oil-free pesto

by jenna on June 28, 2011

Sometimes I think of the things I love and the list goes something like this:

1. wasabi flavored seaweed snacks

2. banana republic’s perfect shade of pink

3. Target necklaces

4. my fuzzy slippers

5. pesto from scratch

You know what I don’t love though? The fact that bowl of pesto pasta is, like, four bajillion calories. And while olive oil is definitely a heart healthy fat,  sometimes you just need a big bowl of pesto pasta in your life without worrying if you will still be able to fit into your skinny jeans the next day.

(I type this while I sit and stuff salt water taffy after salt water taffy into my mouth)

This oil-free pesto recipe comes from one of my very favorite cookbooks, The Vegetarian Times Cooks Mediterranean. I’ve loved this cookbook for so long that the pages are literally falling out. It’s wonderful.

Anyway, here are the ingredients!

The secret is the white miso!

For those of you who have never dabbled in the world of miso paste, you can find this at your local health food store (or Whole Foods!). It doesn’t make your food taste like miso soup; rather it lends a mellow, almost cheesy flavor. I love it!

The other secret is using super fresh basil!

I was so excited to find organic basil in last week’s CSA bag! Call me crazy, but this basil (that had literally been picked earlier that day) smelled a zillion times better than any basil I’ve ever sniffed at the grocery store. It made my entire house smell amazing! I highly recommend hunting some down at your local farmer’s market for this recipe.

The best part is that this pesto only has about 20 calories per tablespoon. Crazy, huh? It’s great as a sandwich spread and freezes beautifully as well!


Oil-Free Pesto

makes about 1 cup pesto

from The Vegetarian Times Cooks Mediterranean

Print this recipe!


2 cups packed basil leaves

1 cup packed chopped parsley

1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

2 garlic cloves

2 T freshly grated Parmesan cheese

3 T white miso

1/4 cup water (more or less depending on desired consistency)


Blend basil, parsley, garlic, miso, cheese and bread crumbs in either a food processor or high speed blender until smooth. Slowly drizzle in water while machine is running to reach desired consistency.

Spread pesto on sandwiches or use as a pasta sauce. Freeze individual portions in little snack sized sandwich bags for later!


10 minutes


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{ 105 comments… read them below or add one }

chelsey @ clean eating chelsey June 28, 2011 at 7:45 am

You’re my hero. I love pesto, but eat it sparingly because of how calorie dense it is. i’m making this for sure.


Cait's Plate June 28, 2011 at 7:46 am

I adore pesto made from scratch! I had no idea it was possible without oil – I will be trying this recipe for sure 🙂 I made an avocado sauce inspired by your “green goddess pasta” last night that was DELISH!


Kathryn June 28, 2011 at 7:47 am

What a fantastic idea, I have tried to convince myself that pesto is health because it’s a green (I know…) but I might experiment with this. It sounds perfect.


Lauren from Lauren's Latest June 28, 2011 at 7:48 am

I agree that fresh basil is one of the best smells! There’s nothing like it!


Nancy~The Wife of a Dairyman June 28, 2011 at 9:22 am

Basil is super easy to grow yourself also! Find a sunny window or outside on your patio…..that way the house can smell like it all summer long:) Great recipe, I’ll have to hunt down some white miso and try it!


Toby June 28, 2011 at 7:49 am

I’ve never heard of it done with miso paste before!

You can do it with Philidelphia/Quark and then cut back on the parmesan for an even clearer conscience!

…or yoghurt.
…or creme fraiche.

Toby. x


Caitlin June 28, 2011 at 7:50 am

Ooh this sounds great! I love pesto, but love all the calories that come with it a little less. I have to try this version soon and maybe even add in some chopped walnuts.


Aine @ Something to Chew Over June 28, 2011 at 7:51 am

What a great idea using miso is! I usually ‘stretch’ pesto to reduce the calories by mixing it with some non-fat natural yoghurt. With this version there’d be no need to dilute. Great job! 🙂


Gina @ Running to the Kitchen June 28, 2011 at 7:51 am

Well, if it’s skinny jeans approved I might just have to try it!
The basil in my pots outside DOES smell a million times better than the store bought. I wish I could keep it alive in the winter. There really is no better smell.


