This vegan sun-dried tomato pesto and pasta is a game changer. It’s so savory and hearty that it’s almost more reminiscent of bolognese than pesto! Unlike most pesto recipes, it calls for cashews rather than pine nuts or walnuts. A splash of warm tomato soaking water ensures that the pesto has a rich, yet non-oily texture. I’ve served this pasta to so many friends, and I’ve found that it’s a true crowd-pleaser.
That is the first and most important thing that I can tell you about this sun-dried tomato pesto and pasta recipe.
I love developing recipes, but there’s a downside to thinking through everything I cook before I cook it. The element of surprise gets lost; happy kitchen accidents are few and far between.
The sun-dried tomato pesto that I’m sharing today, though, was a happy accident. A very happy one.
I had a bag of sun-dried tomatoes in my pantry that had been sitting there for a while. Since my space is now more limited than it used to be, I try to use ingredients up in a timely way, rather than allowing them to accumulate in my cabinets.
I decided to make a wintery, sun-dried tomato pesto.
My first batch was basically underwhelming. I ate it dutifully over a few days; it wasn’t awesome, but it was fine, especially with a side dish or two that I really liked.
There were still sun-dried tomatoes leftover, however. And now my curiosity was piqued.
I went back to the drawing board and started to ask myself what would make the pesto better. I looked over some recipes online.
The comments in one of them pointed me in a promising direction, and that’s how the sauce here came to be.
This recipe, the one I stuck with and am sharing, turned out so well that I texted my neighbor the moment I tasted it. I asked her if she was around to try it, and she was. Her eyes widened on first bite, and I could tell that she loved it as much as I did.
I’ve now shared the sun-dried tomato pesto pasta with several more friends, and my neighbor has shared it with a few of her friends.
The pesto pasta gets unanimously good reviews, and I keep making it for myself, which is the real test of how happy I am with something.
I know I’ve mentioned the pasta a few times in the past few weeks, failing to get this post written in a timely way. But here it is, finally.
What makes this sun-dried tomato pesto a little different
When I first made this pesto, I tried to use the template of my standard vegan pesto, adapting it to have the tomatoes instead of fresh herbs.
It was much too thick and clumpy, so I kept adding oil.
Finally, I had a sauce that was the right thickness for my pasta, but it was a little off. It had an oily mouthfeel, yet somehow, it tasted and seemed diluted.
I went back to the drawing board, but I decided to do so with some professional guidance this time. I looked at a bunch of recipes online, so that I could get a sense of the proportions that other recipe developers had used.
It was ultimately a pesto recipe from Simply Recipes that helped me. Yet it wasn’t the recipe itself, but rather, a comment on the recipe that got me thinking.
A reader and commenter (guyfromHoboken) noted,
Great recipe, though slight alteration. I find it too rich with the oil packed tomatoes and the additional oil. I buy my sun dried tomatoes dry from Whole Foods and then pack them in water to rehydrate them. So for this recipe I used my water soaked sun dried tomatoes and the recommended amount of oil in the recipe. To thin it out a little, I added some of the water from the tomatoes. Kept the tomato flavor but it wasn’t overly rich. I also use cashews in all of my pestos instead of walnuts, as they mimic pine nuts very nicely. Sometimes walnuts can be bitter.
I smiled as I read this, because so often, good improvements or ideas for future recipes have come from comments I’ve gotten on this blog.
The comment seemed in keeping with the dilemma I’d had with my own pesto: too oily, but somehow not neither rich nor with concentrated flavor.
So, I decided to use this commenter’s tips to guide my own recipe. I had dry sun-dried tomatoes already, which is to say, the type that isn’t oil-packed. I used some of the water that I soaked them in for the pesto itself.
Meanwhile, using cashews in a recipe is never a problem for me. (See: go-to cashew cheese, vegan mayo with cashews, 10-minute vegan ricotta cheese, vegan cashew parmesan cheese.)
And, while cashews aren’t inexpensive, they’re cheaper than pine nuts. Easy win.
I ended up with a vegan sun-dried tomato pesto that is…perfect. At least, perfect for me. It’s rich, it’s bold, it’s deeply and profoundly savory (umami bomb!). Yet it isn’t greasy.
The final step I took here was to add a big splash of salty pasta water to the pasta when I mixed it with the sauce.
The sun-dried tomato pesto and pasta was also perfect. And by perfect, I mean so much more complex and interesting than I expected a pesto pasta to be.
Numerous friends who’ve tasted this recipe have noted that it’s almost like a vegan bolognese, which is feedback I agree with.
That’s all a testament to how substantial and special the vegan pesto really is. Let’s dive into how to make it.
How to make vegan sun-dried tomato pesto
I’d say that this pesto is maybe slightly more involved than traditional pesto. This is because of the time it takes to soak and drain the tomatoes.
Otherwise, it’s pretty simple.
Step 1: Bring a pot of water to boil and soak your sun-dried tomatoes
This is the prep step. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop.
Once that’s underway, you’ll use hot water (you can boil it in a teapot or saucepan, or you can microwave it) to soak your sun-dried tomato halves.
More on the specifics of which tomatoes to use below. However, the main thing is to use the ones that aren’t oil-packed.
You’ll need 15-60 minutes of soaking to tenderize the tomatoes. The timing will depend entirely on which tomatoes you use and how dry they are.
