The only thing better than summer pesto is a delicious homemade Pesto Cream Sauce. The addition of cream to a traditional basil pesto gives it a velvety texture and rich and luxurious flavor.
I believe in what I call the Murphy's Law of Basil. You either don't have any basil when you need it. Or you have too much basil and it all ends up going bad before you can use any of it it. Such is life.
Whether you currently have a flourishing basil plant or you were overly optimistic at the grocery store and convinced yourself you'd use an entire huge bundle of basil, I have the perfect recipe for you.
If you don't currently have any basil, go out and get some. But then make this pesto cream sauce ASAP... before that whole bunch goes bad.
❤️ Why you'll this recipe
I love pesto so much and there's not much I wouldn't put it on. Pasta is the most obvious choice, but I also love using it in salad dressings, using it as a sandwich spread, and tossing cauliflower and broccoli in it before or after roasting.
Though some pesto cream sauce recipes require heating, I've done a lot of testing and discovered that you don't need to heat the pesto and that you can add the cream to it while it's in the food processor.
You can make this recipe ahead of time, keep it in the fridge, and use it in simple recipes on busy weeknights.
This pesto cream sauce takes your traditional pesto sauce and amps it up a bit by making it perfectly creamy.
You only need a handful of simple ingredients to make this pest cream sauce...basically just everything you'd need to make pesto plus some heavy cream.
Here's everything required (be sure to view the recipe card at the bottom of this post for ingredient amounts and full recipe instructions):
- Fresh basil leaves
- Garlic cloves
- Pine nuts: these add a delicious nutty flavor and are considered essential to Italian pesto, but if you don't have them, you can leave them out
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice: optional- traditional Italian pestos do not contain lemon, but I like to add it for a pop of brightness and zest
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Heavy cream
- Salt & pepper
🌿 How to make pesto cream sauce
If you've ever made your own pesto before, you're going to do exactly that! I recommend using a food processor for it, but it could also work in a blender.
Combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, and lemon juice (if using) in food processor.
Note that traditional Italian pestos do not contain lemon, but I like to add it for a nice pop of zest.
Pulse the ingredients until they're finely chopped.
And with the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream.
Let process, scraping down the sides of the food processor bowl as needed, until mixture is smooth.
Add the parmesan cheese and pulse until just combined.
That right there is your freshly made pesto! So easy!
But to turn it into a cream sauce, you'll of course, need to add some heavy cream.
Add the cream to the mixture and pulse until just combined.
Season the pesto cream sauce with salt and pepper.
Your pesto just went from yum to "omg give me a spoon and let me eat this entire bowl" in 5 seconds.
I honestly love pesto so much and don't ever think of it as needing any improvements, but this pesto cream sauce really does make pesto even more delicious!
This sauce is much smoother and creamier than traditional pesto and it has a velvety texture that coats foods better than regular pesto does.
The cream also mellows out the strong, concentrated flavors of traditional pesto, resulting in a more subdued but richer sauce with a luxurious mouthfeel.
🥣 How to use
You can really use this pesto cream sauce in all the ways you'd use traditional pesto, but I think it's even more versatile. Here are some of my favorite uses for it:
- Pasta sauce: I love getting all the flavors of pesto, but in a creamier sauce that clings to the pasta. It's perfect on everything from spaghetti to fettuccine to penne to tortellini and ravioli. Add it to your favorite pasta!
- White pesto pizza: Pesto is always delicious on pizza, but the pesto cream sauce really adds flavor dimension to a white pizza.
- Sauce for protein: This homemade basil pesto cream sauce is perfect for topping on chicken breast, steak, swordfish, salmon, and more.
- Sandwich spread: Instead of mayo, use a little dollop of pesto cream sauce instead.
- Soup addition: Stirring a little of this sauce into soups adds delicious basil flavor and some extra creaminess.
- Mix-in: Mix a little into polenta, mashed potatoes, or risotto for extra flavor and creaminess.
- Bread dipping sauce or spread: Dipping crusty bread in this basil cream sauce is the perfect idea. It's also delicious when spread on garlic bread.
- Vegetable drizzle: Drizzle this sauce over roasted zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, and more.
- Salad dressing: The sauce also makes for a delicious salad dressing.
I recommend adding the creamy pesto pasta sauce to cooked pasta and just heating until warmed through.
⏲️ How to store
You can either use the pesto cream sauce immediately after making it or you can store it to use later.
Make sure to store it in an airtight container (I like to use a mason jar) and keep it in the fridge. When stored properly, the sauce should keep fresh for 4-5 days.
Just like you can with regular fresh basil pesto, you can also feel free to freeze pesto cream sauce. Divide it into smaller, portion-sized amounts and place it in freezer-safe bags or containers (an ice cube tray works well!). Leave a little headspace in each container to allow for expansion as the sauce freezes. The sauce can be stored in the freezer for up to 2-3 months.
I recommend thawing it in the refrigerator overnight before using.
🎉 Variations on recipe
I love making pestos and have made them with all kinds of fun variations. You can do the same thing with pesto cream sauce! Here are some ideas:
- Herbs: You can use herbs other than basil to make pesto. You could make a parsley pesto, a spinach pesto, a mint pesto, or an arugula pesto. You can even use spinach, kale, or chard.
- Nuts: Instead of using pine nuts, you can use the nuts of your choice. Walnuts, cashews, pistachios, and almonds all work well. Pumpkin seeds are also delicious.
- Spices: You can change the flavor profile of your pesto cream sauce with the spices of your choice. You can use paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and more.
- Cream replacement: If you want a creamy sauce, but don't like the idea of using heavy cream, you can mix in Greek yogurt instead. Your sauce will be thicker, but still delicious. You can also use the dairy or dairy alternative of your choice, though this will make the sauce thinner than if you use cream.
- Pumpkin: Mix in some pumpkin puree for a delicious pumpkin pesto cream!
- Avocado: Avocado adds extra creaminess and nutrition to this sauce.
🛒 Can I use store-bought pesto?
Technically, you can use store-bought pesto for this recipe and simply add cream to it. However, every jar of pesto is different and I haven't tried this myself, so I'm not positive how it will work with each.
Fresh pesto is such a versatile ingredient in so many ways, but I'm going to have a tough time stopping myself from making this cream sauce exactly as is whenever I'm craving fresh summer flavors.
Of course, I probably won't have any basil the next time I crave it. Or I'll have a massive bunch of basil that's all gone bad!
This pesto cream sauce recipe can make an easy meal feel like a night out at a fancy Italian restaurant and can turn simple pasta dishes into luxurious dishes.
Do you like making classic pesto? Next time, turn it into a cream sauce!
Pesto Cream Sauce
- 2 packed cups basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 Tbsp pine nuts
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- Combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, and lemon juice (if using) in food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.
- With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. Let process, scraping down the sides of the food processor bowl as needed, until mixture is smooth.
- Add the parmesan cheese and pulse until just combined.
- Add the cream to the mixture and pulse until just combined. Season with salt and pepper.
- Note that traditional Italian pesto does not contain lemon, but you can add it for an extra bit of brightness if you want.