cook for them, I like finding recipes that we can all eat. It's just more inclusive that way!
🥬 Why I Love This Pesto
Should pesto appear on a menu, I must order it. This is basically a rule of life for me. I love a pesto sandwich, I love a pesto pasta. And I love this shortcut "pantry pesto" made with dried basil and parsley.
Usually, when I make fresh pesto at home I follow The Food Lab's meticulous, tedious recipe which involves blanching your basil. Or I shove a bunch of fresh basil leaves into a food processor with garlic, nuts, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese without measuring anything and hope for the best.
But when I want pesto fast with minimal work involved, what's a girl with a pesto craving to do? I dusted off the binder of family recipes my mom gave me when I went to college and dug out the recipe for pesto with dried basil that I grew up eating, which is made using dried basil and parsley.
This pantry pesto is a dried pesto seasoning blend. It's not the smooth, partially emulsified oil-based sauce (condiment?) you buy in a jar for pasta.
The dried basil and parsley give the pesto an earthier flavor and texture than you might expect from a bright, fresh, traditional pesto sauce. But when combined with toasted nuts and nutritional yeast (more on that soon!) it's impossible to mistake it for anything but pesto.
🧂 What Makes this Pesto Shelf Stable
The original recipe called for fresh garlic and fresh parmesan cheese, neither of which can be stored safely at room temperature once grated or opened.
So I've given the recipe a small makeover to make it truly shelf stable for longer term storage.
This means you don't need to store this pesto in the fridge or freezer. It also makes it a great meal addition to bring on camping trips or anywhere where access to refrigeration can be spotty.
I swapped the fresh garlic for garlic powder, and I swapped the parmesan cheese for nutritional yeast. And believe me when I say I'm as surprised as you are by the success of the latter.
I always think of nutritional yeast as that vegan cheese substitute my dad puts on popcorn and tries to convince me is as good as butter and salt (imo, it's not, but you do you, dad).
So I was truly shocked when I tasted the two versions side by side. The nutritional yeast wasn't just an acceptable substitute for the parmesan cheese — it was better than the parmesan cheese.
That's right, the vegan cheese substitute tastes better than the real cheese! Even more shocking — Jimmy agreed. Nutritional yeast ftw!
Here's what you'll need to make this shelf stable pantry pesto with dried basil. See recipe card for quantities.
- Dried Basil - Basil is the primary ingredient in traditional pesto. When dried, basil loses a lot of that fresh basil flavor (and bright color color!) and takes on a slightly licorice-y, anise-y flavor. That's why it's not the only dried herb we're using to make this dried pesto blend.
- Dried Parsley - Dried parsley adds the "freshness" you lose with dried basil. It also dries much greener than basil (which dries to a brown color) and will give your dried pesto that green color you expect.
- Garlic Powder - I use this garlic powder from Spicewalla which is ground to a superfine dust. You can use any kind of garlic powder you like, but try to avoid using any that have added salt.
- Nutritional Yeast - I used Simply Organics Nutritional Yeast which came in a set of spices they #gifted me last year. I am not a nutritional yeast connoisseur and can't tell you how other brands of nutritional yeast would work here. The Simply Organics nutritional yeast works really well, but does have some salt in it, so if you're using a different brand, you may need to adjust to taste!
- Walnuts - I use chopped walnuts, but you could use whole walnuts too.
- Almonds - I used whole almonds, but you could use chopped, sliced, or slivered almonds. It's really up to you!
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which is half as salty as other brands of salt (including other brands of kosher salt). Cut the amount of salt in half and adjust to taste if you're using a different brand.
- Olive Oil - For drizzling! This is what helps the pesto blend stick to your pasta, veggies or protein. Depending on how you're using the pesto blend you may not need olive oil. But if you're tossing it with pasta, I recommend it — it helps hydrate the dried leaves so it doesn't feel like you're eating dried herbs.
The best way to make this dried basil pantry pesto is with a mini food processor.
Even though the dried basil and parsley flakes are already fairly small, the food processor helps turn everything into a fine powder. If you don't have a mini food processor, I have notes below for how to make it without one.
Add the nuts to the bowl of the food processor. Run it in pulses on low speed until they're fairly finely chopped.
