This quick and easy roasted red pepper pesto is packed with amazing flavor, healthy and done in under 5 minutes. It combines roasted red peppers with fresh basil, garlic and pine nuts. Perfect flavor-booster recipe for pasta dishes, sandwiches, grain bowls or to use as a delicious dip for bread or crackers.
Pesto is a favorite in our house as it is packed with amazing flavors, can be served in so many ways and literally takes 5 minutes to make.
I recently shared a vegan cashew pesto that we make all the time, especially when we run out of pine nuts.
But this time I was inspired by my red chimichurri sauce and was looking for a red pesto full of color and with a fun twist in flavor. So I made a roasted red pepper pesto!
And wow, the result is stunning! There is something special in adding roasted red peppers to a traditional pesto: it adds a delicious mild smoky + sweet + savory flavor, boosts the color with a bright appetizing red hue and makes the sauce ultra-rich and creamy.
Red peppers also are loaded with nutrients, making your pesto even healthier. We absolutely loved it.
In this case, the roasted red peppers are paired with the classic ingredients to make pesto: a generous amount of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts and a little olive oil. This red pepper pesto does not include parmesan cheese, which I skipped to make this recipe completely vegan and dairy-free, but I promise you won't miss it at all, it is loaded with great flavors as is.
The result is a bright and fresh sauce that you can whip up last minute to elevate your meal to the next level.
You might see this recipe also called pesto alla calabrese or Calabrian pesto, which are slight variation of this red pepper pesto.
It is just perfectly garlicky and sweet, thanks to the roasted red peppers. The fresh basil makes it so fresh and adding just a little olive oil turns it into a smooth rich consistency.
You can use it in pasta and rice dishes or use it as a sandwich spread and dip for crackers. Such a versatile and convenient condiment you can make ahead of a busy week to boost your meals with lots of flavors.
Let me know if you gave it a try! ❤️
Why you will love this recipe
- Easy and very quick to prepare
- Can be made ahead
- FULL of bright flavors
- Cheaper and healthier than store-bought pesto sauce
- Creamy and rich consistency
- Endless ways to serve it
- Great for weeknight easy dinners
- Vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free
Ingredients you will need
- Roasted red peppers: I usually use jarred roasted red peppers for convenience. I used these peppers from the brand 365, but any brand will work. You can also roast your own red bell peppers, which is pretty easy. Check out my Mexican bowl where I show you how to make them.
- Pine nuts: classic type of nuts to make pesto. They are more expensive and not always easy to find, so feel free to switch to walnuts or cashews if that's easier for you.
- Fresh basil: sweet Italian basil works best to make pesto, although you can use any kind of basil that you have.
- Garlic: I used 2 large garlic cloves to make it, which made the pesto nicely garlicky. If you are sensitive to garlic, then you can start with one.
- Olive oil: I used only 2 tablespoons for the whole batch, which is enough to create that amazing creamy and rich texture without adding too much fat. Try using high-quality extra virgin olive oil for best flavor. You can add more oil for an oily finish or skip the oil altogether and use a little water instead.
- Salt: add to taste. I like to taste the pesto first before adding salt since the roasted red peppers might already have some added salt.
How to make roasted red pepper pesto sauce
If you use jarred roasted red peppers, then this recipe can be done as quickly as 10 minutes.
Prepare the roasted red pepper
I used jarred peppers, but you can also roast them yourself, it is easy!
Simple clean, pat dry, slice in half and remove the seeds of the red bell peppers (3-4). Then, place them on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet skin up and bake at 450º for about 20-25 minutes. They are done when soft and slightly charred. Then, use tongs to transfer the warm peppers to a bowl and cover with a plastic wrap or simply cover. Let the peppers steam for another 15-20 minutes. Once done, simply peel them by pulling on their skins. Check out this Mexican bowl for more information!
If using store-bought peppers, then drain the jar using a fine mesh colander and then, rinse them in plenty of cold water. They usually are kept in a brine, which you might want to remove for best flavor.
Once all rinsed, then place them on a clean towel and gently pat them dry to remove the excess water. You want to avoid adding extra moisture to the pesto so it does not turn too runny.
Transfer the prepared red peppers to a food processor and then, add the pine nuts, chopped garlic and fresh basil leaves.
Pulse until mostly combined, then use a spatula to scrape the walls of the food processor and quickly stir the ingredients. Add a pinch of salt and then close the food processor.
Add olive oil
Process again while pouring the olive oil through the feed tube. It will become rich and creamy. Keep processing until desired consistency and add more oil if desired. Serve the pesto calabrese with pasta, bread, pizza, etc.
- Make sure to rinse the jarred red peppers properly so the pesto does not have that briny flavor.
- If serving with pasta, then remember to keep some pasta cooking water aside to add to the pesto when tossing with the noodles. This will help create a saucy and rich texture that sticks well to the pasta.
- The idea was to make this recipe a quick and speedy 5-minute condiment for weeknight meals. BUT, if you have an extra 5-10 minutes, then you can also toast the pine nuts before blending them.
- I highly recommend roughly chopping the garlic before adding it to the food processor. That way, you ensure that there are not going to be large chunks of raw garlic in the pesto!
