Red Pepper Pesto is a sweet and smoky twist on the classic. It’s absolutely scrumptious and it will enhance anything it’s added to.
Red pepper pesto adds a delicious bold flavor to all sorts of dishes. The touch of sweetness and subtle smokiness of the roasted red peppers, combined with sweet roasted garlic, is outstanding with the traditional basil, pine nuts and Parmesan.
From a warm slice of rustic bread and pasta, to creamy scrambled eggs and fruit-filled salads, the uses for the pesto are limitless!
Vegetarian and gluten free, this recipe is packed with nutrients, to boot.
(I often suggest brands I love and use — these are only suggestions and this is not a sponsored post.)
- red bell peppers - Choose peppers that are firm, deeply colored and slightly shiny.
- garlic - The garlic will be roasted for this red pesto recipe so it will be mellow and sweet. Look for firm heads of garlic without any soft spots or green shoots.
- pine nuts - The pine nuts will be toasted before we add them to the recipe, to deepen their flavor and bring their oils to their surface.
- grated Parmesan - Use Parmigiano Reggiano if possible.
- fresh basil leaves - Look for perky bunches and avoid any brown, bruised or yellow leaves.
- extra virgin olive oil - I like this one.
- salt - I cook with Kosher salt. I prefer it because of its larger flake size, it usually doesn't contain additives, and it does a great job enhancing the flavor of foods without making them taste salty. (If you use table salt, use half the amount.)
- ground black pepper - Preferably freshly ground.
(See recipe card below for quantities.)
Substitutions and Variations
- Red peppers. You can substitute the red peppers with other colors of bell peppers or Poblanos, Hatch chiles, Anaheims, Piquillos, or other sweet and/or mild peppers. The flavors will vary with each pepper.
- Basil. Feel free to experiment with various fresh herbs. You can try oregano, flat-leaf parsley, marjarom, or any combination thereof. Arugula (Rocket) would also be super delicious as an alternative to the basil, as it would add a sharp peppery flavor.
- Vegan option. Substitute the Parmesan cheese with ½ cup cashews plus 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and a few pinches of salt. You can also use more of the pine nuts instead of the cheese, or add a second nut like almonds, pecans or cashews.
- Spicy version. Add about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper, or add it to taste, like this.
- The garlic can be roasted up to four days ahead, and the peppers can be roasted up to two days ahead. Both should be refrigerated and in an airtight container or wrapped tightly with plastic wrap. The garlic should be roasted before you begin!
- Instead of roasting raw peppers from scratch, you can purchase jarred, roasted peppers. If you do this, be sure they are thoroughly drained and dried. You will need 2 pounds. This an easy way to speed up the recipe if you need to.
- When you're toasting the pine nuts, watch them carefully, as they can go from golden to burnt quickly.
- Peppers have a high water content, so the better you dry them once they’re roasted, the thicker the pesto will be.
- If you prefer not to roast the garlic, for a sharper flavor, use about 4 small to medium-sized garlic cloves.
- When the pesto is finished it will be somewhat saucy, which is perfect for red pepper pesto pasta (see below image). For thicker, more spreadable red pepper pesto, just strain it, and save the strained liquid as it's a great sauce, too.
- The texture of the pesto will depend on how long you blend it in the food processor. I like the tiny chunks of pepper, but make it as smooth or chunky as you’d like.
How to Make it
- Place the peppers, one or two at a time, directly on top of a high flame on the stove. Use kitchen tongs to turn them as each side chars.
- When they're evenly charred, remove them from the burners, place them in a large stainless steel bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let them steam for 10 minutes. (Alternately, you can put them in a brown bag and fold/roll the top to make it airtight.)
- Once they're cool enough to work with, use your hands to peel off the skin and remove the stems.
- Use a paring knife (or your hands) to make a slit vertically down each pepper to open it. Remove the seeds and trim away the membranes from the inside.
- Use paper towels to dry the roasted peppers on both sides. Place one layer below them and then another on top and gently press down. Then roughly chop them. Set aside.
- Add the pine nuts to a small sauté pan and place it over medium-low heat. Shaking the pan gently to move them around often, heat just until they’re golden, very aromatic and look oily. Set them aside to cool.
- Add the peppers, along with the roasted garlic, toasted pine nuts, Parmesan, basil, salt and a few turns of pepper, to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Blend until it’s relatively smooth, add the oil and blend once more.
The pesto will likely be loose, which is perfect if you’re using it as a sauce for pasta, chicken, rice, etc. If you want it to be thicker and spreadable, strain it. Be sure to save the liquid as it’s absolutely delicious on its own and is a sauce in and of itself.
How to Make Pesto Without a food Processor
- If you don’t have a food processor, a high-speed blender will work well for this red pepper pesto recipe.
- For a classic basil pesto, a mortar and pestle can be used. That won’t work for the red pepper pesto though. You can however super finely chop all of the ingredients. It will take more time and little muscle, so a smaller batch might be easier.
Though pesto sauce is most commonly served with pasta, it’s incredibly versatile and the uses for it are endless. Here are a few other delicious ideas:
- Spread it into wraps and sandwiches.
- It’s amazing on pizzas! Check out this Basil Pesto Pizza.
- Red Pepper Pesto is also excellent with eggs, especially mixed into scrambled eggs.
- Add it to sauces and soups.
- Roast vegetables with it. (I love it with zucchini and eggplant!)
- Add a layer of it to lasagna, or use it as the lasagna sauce.
- It’s a really delicious sauce for chicken, salmon and shrimp.
- Much like my Red Goddess Sauce, it's fantastic with grilled steak.
- And of course, it’s delightful just spread on a crusty slice of bread.
Other Fun and Delicious Pesto Recipes
How long will it last?
In a tightly sealed container or jar, Red Pepper Pesto should last about 5 days in the refrigerator.
Can you freeze the pesto?
Yes, you can freeze this pesto. In an airtight container it should keep well for about 4 months. To thaw it, place it in the refrigerator a day or two before you want to use it.
I hope you love Roasted Red Pepper Pesto as much as my family and I do!
Red Pepper Pesto Recipe
- 3 pounds whole red bell peppers (see notes)
- 3 tablespoons roasted garlic - approx 1 large head (this should be done ahead)
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
- ½ cup pine nuts
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt (use half if using table salt)
- freshly ground black pepper
- Roast the peppers. Place the peppers, one or two at a time, directly on top of a high flame on the stove. Use kitchen tongs to turn them as each side chars. When they're evenly charred, remove them from the burners, place them in a large stainless steel bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let them steam for 10 minutes. (Alternately, you can put them in a brown bag and fold/roll the top to make it airtight.)
- Once they’re cool enough to work with, use your hands to peel off the skin and remove the stems. Use a paring knife (or your hands) to make a slit vertically down each pepper to open it. Remove the seeds and trim away the membranes from the inside. Pat them dry on both sides with paper towels. Then roughly chop them.
- Toast the pine nuts. Add the pine nuts to a small sauté pan and place it over medium-low heat. Shaking the pan gently to move them around often, heat until they’re golden, very aromatic and look oily. Set them aside to cool.
- Make the pesto. Add the peppers, with the roasted garlic, toasted pine nuts, Parmesan, basil, salt and a few turns of pepper, to the a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Blend until it’s relatively smooth, add the oil and blend once more. Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary.
- If you want a thicker more spreadable pesto, strain it. Be sure to save the liquid as it’s absolutely delicious on its own and is a sauce in and of itself.