Shilpa June 28, 2011 at 8:00 am

Love pesto…hate the calories….I would have never thought of adding miso to the pesto..is a brilliant idea….This is going to be that gets made in my house now…thanks..great space…



Lauren @ Lawfully Wedded Wife June 28, 2011 at 8:01 am

This looks fresh and delicious! Sounds PERFECT for this time of year! 🙂


Renee June 28, 2011 at 8:09 am

Okay, I need to make this asap. Thanks for this post!


kalli June 28, 2011 at 8:11 am

i have always been scared to try miso paste! i think you are giving me the encouragement i need. great recipe!


Cat @Breakfast to Bed June 28, 2011 at 8:11 am

Oh, I totally can’t wait to make this.


Abigail June 28, 2011 at 8:16 am

Oh my Jenna, this is awesome!! I love pesto but rarely eat it because of the calories and fat. You’ve opened up my world!:)


Estela @ Weekly Bite June 28, 2011 at 8:16 am

I’m definitely trying this!!! I love pesto but don’t like all that oil.
Thanks for the recipe 🙂


Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat June 28, 2011 at 8:17 am

I need to get some miso! Every jar I find seems to be a little pricey, but I really want to try this recipe so it just might be fully justified. Great one, once again Jenna!


Faith @ lovelyascharged June 28, 2011 at 8:19 am

Same here! Some things like miso and tahini are hard to splurge on but they always look worth it!


Baking 'n' Books June 28, 2011 at 9:54 am

I was thinking the same thing. It’s so expensive here. But it seems like most recipes only use a little – so it would last a long time?…stretch out my “dollars”? 😉


wendy June 28, 2011 at 8:18 am

Jenna, you just rocked my world! Pesto made from miso is an incredible idea! My skinnyjeans thank you.


M June 28, 2011 at 8:19 am

This is fab!

I can’t wait to try it in a sandwich or on pizza.

really yummy is cream cheese and pesto on
toast or toasted bagel…mmmm


kaila @ healthyhelper! June 28, 2011 at 8:26 am

LOVE THIS! I know exactly what you mean about pesto! I freakin love it but it is VERY calorie dense…so this is puuuuurfect!


Andrea @ The Skinny Chronicles June 28, 2011 at 8:27 am

As always, you are my hero. But this time, you are REALLY my hero. I was just looking at my patch of basil in the garden and thinking it is time to start in with pesto…Even though I still have a chest freezer full of last year’s pesto. I always want to eat it…but the oil makes me think it’s not the greatest choice. Now I can have my pesto and eat it to. This recipe is definitely going to be bookmarked. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Lauren L. June 28, 2011 at 8:28 am

fresh pesto = best. we have “lightened” our version up by using chicken broth with some heart healthy olive oil. it gets the right consistency with less calories!


dana @ my little celebration June 28, 2011 at 8:28 am

So smart! I had no idea what misto was. Beautiful pictures by the way!


Laura @ Cookies vs. Carrots June 28, 2011 at 8:28 am

This is such a good idea!


katie @KatieDid June 28, 2011 at 8:34 am

I just blogged last week about some strawberry pesto I made. With the juicy strawberries I barely had to add oil also, and it came out so fresh and bright tasting! This recipe looks like a great one also, bread crumbs is an interesting addition that I’ve never seen before!


Sonia (the Mexigarian) June 28, 2011 at 8:47 am

Wow. The recipe sounds refreshingly light! I can’t wait to try this out on some pasta 😀


Erica June 28, 2011 at 8:51 am

Looks amazing! But, am I missing something? Where is the cheese shown on the board fit in to the recipe?


Erica June 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Oops! I see it now. There was clearly something wrong with me this morning. Sorry Jenna! You are amazing as always!!


Mary (What's Cookin' with Mary) June 28, 2011 at 8:53 am

I love the idea of oil free pesto! I made my brother’s pesto pasta salad a while back and it really does have 4 bajillion calories … would be a great way to lighten up that recipe.


Mai June 28, 2011 at 8:56 am

Wow, this sounds awesome. Can’t wait to try it!


giordin June 28, 2011 at 9:08 am

awesome! i’ve been looking for ways to use the miso paste i have hanging out in my refrigerator (it makes a wonderful ginger salad dressing, too!)

what a great idea!

i wish i could get away with the skinny jeans thing…my hips are not a fan!


Jacqueline @ Spice Is NIce June 28, 2011 at 9:11 am

Wow, this is such a great idea! I also love that you are stuffing salt water taffy in your mouth – that stuff is dangerous, especially because you are then left with a bunch of “guilty as charged” taffy wrappers ;-).


