This genius nut-free pesto uses roasted chickpeas for texture and flavor.

Chef Douglass Williams enhances the flavor of his pesto by including roasted chickpeas as a hidden ingredient. This 2020 F&W Best New Chef Douglass Williams of Mida in Boston has created a basil pesto that is devoid of nuts. Instead of using pine nuts, roasted chickpeas are used as a substitute, adding a generous amount of gratifying, nutty taste and a hint of smoothness to the sauce.

“I am fond of this dish due to its extensive options for personalization and adaptability when preparing the nut-free pesto at home,” Williams expresses. “It is of great significance to me that individuals who have nut allergies can enjoy the delightful texture and flavor of this pesto, considering the large number of people who are unable to consume nuts.” This recipe aims to facilitate a transformative experience, not only in terms of the food consumed but also in the way it is prepared: by oneself or for others, without of apprehension or concern, with a sense of liberation and self-assurance.

This genius nut-free pesto uses roasted chickpeas for texture and flavor.

The pesto acquires a little spiciness with the addition of fresh serrano pepper. Williams likes to use this pesto as a covering for homemade orecchiette pasta, however high-quality store-bought orecchiette or other pasta shapes can also be used well. The nut-free pesto is as delectable when paired with toast, baked chicken thighs, green beans, in a soba noodle salad, or any other dish where you savor the taste of pesto.

Do chickpeas belong to the lentil family?
Chickpeas and lentils belong to the legume family. Nevertheless, chickpeas surpass lentils in size, possess a harder texture, and often require a longer cooking time. This pesto is well-balanced, owing to the addition of a finely chopped serrano chile, which provides a subtle spiciness to the pesto that does not include nuts. To achieve a pesto with a less intense spiciness, you can exclude the seeds and inner membrane of the chili, as it is where the heat is concentrated. Alternatively, you may choose to exclude the chile altogether.


The nut-free pesto was specifically crafted for our Homemade Orecchiette, however high-quality store-bought orecchiette can also be used.

Suggested wine pairing

We suggest pairing this herbaceous and slightly earthy, nut-free pesto with a delicately herbal Tuscan white wine such as Poggio al Tesoro Solosole Vermentino.


  • 2/3 cup drained canned chickpeas, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup), plus more for serving
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 small serrano chile, seeded, if desired, and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta water
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Homemade Orecchiette (see above for recipe) or 1 pound high-quality store-bought orecchiette


Set the oven temperature to 325°F. Distribute chickpeas evenly on a small baking sheet with raised edges. Continue baking until the chickpeas have a dry outside but a creamy inside, which should take around 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

step 2
In a food processor, blend together chickpeas, basil, oil, Parmesan, garlic, chile, salt, and pepper. Continue processing until the mixture reaches a smooth and creamy consistency, and the chickpeas are finely minced. This should take around 30 seconds. Remember to pause and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Place the ingredients into a large basin that can withstand high temperatures.

This genius nut-free pesto uses roasted chickpeas for texture and flavor.

Heat a generous amount of water in a big saucepan and add salt until it dissolves completely. Place orecchiette (or the pasta you want) into a pot of boiling water. Continuously mix the Homemade Orecchiette for 2 to 3 minutes, or follow the instructions on the container, until it is cooked to a firm, somewhat chewy texture. Using a slotted spoon, move the orecchiette pasta to the bowl containing the pesto sauce. Incorporate 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid and mix until a smooth sauce envelops the orecchiette, taking about 30 seconds. If necessary, gradually add 2 teaspoons of extra cooking liquid at a time to dilute the sauce. Distribute the orecchiette evenly among 4 bowls and, if preferred, garnish with more Parmesan.

In the realm of culinary ingenuity, a groundbreaking twist on the traditional pesto has emerged, offering a nut-free alternative that relies on the robust essence of roasted chickpeas. This inventive pesto not only caters to those with nut allergies but also introduces a delightful texture and depth of flavor, showcasing the versatility of this humble legume. As we explore the intricacies of this genius nut-free pesto, we unravel the techniques, ingredients, and the culinary rationale behind this innovative twist on a classic sauce.

