Ingredients for creamy cashew pesto pasta

Despite being a huge fan of cheese and butter and birthday cakes, I don't eat much dairy at home. We don't get along.

I've learned to really embrace dairy-free cooking, and though no one believes me when I say it, I don't miss cooking with milk products as much as you would expect.

I use schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) when I want a flavorful cooking fat, and I'm perfectly happy using soy, oat, or other alternative milks in place of cow's milk.

But cashews are really the star of my dairy-free kitchen, and I always keep some on hand.

Cashews are a great stand in when I'm looking for a little bit of creaminess, but don't want to reach for butter, cream, mascarpone, or any of the usual suspects. Soaked in water and blended, cashews are neutral in flavor, rich, and very creamy, making them a great stand in.

I use blended cashews as a creamy base for dips, for the occasional creamy salad dressing, stirred into purée soups, or, like I had for dinner this week, as a creamy pasta sauce.

I've been struggling to get my hands on herbs and greens, but this week, I was able to get a bunch of basil and a bag of spinach from my local farmers' market. Unfortunately, the bunch of basil was teeny and the spinach turned pretty quickly, so I had limited quantities of both. But it was just enough to make a creamy pesto variation to toss with pasta.

This recipe comes together really quickly, and while we added some sautéed shrimp, you can serve it without any proteins for a vegan dinner. I used spaghetti, because it's what I had, but you can absolutely make this dish with any pasta, small or long.

This recipe makes enough for about 6 people, and we've discovered that it's great leftover at room temperature for lunch.

Ingredients for creamy cashew pesto pasta


  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 5 cloves garlic, divided use
  • 1 cup basil -- I wish that I had been able to add more basil, so if you can, you could double this quantity.
  • 1 cup spinach leaves -- Any green will do here, including kale or chard leaves. If you don't have any greens, just use extra basil, or you could experiment with other veggies to bulk it up, like broccoli florets or green peas.
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
  • 1 lb pasta, like linguine or spaghetti
  • 1 lb 8 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined -- You can use shrimp, scallops, sautéed chicken, cooked white beans, or none of the above.
  • 1/2 cup white wine -- You can leave this out if you don't have it, or add a little extra lemon juice.
  • 1 cup chopped roasted peppers -- This is also a great place for sun-dried tomatoes or pickled cherry peppers. The goal is something bright and acidic.
  • Juice of 1 lemon


  1. Place the cashews in a bowl. Add enough water to cover by 1-inch. Set aside at room temperature for at least an hour or up to overnight.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine 3 cloves of the garlic, the basil, spinach, and a pinch of salt. Drain the cashews and add to the food processor, and blend until coarse. Add 1/4 cup of the oil and blend to make a paste, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to facilitate blending. Set aside.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes, depending on the type of pasta. Drain, and reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and add them to the pan with the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp begins to turn pink, about 1 minute. Add the wine and roasted peppers, and cook until the mixture reduces by about half, about 4 minutes.
  5. Transfer the cashew mixture and the pasta to the pan and toss to combine. Add about half of the reserved pasta water, and toss the pasta until a sauce forms. Add additional pasta water as needed until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Add the lemon juice, adjust the seasoning with salt, and serve right away.

Creamy cashew pesto pasta with shrimp and roasted peppers

  • Toss the pasta quite vigorously to make an emulsified, creamy sauce. If your sauce doesn't come together, that's ok. The texture might not be ideal, but it will still taste great.
  • This will congeal a bit leftover, so if you're worried about the appearance, you'll want to make it right before you're ready to eat.
  • If you can work out the timing, you can use tongs to transfer the pasta right from the cooking water to the pan with the shrimp and sauce. It's okay if it still has pasta water clinging to it, that will just help the sauce form. To time it right, start cooking your shrimp about 4 minutes before the pasta is ready.
  • You can use blended cashews as the base for a dairy-free ricotta substitute. Add some fresh herbs, salt, and pepper, and use the mixture for a dairy-free lasagna. I also do this with beans, like in these Caponata-Stuffed Shells.

Posted by Laura Monroe, DISH editor