5 Ingredients or Fewer

Pasta With Basil Cashew Cream

August  2, 2021
16 Ratings
Photo by Linda Xiao. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Sam Senevinatre.
  • Prep time 35 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 2 to 4
Author Notes

The basil-iest pasta sauce I know. No offense to pesto, which is as much about the pine nuts and Parmesan and olive oil as the herbs. This basil cream sauce needs only two ingredients. One, yes, is basil. The other is not heavy cream. Or light cream or half-and-half or milk. Instead, use raw cashews and water. Think of this DIY cashew cream less as the driver, more as the vehicle, the means of devouring as much summery basil (and, yeah, pasta) as possible. You don’t need a long soak—as short as 30 minutes does the trick. You don’t need a high-speed blender. You don’t need cheesecloth or even a strainer. The result is creamy, even buttery, born to thickly coat pasta. Speaking of which, any shape works: Something long like linguini or ramen. Something short like penne or bow-ties. Everyone gets along with basil cashew cream sauce. I mean, just look at it. While it’s written to be eaten right away, you can also be a rebel, why not? Make the sauce up to 2 days in advance and pop it in the fridge. When you’re ready to eat, cook the pasta, shock it under cold running water, and then drain it until dry. Toss with the cold sauce and tote to the nearest park for a picnic. —Emma Laperruque

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) raw cashews
  • Kosher salt
  • cups packed basil leaves (2 ounces leaves, from 3¼ ounces basil), plus more for garnish if you’d like
  • 8 ounces pasta, any shape
  1. Add the cashews to a blender and cover with cold water. Soak for 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending on your schedule. (If you’re soaking for longer than 2 hours, transfer the blender to the fridge.)
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then season generously with salt. Add the basil leaves and blanch for 15 seconds. Use a large spider or fine-mesh sieve to transfer to a kitchen towel and squeeze dry.
  3. Bring the water back to a boil, then add the pasta. Cook according to the package instructions until as tender as you like.
  4. Meanwhile, drain the cashews, then return them to the blender along with ½ cup of cold water and ½ teaspoon of salt. Blend until silky smooth, with no grainy bits, scraping down as needed. Add the basil and another ¼ cup of cold water. Keep blending until as smooth as possible, scraping down as needed. The finished sauce should be a bright, solid pea green. Season to taste with salt—the basil and cashews are each sweet in their own way, so generous seasoning is a must. Pour the sauce into a serving bowl.
  5. When the pasta is done, use a spider or tongs (depending on the pasta shape) to transfer it to the bowl with the sauce. Toss to combine. Season with salt to taste and add a splash of water (either pasta water or tap water) if needed to loosen up. Sprinkle tiny basil leaves on top if you’re using them.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Alina Rossini
    Alina Rossini
  • Janine
  • janet tipple
    janet tipple
  • debplusthree
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

19 Reviews

Karen K. January 29, 2024
Can I do this with a Cuisinart (I no longer have a big blender!)
Karen August 31, 2021
Has anyone tried this with almonds?
Nancy August 28, 2021
I’ve made this recipe three times and have added more garlic each time!
Was reluctant to blanch the basil too, but did and love the green color
Have blanched and frozen 8 ‘clumps’ of basil so can make later when the basil peters out; hope it works!
My adult grandson left me a note last night saying it was again, great! Not sure how he reheats the pasta and then he tops it with shaved parm
Thank you!
So much easier than pesto!
Karen August 12, 2021
This was so much fun to make! Never having made or used cashew cream in cooking,
it was magical to see what happens to a well pulverized cashew. The taste is delicate
and the texture is creamy. The color with the addition of the blanched basil is
gorgeous. I did add a clove or two of garlic and some extra salt to taste and put
shaved parmesan and toasted pine nuts on top. I made a double batch and it has
kept well in the frig for 6 days now, with no change in color and an even deeper
flavor. Love it! Thank you, Emma.
Whit August 10, 2021
My husband and I are not big fans of pesto. We can't figure out exactly why as we love basil. So I didn't have much hope for this recipe. I tried it because of the cashew milk thinking it would cut whatever it is about pesto we didn't like. It did, we absolutely loved it. It was so very easy as I buy prepare cashew milk. I used 3/4 cup cashew milk and followed the rest of the recipe. We each added a little salt, pepper, Parmesan to our taste. I also freeze stalks of basil each year during the growing season so having the number of ounces needed for the basil was helpful for me. Thank you for this DELIGHTFUL recipe!
Emma L. August 10, 2021
Thanks, Whit, so glad to hear it!
Vanessa G. August 8, 2021
I can't wait to try this - can you freeze leftover sauce?
Alina R. August 7, 2021
Absolutely delicious and very easy! I was amazed at how creamy the sauce was. Thank you Emma for such a great, simple recipe!
Emma L. August 8, 2021
Thanks for making it, so glad you enjoyed!
sreastland August 7, 2021
So saw this recipe demo while I was vacationing. It’s the first dinner I made since being home, and it is my new favorite Big Little recipe! I’d never made cashew cream before and this recipe makes a decadent and bright sauce. I put it on cavatelli, which rolled around and got covered in the sauce. Plus, it puts all the basil in my garden to good use! It’s a keeper! Thanks for sharing it!
Emma L. August 8, 2021
Love cavatelli—thanks, sreastland!
Janine August 5, 2021
Can it be made and frozen? Have an abundance of basil and would love to tuck some away..
Emma L. August 5, 2021
I haven't tried freezing this sauce, but you can refrigerate it for a couple days.
janet T. August 4, 2021
What exactly is the purpose of blanching the basil? I’m always reluctant to “bring a large pot of water to a boil” if I don’t absolutely have to. Can’t the basil be used as is, freshly picked?
Emma L. August 4, 2021
It's blanched to set the color, and that same water gets reused for the pasta. More on the recipe here: https://food52.com/blog/26448-why-you-should-make-basil-sauce-with-cashews
Christine B. August 4, 2021
Looks and sounds like a very yummy recipe. Will definitely be giving it a go when I have plenty of basil growing when we get to summer here in Australia! Have never made a cashew cream sauce, and it looks very interesting. Thank you.
Emma L. August 4, 2021
Thanks, Christine!
debplusthree August 3, 2021
So much fun!! I never knew that cashew cream was that easy to make, the flavor was delicate and delicious and the color was beautiful! That vibrant green was the topic of our dinner conversation! I will make this often, thank you Emma!!!
Emma L. August 4, 2021
Thanks for making it, so glad you enjoyed!