Emily June 28, 2011 at 9:14 am

I love the idea of this recipe, I’m a huge miso fan but usually can’t do pesto because too much oil does not do well in my tummy. We have a huge basil plant outside that would be perfect for this, thanks!


Amy June 28, 2011 at 9:14 am

this is genius. and i have that exact miso sitting in my fridge as we speak. How much parm do you add?


Amy June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am

nevermind. duh amy. i see it now.


Urban Wife June 28, 2011 at 9:21 am

This is the second pesto recipe I’ve come across today. It must be a “sign”! 🙂


Kelly @ Laughter, Strength, and Food June 28, 2011 at 9:22 am

I am in love with pesto and I can’t wait to try this! Totally loving that fresh basil! 🙂


Sabrina @ Radioactive Runner June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am

YUM! I love that this has much less calories compared to the other. I’ve never tried miso… but I think I will with this recipe.


Eleonora June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am

Jenna, I’m sure this tastes great, but I’m a little surprised by all this “pesto – oil – fat – skinny jeans” thing. Disclaimer: I’m Italian, and pasta without olive oil (or butter, in Northern Italy) is simply not considered.
I (and Italians in general) normally put some olive oil straight inside the drained pasta, or in the sauce. Now, what’s the difference with pesto? Why should it have more calories than an average pasta dish? There’s oil in pesto, so I don’t put any extra oil in my pasta. The amount is probably the same.
Or do you usually eat pasta without oil?
That’s all out of curiosity!


jenna June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am

That must be an Italian thing 🙂 I never put oil in my pasta…I guess that’s the bland American way. I’m sure it would taste better with oil though! If I lived in Italy I’m sure I would..and it would be amazing.


Eleonora June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

Ok, now your post makes sense, thank you!


Erin June 28, 2011 at 10:43 am

I really loved your blog SO much, and I do like lighter and new recipes, but something about this is just a little bit of a turn-off. I guess it’s really just me, that liked your moderation philosophy and eating the real thing. I wish there was a little less talk of skinny jeans, I suppose.


bethany June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

anyone can wear skinny jeans, its a cut, not implying you have to be skinny. besides that though, if you’ve been reading her posts on migranes, you would understand there is a reason she is eating a little healthier. i’m sure jenna is all for us eating our cake too!


Erin June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am

I do wear skinny jeans all the time, and am well aware that is is a cut. But worrying about fitting into them IS implying you have to be skinny. I believe being healthy and getting rid of migraines is about eating more produce and less sugar. I fail to see how pesto with a little oil falls into that. But this isn’t the first post talking about fitting into skinny jeans or it wouldn’t bother me. There have been quite a few.


HilJo June 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I was thinking the same thing…I guess partly I dont want to feel guilty about liking and being fine with eating full oil pesto 🙁 And I have noticed the trend as well, but I guess that at the same time Jenna IS switching back towards a more “healthy” or health-food/action focused life so it makes sense!

jenna k June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am

jenna writes posts worded like this all the time- it’s just that it’s usually in a joking manner about sugary/chocolatey baked goods. the post is about how to create a lighter version of a classic dish, so it seems extremely appropriate to mention still being able to fit into your clothes.


Sarah June 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I make a pesto like this. Too much oil sometimes gives me a stomach ache. It is yummy and great but it is totally unnecessary to incant nonsense about not fitting into pants the next day because of eating food at dinner.


Kristen @ Popcorn on the Stove June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

I’m always nervous about buying miso paste in the stores. I’ve seen white and red but wasn’t sure what the difference was between the two.

This recipe looks very interesting, but I’m not sure that I’ll end up trying it. I love olive oil and pretty much use it wherever I can (especially since I’m allergic to dairy!).


Liza June 28, 2011 at 10:13 am

I’m so excited to try this! Thanks for sharing this recipe!


Karen June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am

This looks likes a winner, Jenna! Thanks for the recipe! (Still loving your ingredient chalkboard…so fun!)


Gina (Yogattude) June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

This looks great! I had a similar experience with fresh mint from the farmer’s market. It smelled 1000x better than the packaged stuff at Whole Foods!


Natalia June 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

Thanks so much for sharing! Seriously, as much as I “lunge” for pesto, I kinda like not having to lunge in my jeans afterwards!