Nuts have oil in them and if you run the processor too long, you risk them turning into nut butter.
The idea is just to chop the nuts fairly finely. That way you don't have to run it much longer once you add the rest of the ingredients to break the nuts down.
Once the nuts have been processed, add the rest of the ingredients: basil, parsley, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, and salt.
Process the pesto it again on a low speed — pulsing on and off — until you have a fine pesto powder.
It's really up to you how fine you want the pesto to be.
Again, just be careful not to run the food processor too long with the nuts in there. You really don't want to end up with a nut butter pesto!
Use the pesto immediately or transfer it to an airtight container to use later.
🥣 How to Use Dried Basil Pesto
The simplest way to use this dried basil pesto is tossed with a couple glugs of olive oil on pasta.
If you have fresh parmesan or pecorino romano cheese and want to add it here, use it as a garnish on top of your pasta before serving.
Dried basil pesto is also great used with a bit of oil as a marinade, can be used as a dry rub, or even added to a pan with roasting veggies.
How much pesto you use will really depend on your personal preference.
A good rule of thumb is about 1-2 tablespoons of dried pesto per person or per serving. Adjust to taste or add more as needed.
Store this dried basil pesto in airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 3 months. Always give it the sniff test before you use it — nuts have oils in them and can go rancid if not stored properly.
You can also store this dried basil pesto it in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 6 months.
Just like fresh pesto, you can freeze this dried pesto in ice cube trays with enough olive oil to cover the herbs. Drop the frozen cubes right into a hot skillet or pot of pasta to use them. That sort of defeats the "shelf stable" part of this recipe, but it is an option!
👩🏻🍳 Recipe Notes
- If starting with whole nuts, toast them before processing to get a more intense flavor. To toast, place whole nuts in the oven at 350F for 5-10 mins, stirring every 2-3 minutes.
- Basil and parsley are common enough that you should be able to find them in most grocery stores. If you're looking for places to order spices or herbs online I recommend Spicewalla, Spiceology, Penzey's, and World Spice Merchants.
- While you can use this pesto with any pasta shape, I recommend ones with lot of crevices and texture. This will help the pesto evenly coat the pasta instead of clumping or sliding off. It's great with twisted pasta shapes like fusilli, cavatappi, and gemelli. And also with tube shaped pastas like penne and your classic macaroni elbows.
💭 Recipe FAQ
Yes! Chop the nuts very finely with a knife, or place them in a bag and run a rolling pin over them and then chop them until they're as small as you can get them.
This version of dried pesto will likely have a little more texture to it and might need more oil to help it stick to your pasta. But it will work!
Yes! Pine nuts are very traditional in pesto and can be subbed in in place of walnuts or almonds (or both) in this recipe. They do tend to be more expensive which is why I stuck with walnuts and almonds here — more budget friendly!
Same as below except use 1-2 cloves of fresh (or roasted) garlic instead of garlic powder and stir ½ cup parmesan cheese at the end.
Pantry Pesto With Dried Basil (Vegan!)
- Combine nuts in the bowl of a mini food processor. Process on low speed, pulsing on and off, until finely chopped.
- Add the rest of the ingredients — basil, parsley, nutritional yeast, and salt — and pulse a few more times until you have a fine powder.
- Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months at room temperature, or up to 6 months in the fridge or freezer.
- To make this without a food processor: Chop the nuts very finely with a knife. Or place them in a bag and run a rolling pin over them to crush them and then chop them until they're as small as you can get them. Stir the remaining ingredients in with the chopped nuts.
- Serving option 1: Toss with cooked pasta, chicken/protein/veggies along with a large glug or two of olive oil, enough to get the dried pesto mixture to stick.
- Serving option 2: Cook pasta according to al dente package directions. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water, strain pasta and return to pan over medium heat along with any veggies/chicken/protein. Add a glug of olive oil, a few tablespoons of the pesto blend, and half of the reserved pasta liquid. Add ½ cup grated parmesan cheese and stir until the pesto uniformly coats the pasta in a sauce. Add additional pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce.
- If starting with whole nuts, toast them before processing to get a more intense flavor. To toast, place whole nuts on a sheet tray in the oven at 350F for 5-10 mins, stirring every 2-3 minutes.
This post was originally published on April 16, 2020.