Once the tomatoes are tender, drain them, reserving a quarter cup (60ml) of the soaking water.
Step 2: Make the pesto
In step 2, you’ll place the soaked tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the reserved tomato soaking water, and other pesto ingredients into the bowl of a food processor.
Processor for a few minutes, until you have a thick, evenly mixed pesto sauce.
If the sauce seems too thick to you, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of tomato soaking water.
Add red wine vinegar and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Step 3: Mix the sun-dried tomato pesto with the pasta
When the pasta is tender, drain it, reserving a full cup of the pasta cooking water.
Finally, you’ll return your cooked pasta to the pot. Mix it with the pesto and add splashes of the pasta cooking water as needed. Stir and heat everything through.
The pasta is wonderful when you serve it right away, but the leftovers are pretty stellar, too. The sun-dried tomato pesto and pasta will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
What type of sun-dried tomatoes should I use?
This is an important question!
For other sun-dried tomato recipes, I’d tell you that the brand or type didn’t matter. But for this sun-dried tomato pesto, they do.
You’ll want to use sun-dried tomatoes that aren’t oil-packed; that’s the main thing.
Ideally, I recommend sun-dried tomatoes that aren’t packed in oil, but which have a soft texture. Some brands that make tomatoes like this are Bella Sun Luci, Presto, Sunbest Natural, and my personal favorite, Fruit Bliss.
You can also use the type of sun-dried tomatoes that require soaking in hot water in order to be edible.
These tomatoes will be quite dry and hard, but they’ll soften up after you leave them in hot water for 20 or 30 minutes.
Soaking in hot water is a step in this recipe regardless, because the hot tomato soak water is actually part of what makes the pesto magical.
What type of pasta should I use?
You should use any vegan pasta that you love! Regular pasta, whole grain, legume pasta, gluten-free pasta—it’s all good.
Any pasta shape will work, too. But I tend to think that a medium pasta shape is really nice here.
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Meal prep & storage
This is a great recipe to meal prep, which I found out when I made it for a gathering with friends.
The pesto can be prepared and stored in an airtight container for up to four days in the fridge. When you’re ready to make the pasta, just boil the pasta as directed, reserving some of the pasta water, and then heat the cooked pasta with the pesto.
You can even cook the pasta in advance and store it, along with a mason jar of pasta water, overnight in the fridge.
The pasta pairs really nicely with a big, fresh salad. In particular, I think it’s great with my vegan chickpea Greek salad.
It’s also nice with my tofu feta kale salad (more sun-dried tomatoes!) and broccoli Caesar salad.
If that doesn’t appeal, so many other veggies would be nice accompaniments: sautéed broccolini or rapini, steamed broccoli with a fun sauce, grilled asparagus or zucchini—the list goes on!
More hearty vegan pasta dishes
Again, one of the things that I love about this recipe is that it ended up defying my expectations. I thought it would be a bit like regular pesto: something that feels sort of light, maybe even summery.
Instead, it feels so hearty. And here are a few more of my favorite hearty vegan pasta recipes:
- Caramelized cabbage onion pasta
- Wholesome lentil, mushroom & kale lasagna
- Creamy vegan mushroom pasta
- Vegan pasta bake with ricotta
- Lentil tomato pasta stew
- Creamy vegan skillet lasagna
- Vegan pizza pasta bake
- Tex-mex skillet pasta
- Vegan spinach lasagna rolls
- Creamy vegan carrot mac n’ cheese with walnut parmesan
And here’s my new favorite vegan pesto dish.
- 1 cup water (240ml)
- 5 oz sun-dried tomato halves, not packed in oil (140g)
- 1/4 cup raw or roasted cashews (substitute pine nuts) (35g)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (20g)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup packed basil leaves (8g)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (120ml)
- 1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 12 oz pasta of choice (360g)
- cashew parmesan cheese
Bring the water to boil in a small saucepan or heat it for about 2 minutes in the microwave. Pour the hot water over the sun-dried tomato halves. Allow them to soak until tender (15-60 minutes). Reserve 1/4 cup/60ml of the soaking water, then drain the tomatoes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
Place the soaked tomato halves, cashews, nutritional yeast, salt, basil, oil, and 2 tablespoons of the reserved tomato soaking water in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade. Process for a minute. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Continue processing for another 2 minutes, or until you have a thick, evenly mixed pesto sauce. If the sauce seems too thick to you, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of tomato soaking water. Add red wine vinegar and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
When the pasta is ready, reserve 1 cup of the salted pasta water. Drain the pasta. Add the pasta back to the pot and add the pesto. Mix well, adding a few splashes of hot pasta water as you go to help make everything smooth and saucey. It’ll seem as though there’s a lot of sauce at first, but as you mix, the sauce will be absorbed and find its way into the crevices of the pasta.
Top with vegan parmesan, if desired. Serve or store.
I did it! After maybe three or four consecutive weeks without posting a recipe, I posted one.
I know that no one is keeping tabs on my posting frequency except for me, and it’s fine for things to get published when they get published. As my editor one reminded me, “you can only do what you can do.”
But it definitely feels weird when I don’t create food and then sit down to write about it. So this morning is off to a happy start already.
Hope you’ll enjoy this umami bomb tomato pesto and pasta as much as I and some of my loved ones have!