Jesse June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

thanks for sharing this oil-free & NUT free pesto recipe! i’m adding miso paste to my grocery list and definitely making this next week since i have a ton of fresh basil growing in my kitchen window sill and i need to use it up. i think i’ll make extra to free and use later 🙂 i’m a freezer-food hoarder! LOL


Dani June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

Looks yummy!!! Will definitely have to try this. Maybe you could come up with a healthier alfredo too? 😉


Mallory June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am

Thanks for this recipe! I love love love pesto too. Ever try it in your scrambled eggs – wonderful! I will definately try this recipe once I find white miso. Thanks again. I will also check out that cookbook 🙂 Have a great day!


Lauri (Redheadrecipes.com) June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am

I was wondering what the ‘secret ingredient’ was going to be!!! But I’ve never heard of white miso! I will definitely keep my eyes out next time I am at whole foods! My basil plant needs a’pickin’…


Kiran @ KiranTarun.com June 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Love love love pesto. But never tasted miso before. Intriguing 🙂


Lisa D June 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm

You honestly read my mind. I have had a (totally random) craving for pesto this week but the thought of all that EVOO scares me! The recipe sounds amazing and I can’t wait to try it. I’m seeing a dinner of homemade pesto over fresh spring peas and pasta with a glass of crisp white wine in my future…


Kelli H (Made in Sonoma) June 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I would love to try this spin. Is white miso expensive? About how much for a tub that size?


Shannon Blogs June 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

got this pesto bookmarked! Sounds amazing! Anything with miso in it will taste amazing!


Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga June 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I love that you didnt use a vat (or any) oil in this pesto. There is something about wiping the oil off my lips after I am done eating a salad that just doesn’t quite flow for me…not that I am against fats, I love cooking with butter, oil, nuts, etc..but I hate the slimy feeling that oil in pesto or on pasta can give. You succeeded in preventing oil slick lips…thank you 🙂

And basil from a CSA box is right up there with strawberries in a CSA box 🙂


Meghan @ StruggleMuffins June 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I just whimpered a little bit when I saw this. I love miso and have similar reservations about taking a trip to calorie town with even a small smackeral of regular pesto. I’ll be making this for sure, thank you!


Kristin Murdock June 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I love the chalkboard thing you’ve been doing lately, Jenna. Looks great in photographs and is a fun way to show the ingredients. I might have to try my hand at it!


Katrina June 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Mmm love this new take on pesto!


Lauren @ What Lauren Likes June 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Miso! another recipe to use it in yeaha! usually I never buy it because I can never find a good enough recipe fo it…this changes everything! 🙂


Mellie June 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

mmm pesto is the best!


Erin June 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Coincidence – my mama and I just made homemade pesto today, and although we did indulge in olive oil, we used vibrant. full-leafed basil fresh from our summer garden! It smelled up the kitchen and we vowed to grow a year-long plant to live in the house with us.

(Btw, this pesto is going on a pizza with artichoke hearts and mozzarella and home-dehydrated [sundried] tomatoes that we gathered from last year’s garden. Yum!)


Sarah @ Sharing Bananas June 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Sounds yummy! I have been growing basil and making a lot of pesto lately, so I’ll have to try this recipe. Do you use your Vitamix to make the pesto, Jenna? I have been using my food-processor, but I’ve been frustrated that it doesn’t break the ingredients down enough.


Lorin June 28, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I just got an 11-cup cusinart food processor, I really recommend it! It made almond butter in about 2 or 3 minutes when people report it takes them like 6-10.


Sarah @ Sharing Bananas June 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Thanks for the recommendation! Mine will need replacing soon…


katherine June 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm

looks good, but i’d hardly call it pesto without nuts OR olive oil!


Julie June 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Sounds amazing! I can’t wait to try it out. Anything that is “skinnyjeansapproved” is ok by me!


Wine Girl (Kitchen Doesn't Travel) June 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I’m definitely going to try this recipe as I returned from a week at the beach on Sunday to find that may basil had decided to take over my back patio in my absence. My planter runneth over! Thanks for the recipe!


amy walters, aDESIGNdock June 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Love this!!!


Molly @ RDexposed June 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I wonder if my Siciian boyfriend would consider ending our relationship if I ever thought to remove olive oil from a dish?!


Lisa June 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm

what a great idea! I will be trying this for sure!


Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin June 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm

You are a genius! I love pesto too, but when I saw the calorie count on the jar (shh, I sometimes buy jarred stuff instead of homemade ;)) my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I’ll definitely be trying your version!


krista June 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm

ahh yay for BR love– I just started working there a month ago!


Jessica @ The Process of Healing June 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Oil free pesto? This is epic. Because obviously, it’s green and there is no oil so it’s practically negative calories! 🙂


Lee June 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm

I freaking love those wasabi seaweed snacks.


