Homemade roasted red pepper pesto is the star of the show in this creamy yet vibrant pasta dinner! It has a beautiful creamy texture and can be enjoyed plain or with added veggies or protein. This is the perfect thing to make with a surplus of sweet red peppers and will suit a variety of pasta shapes!
Whilst we love pesto in all forms around here, there is no doubt that homemade pesto has a major edge over jarred, thanks to the fresh basil flavor. It is so worth doing when you have the time. The magic of this pesto is that it has a fresh, vibrant, summery, basil and lemon tasting edge to it, while also creamy, full bodied, and decadent. It spans all seasons and moods, and is endlessly adaptable.
The pesto is fairly kid friendly too. There’s a lot of roasted pepper packed in, so that’s a win for kids who don’t otherwise eat them. If you have a picky kid who loves tomato sauces, give this a whirl! In my 5 year old’s mind, red sauces = acceptable, so it was easy to get her to try this one though I blended it down much more than the photographed dish.
What you need to make this red pepper pesto
- Three sweet / Romano peppers. We’re packing a lot of pepper goodness into this dish which is no bad thing. A high ratio of peppers makes the pesto extra creamy.
- Two cloves of garlic to add some punch. You can tone it down to one if you’re wanting to keep things on the mellow side, but I definitely recommend using both.
- Cashew nuts. While pine nuts are the classic choice, we’re going for an extra creamy finish with this one, so cashews do the job nicely whilst being a lot cheaper too. I left the pesto with a bit of texture but if you puree it for a long time, you can get a very smooth finish.
- Juice of 1 lemon.
- A bunch of fresh basil.
- Cheese! Traditionally parmesan would be used here. I go for a pecorino or a generic “Italian hard cheese” that’s made without animal rennet. If you’re not using real parmesan, it’s worth adding some salt to the pesto.
At the end, we give the pesto a creaminess boost by adding mascarpone cheese when we stir it into the pasta. You could swap in cream cheese, or cream, if you don’t have any or want to source any.
How to make a meal out of it:
A big bowl of this, plain, can easily be dinner. But if you’d like to expand on it, I have tried many things:
- I usually add kale to mine, as you can see from the photos. I saute the kale in a seperate pan before mixing it in. Spinach would work too.
- Sauteed mushrooms or any other veggies are amazing too.
- Frozen peas added to the pasta for the last couple minutes of boiling is the absolute easiest way to add some veggie goodness.
- Cherry tomatoes, roasted or at room temperature, are a lovely addition to up the summer factor by a million percent. If they’re roasted, put them on the top of the dish rather than mixing them in, so they don’t break up and change the texture of the pesto.
- If you’d like to bulk out the protein in the dish, some chickpeas or white beans would slot in nicely or feel free to bring in some vegetarian meatballs or sausages.
Important Tip when Adding Ingredients:
If you’re adding something to the pan, whether it be a protein or veggies, you should add it pre cooked or pre heated. We mix the pesto and mascarpone in with the pasta when the pan is off the heat, so your mix-ins aren’t going to cook or warm up in the pan as you mix them.
You do not want to add heat when you’re stirring the pesto and mascarpone in because the heat will destroy the fresh basil and garlic flavors that make this pesto so tasty!
The one exception is baby spinach, which wilts pretty fast, you should be fine with that.
Creamy Red Pepper Pesto Pasta
- 14 oz (400 g) pasta
- 0.25 cup (4 tbsp) Mascarpone cheese
- 1 bunch kale or cavolo nero, optional
- 0.5 cups (65 g) cashew nuts
- 3 sweet Romano peppers, you can use bell peppers
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1 bunch basil
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 0.5 cup (50 g) parmesan*, pecorino or Italian hard cheese, grated
- 0.25 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
- First things first, we need to roast the peppers. Slice them in half, take out the seeds, and lay them across a baking tray. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and place in the oven for 20 minutes.3 sweet Romano peppers
- While the peppers are roasting, you can make a head start on the pesto by pulsing the cashews, cheese, basil, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a small food processor, or a mini chopper. By pulsing these ingredients down first, we create some space to add the peppers later on.0.5 cups cashew nuts, 2 large garlic cloves, 1 bunch basil, 1 lemon, 0.5 cup parmesan*, pecorino or Italian hard cheese, Salt
- The peppers will be starting to blister. Remove and allow to cool down for a few minutes until they aren't too hot to touch.
- While the peppers are cooling down, start boiling your pasta according to package instructions.14 oz pasta
- If you're making the kale, now is the time to prepare it. Chop it up and saute it in a frying pan with a little olive oil, until it's bright green and softened. Set aside.1 bunch kale or cavolo nero
- Once cooled, add the roasted peppers and olive oil to the food processor and blend until the pesto is your desired texture. I like to leave mine a little chunky, but you can get it pretty smooth if that's what you prefer.0.25 cup extra virgin olive oil
- When the pasta is ready, drain and return to the pan but remove from the heat. Add the mascarpone and most of the pesto (reserve a few tablespoon's worth).
- Stir through until the mascarpone has melted and a creamy sauce has formed around the pasta. Assess the texture and add the remaining pesto if you feel it needs it, otherwise this can be saved for another day.0.25 cup Mascarpone cheese
- Mix in the kale and serve.
My baby cannot have nuts. Could I leave the cashew nuts out and it still taste okay?
Yep I think it would just be a more runny sauce but should still be tasty!