Vegan Pesto with Zucchini

jar of pesto next to basil leaves

Every year that I have had a garden, I have grown basil.

Planted in February, my pretty, little basil babies become these 4-foot tall, woody trees that have to be taken down with a saw by July. (If you’re in a more temperate growing zone, that’s April to September!)

To celebrate the harvest, I usually have a “Pesto Party,” and invite friends over to share in the bounty and make enough pesto for their families to last through the winter.

It’s a B.Y.O.F.P. (Bring Your Own Food Processor) event, of course. And after we’ve processed all the basil and zucchini in the garden, we have a pesto feast with lots of free-flowing red wine, noodles and “zoodles,” and plenty of laughter.

Italian pesto is traditionally made with lots of parmesan cheese, so if you are allergic to or avoiding dairy products, you’ll need a different recipe.

After a bit of experimenting, this is my new, vegan pesto version. It tastes like the Italian pesto I know and love, and it happens to be dairy-free and Paleo, too!

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jar of pesto next to basil leaves
5 from 2 votes

Vegan Pesto with Zucchini

Italian pesto is traditionally made with lots of parmesan cheese. This new pesto recipe tastes like the Italian version everyone loves, but it’s vegan and Paleo-friendly!
CuisineItalian, Paleo, Raw Vegan, Vegan, Vegetarian
Makes16 servings
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
This recipe may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.




Quick and Easy Method

  • Place the zucchini in the food processor fitted with an S-blade and process until smooth.
  • Add basil, olive oil, nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt and pulse a few times to coarsely chop the basil.
  • Add the pine nuts and process until the texture is creamy, with crunchy, bits of pine nut throughout. Do not over-process or the pesto will become too oily.
  • Stored in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator, your pesto will keep for about 5 days.
  • Alternatively, pour the sauce into ice cube trays, and once frozen, transfer the single serving pesto cubes to an airtight container in the freezer. Stored in the freezer, you can enjoy fresh Italian pesto goodness all winter long.

Traditional Method

  • Hand chopping with a mezzaluna is the traditional, Italian way of making pesto, and it only takes about 20 minutes. By chopping all the ingredients by hand and not blending them, you avoid the ingredients becoming a completely homogenized emulsion or paste. When you serve a pesto that has been hand chopped, you get definition between ingredients, and bright flavors pop in a way they don't when they've been blended into one.
  • Using a mezzaluna or sharpened chef's knife, start chopping the zucchini until minced.
  • Add garlic to the zucchini chopping, along with about 1/3 of the basil leaves.
  • Once this is loosely chopped, add more basil, chop some more, add the rest of the basil, chop some more. Scrape and chop, gather and chop. At this point the zucchini, basil and garlic should be a very fine mince.
  • Add the yeast and about half the pine nuts, chop. Add the rest of the pine nuts, chop. In the end you want a chop so fine that you can press all the ingredients into a basil “cake.”
  • Transfer the pesto “cake” to a small bowl (not much bigger than the cake). Cover with the olive oil.
  • Gently stir the olive oil into the pesto before serving or freezing.
  • Store according to the Quick and Easy Method.


Calories: 58kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 1gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 30mgPotassium: 63mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 165IUVitamin C: 1.3mgCalcium: 7mgIron: 0.4mg




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