Did you know that cilantro (fresh coriander) makes an amazing pesto sauce for pasta? Topped with roasted tomatoes, this dish is perfect summer eating. If you have an abundance of cilantro, you will find this fresh, tasty pasta dinner a great way to use it up.
I have a new favorite spin on pesto! We are using cilantro (fresh coriander) and lime instead of basil and lemon, and it’s taken me by surprise how delicious it turned out. I wondered if a cilantro based sauce would be too harsh or overpowering, but it gets mellowed out nicely by the rich nuts and cheese and is incredibly tasty and fresh.
You’ll know this herb by the term “cilantro” if you’re in certain counties (like the US or Canada) or “fresh coriander” if you’re in other countries (like the UK or Australia). Whatever term you use, we are talking about the leaves of the coriander plant.
Cilantro can be divisive – not everyone loves it, and I never used to be a fan myself. But it’s completely won me over in recent years so don’t rule it out too quickly!
- Cilantro (Fresh Coriander) : There is no need to remove the stems – they can go into the pesto too. For me a bunch weighing in around 100g (3.5oz) is about right for this recipe – enough to make it saucy, not so much that other tastes don’t come through.
- Pistachios or pine nuts : Pistachios are my absolute favorite in this pesto, but if you don’t tend to keep them and don’t want to buy a bag of them just for this recipe, pine nuts are great too. Feel free to swap another cheaper nut, but I do like the richness these two types of nut offer.
- Lime : I find lime to be the best match for cilantro but you can absolutely use lemon, it’s still super tasty. I use two small limes for this and there’s definitely a lime tang to it, so just use one if you don’t want the lime too present or if your limes are larger.
- Garlic : a pesto must-have.
- Cheese: The classic choice would be parmesan, but I find that pecorino works great too. Due to the use of animal rennet in parmesan, I look for a parmesan style or pecorino cheese that uses vegetarian (microbial) rennet – these are easy enough to come by in the UK.
- Salt: Add to taste. Since the cheeses I use tend to be milder than a legitimate parmesan, I will salt mine fairly generously to compensate.
Beyond Pasta: Serving Suggestions for Cilantro Pesto
This recipe has you toss the pesto with angel hair (or another long pasta shape) and add roasted cherry or grape tomatoes. There are, of course, endless possibilities here. If you’re looking to use up a big haul of cilantro and want to try it different ways, I have some thoughts:
- As a taco topper! If you’re looking to use this as a taco topper I would definitely keep the lime levels high, it will feel right in that context.
- Create “Christmas style” enchiladas by drizzling the pesto over a pan of enchiladas baked in red sauce.
- Mix with rice and use in this Halloumi Tray Bake with Pesto Rice & Roasted Vegetables.
- A tiny bit of leftover pesto could be put to use in my Simple Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing.
More Recipes with Cilantro
Cilantro (Coriander) Pesto Pasta
- 9 oz (250 g) dry pasta
- 12 oz (300 g) cherry or grape (baby plum) tomatoes, halved
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- olive oil, for roasting
Cilantro (Coriander) Pesto
- 1 bunch cilantro (fresh coriander), I use about 100g / 3.5oz worth
- Juice of 1-2 limes, see notes
- 3 tbsp raw unsalted pistachios, or pine nuts
- 2 large cloves garlic
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) olive oil
- ½ cup (50 g) parmesan or pecorino style cheese
- salt, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan / 390F.
- First, get the tomatoes roasting. Toss the tomatoes and garlic into a baking tray or roasting tin large enough that they don't overlap. Drizzle with oil, add salt and pepper to taste. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.12 oz cherry or grape (baby plum) tomatoes, 2 cloves garlic, olive oil
- Meanwhile, prepare the pesto. In a food processor, pulse the nuts, garlic and cheese before adding the cilantro (stems and all) and lime juice. Drizzle the oil in while blending until a smooth mixture is formed.1 bunch cilantro (fresh coriander), Juice of 1-2 limes, 3 tbsp raw unsalted pistachios, 2 large cloves garlic, 1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino style cheese, 1/3 cup olive oil
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions, then drain and toss with the pesto. (Don't start cooking the pasta until its cook time aligns with the remaining cook time for the tomatoes – you won't want it to sit out while the tomatoes are still cooking).
- The tomatoes are ready once they have cooked down to become soft and jammy. Remove from the oven.
- Top the pasta with the tomatoes and serve immediately.