Red pepper pesto uses
Pesto is one of the most versatile recipes I make regularly.
Especially right now that my garden is overflowing with fresh basil, I must be making pesto every two weeks. Grocery stores now offer fresh basil all year around, so you can make it any time of the year and use it in so many ways.
Here are my favorite ways to serve this red pesto:
- Pasta sauce: classic way to serve this pesto is to make a red pepper pesto pasta! Simply toss in cooked pasta with a splash of pasta water to help create a sauce. Combine with more cooked veggies, such as broccoli and mushrooms if you want. Such a perfect quick weeknight dinner for your whole family. Try with zoodles (zucchini noodles), gnocchi or orzo too.
- Salads: you can use this red pesto as a salad dressing, especially when paired with sturdy crunchy leaves, such as romaine, or use it to make pasta salad.
- Pizza sauce: swap the traditional tomato sauce for this red pepper pesto for such a great twist on pizza night! Also works well on flatbread or focaccia.
- Dipping sauce: serve a bowl of this pesto alongside crackers, crusty bread or raw veggie sticks. Also makes for a great addition to a vegetarian charcuterie platter!
- Sandwich spread: spread in sandwiches to add a huge amount of flavor. Check out my roasted vegetable sandwich for inspiration!
- Bowls: top grain bowls with this pesto for a nice boost in flavor. For a nice lunch, then pair it with quinoa or brown rice, roasted mushroom and cauliflower, chickpeas and leafy green.
The beauty of making your own pesto sauce is that you can adjust flavor and texture the way you like it. This red pepper pesto is very versatile and here are a few customization ideas:
- Pesto alla calabrese: this is pretty much a spicier version of a simple roasted red pepper pesto. Simply add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a fresh cayenne pepper to the food processor to add some heat!
- Smoky: roasted peppers have a naturally mild smoky flavor, but add a pinch of smoked paprika to make it even smokier.
- Cheesy: you can include some nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan cheese to add a mild cheesy flavor to this pesto while keeping it dairy-free.
- Tangy: a classic pesto sauce includes lemon juice. In this case, the jarred roasted red peppers brought a briny flavor, so normally you won't need to add lemon juice. That being said, you should taste your red sauce and see if you want it tangier.
- No pine nuts: I don't always have pine nuts ready to go since they are more expensive, so I'll often make pesto using other nuts, such as walnuts, cashews and even almonds. Give it a try!
- Nut-free: you can also easily make this pesto sauce without using any nuts at all by blending sunflower seeds instead of the nuts.
- Green: for a boost of green color and extra nutrients, then add a handful of baby spinach, kale or arugula. A few leaves of mint also bring a ton of delicious fresh flavor to pesto sauces.
This red pesto sauce stores very well. Keep it in an airtight container (a large glass jar is a great way to store it) in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. I kept mine in the fridge for a few days and I didn’t notice any discoloration or browning, but if you are worried about that, then simply drizzle extra olive oil over the surface.
Some separation might occur, so be sure to give it a good stir before serving.
You can also freeze the leftover pesto using an ice cube tray. Once the cubes are completely frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag for longer storage. Use the smaller individual portions to flavor soups, pasta sauces or simply to spread in sandwiches.
Yes, if you don't have a food processor, then simply blend the ingredients using a stand blender. Just keep in mind that this will give you a smoother pesto sauce.
No, not at all. It carries a mix of sweet, smoky and tangy flavors. To make it spicy similar to a pesto calabrese, then add some red pepper flakes!
Both ways work great. I think it is best to enjoy it at room temperature, but we also like it warm tossed in steamy hot pasta. You will also find me digging in the pesto jar straight from the fridge with crackers!
Yes! This red pesto sauce is made with wholesome ingredients and is LOADED with nutrients, such as healthy fats, antioxidants and fiber. Red peppers are also a great source of vitamin C! To make it healthier, then you can limit how much olive oil you use and swap for water instead. It works!
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I hope you like this vegan red pepper pesto recipe as much as we do! If you try it, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how it was. Your feedback is so helpful!
Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
- Food processor
- 1½ cup fresh basil
- ¾ cup pine nuts - can also use cashews
- 16 oz jarred roasted red pepper - rinsed and patted dry
- 2 cloves of garlic - peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt - to taste
- Rinse the jarred roasted red peppers in plenty of cold water and then pat dry very well so you don't add too much moisture to the pesto sauce. You can also roast red bell peppers yourself! Check out my vegan Mexican bowl to see how I do that.
- Transfer the roasted red peppers to a food processor and add the pine nuts, chopped garlic and fresh basil. Pulse until broken down and mostly combined.
- Then, use a spatula to scrape the walls and add some salt. Procees again while pouring the olive oil through the feed tube. It should become creamy and smooth. Keep processing until desired consistency.
- Taste the pesto sauce and adjust the flavor to your preference. Serve with pasta, sandwiches, as a dip or over pizza. Enjoy!
- Storage tips: keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. Stir well before serving. Can also be frozen.
- You can also toast the pine nuts before transferring them to the food processor for added flavor.
- This is such a versatile recipe! You can add more to it, such as lemon juice, nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, spinach, etc. Check out the blog post for more ideas!