Lisa June 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Just starting my fitness/style blog! So exciting. I love your blog. Can’t wait to try out your recipes in my 365 recipes in 365 day challenge! (Will credit.)


Liz @ Tip Top Shape June 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Love this! I wish I had this recipe during the school year. I had an entire tub of miso paste and no idea what to do with it past soup.


Miranda @ Working Mom Works Out June 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm

What a great idea! I’m definitely going to try this. I’ve never bought miso paste before.


Abby June 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Oil or not, pesto is besto. You could put it on a shingle and it would be fabulous, whether you eat it wearing “skinny jeans” or sweatpants.
The end.


Emily @ Comfortable Home Life June 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Whaaaa!? 20 calories per tablespoon? I absolutely adore homemade pesto, but that dern olive oil gets me every time. I’ve never even HEARD of miso paste. I just bought a basil plant too, so I’m now extra excited to try this out!


Laura @ Backstage Pass June 28, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Mmmm pesto. This recipe sounds great! And miso paste is supposed to be really great for you, nutrition-wise, right?


Jackie @ That Deep Breath June 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I’m definitely going to try this! I’ve never tried white miso paste…sounds like something I’ll have to experiment with.


sally kate June 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm

do you think that using just basil would work? i have a few basil plants but no parsley…
i love the idea, i’ve never used miso paste, but i definitly will be making a run to whole foods soon for it!


kankana June 29, 2011 at 12:08 am

No Oil .. sounds like the perfect Pesto sauce to me. White Miso i something I never used .. but now I have to for sure 🙂


andrenna June 29, 2011 at 12:21 am

basically, you need to be growing basil. why are you not so on this?! i bet your mom has green thumbs. time to cultivate your own!!! 😀


Jenn June 29, 2011 at 6:10 am

I am totally going to make this! I love pesto, but in my recent quest to lose weight I took a genetic test to help guide my food choices and I need to cut fat out of my diet. After I got those results, I thought I rarely be able to eat pesto again (at least without feeling super guilty). You have saved the day!


Trisha June 29, 2011 at 8:15 am

That looks too good. Gotta go get my cook on.


Jil @ Big City, Lil' Kitchen June 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

LOVE this – I always make pesto with minimal oil…I think people add wayyyy too much oil to those things! For the, the point is the flavor not the “coating” (oiliness, imo) of the pasta.


Jil @ Big City, Lil' Kitchen June 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

LOVE this – I always make pesto with minimal oil…I think people add wayyyy too much oil to those things! For the, the point is the flavor not the “coating” (oiliness, imo) of the pasta.


Emily @ Glitz Glam Granola June 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Omigosh I am making this ASAP! I absolutely adore pesto but all that oil in it makes me feel like I can’t eat it very often! But now that can change 🙂


Rebecca @ How the Cookies Crumble June 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Yum! I need to try this oil free pesto! I can see this pesto and I becoming good friends.


Silvia @ skinny jeans food June 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm

This pesto looks really good! I have to try it! – BTW, there is also a sodium-reduced mellow white miso from the same company, which is even healthier.



JenE July 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Dear Jenna,
I love this.
1) Weight Watchers friendly
2) goes fabulously w/ a very medium-priced merlot
3) son, age 14 months, loves. LOVES.
Yay for you 🙂


Carrie August 1, 2011 at 9:22 am

I am a huge pesto lover as well and love to experiment with different herbs, greens and nuts. I’ve never used miso, though, and am wondering – would you ever make this with red miso? I happen to have red rather than white on hand, but don’t want to ruin a whole batch trying. Let me know what you think!


Stephanie January 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm

This looks great but I’m wondering what the best way is to make it vegan. I’m new to a whole food/plant based diet and would like to eliminate the cheese, too, without eliminating that great Parmesan “kick.” Suggestions welcome. Thanks!


Hind Luby February 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Am eating this right now! I recently found out my littlest boy has a potentially life-threatening nut allergy. It’s great to find a good recipe for something we previously enjoyed that we thought would be off limits. From my family and my thighs;-) thank you!!!!!


Diana April 20, 2012 at 11:56 am

I am a huge fan of pesto but I try to use as little olive oil in my kitchen as possible. I am looking forward to making this pesto, however I am gluten-free. Can you please suggest a substition for the panko bread crumbs and a gluten-free miso paste?


Mar July 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Just made this to use on your pesto goat cheese pizza and it was awesome!!!


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