The Evolution of Pesto:

This genius nut-free pesto uses roasted chickpeas for texture and flavor.

Pesto, originating from the Liguria region of Italy, has long been celebrated for its vibrant green hue and the marriage of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. This traditional combination, with its aromatic and savory profile, has found its way into countless pasta dishes, salads, and sandwiches, becoming a staple in global cuisine.

This genius nut-free pesto uses roasted chickpeas for texture and flavor.

However, the rise of dietary preferences, allergies, and the quest for culinary innovation has spurred the evolution of pesto recipes. The incorporation of various ingredients like spinach, kale, or sun-dried tomatoes has become commonplace, diversifying the flavor palette of this beloved sauce. In this vein, the substitution of roasted chickpeas for traditional nuts stands as a testament to the limitless possibilities within the culinary world.

Ingredients and Techniques:

  1. Roasted Chickpeas: The cornerstone of this nut-free pesto is the roasted chickpeas, which serve a dual purpose. Firstly, they contribute a distinct texture, creating a pesto with a delightful crunch reminiscent of traditional pine nuts. Secondly, the roasted chickpeas infuse the sauce with a robust, nutty flavor profile, making them an excellent stand-in for those with nut allergies.
  2. Fresh Basil: The aromatic essence of fresh basil remains a crucial component, providing the pesto with its characteristic green color and herbaceous notes. The combination of basil with roasted chickpeas creates a dynamic flavor synergy that elevates the overall taste.
  3. Garlic: A fundamental element in any pesto, garlic adds a pungent kick that enhances the depth of flavor. Its inclusion, when balanced with the other ingredients, contributes to the sauce’s savory and aromatic qualities.
  4. Parmesan Cheese: Parmesan cheese, with its salty and umami-rich profile, adds a layer of complexity to the pesto. The cheese binds the ingredients together, lending a creamy consistency while imparting a savory depth that complements the roasted chickpeas.
  5. Olive Oil: The unifying agent, olive oil, not only serves as a medium for blending but also imparts a luxurious silkiness to the pesto. Its fruity and robust notes tie the diverse flavors together, creating a harmonious sauce.
  6. Lemon Juice: A touch of fresh lemon juice provides a zesty brightness, cutting through the richness of the roasted chickpeas and cheese. This element adds a refreshing quality, enhancing the overall balance of the pesto.

The Culinary Rationale:

This genius nut-free pesto uses roasted chickpeas for texture and flavor.

  1. Nut-Free Adaptation: The primary motivation behind this ingenious pesto variation is to offer a nut-free alternative without compromising on texture or flavor. By replacing traditional nuts with roasted chickpeas, the sauce becomes accessible to individuals with nut allergies while introducing a unique and satisfying crunch.
  2. Utilizing Roasted Chickpeas: Roasting chickpeas not only imparts a delightful crunch but also intensifies their nutty flavor. This transformation elevates the pesto, creating a distinctive profile that pays homage to traditional recipes while forging new culinary paths.
  3. Diversity in Texture: The inclusion of roasted chickpeas introduces a textured element that sets this pesto apart from its traditional counterpart. The juxtaposition of the smooth basil, creamy cheese, and crunchy chickpeas adds depth, making each bite a sensorial experience.
  4. Flavor Synergy: The combination of fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and roasted chickpeas forms a flavor synergy that is both complex and harmonious. The nutty undertones of the chickpeas seamlessly integrate with the herbaceous freshness of basil, creating a well-rounded and satisfying pesto.
  5. Versatility in Application: This nut-free pesto’s adaptability extends beyond pasta dishes. It can be employed as a spread on sandwiches, a dip for crudites, or a topping for grilled meats. The versatility of the sauce makes it a valuable addition to any culinary repertoire.


In the realm of culinary innovation, the genius nut-free pesto using roasted chickpeas stands as a shining example of adapting traditional recipes to meet contemporary needs. By elevating the humble chickpea to a starring role, this inventive twist not only accommodates nut allergies but also introduces a delightful crunch and nuanced flavor profile. As we savor each spoonful of this pesto, we celebrate the creative spirit that propels the culinary world forward, proving that even the most cherished classics can be reimagined with ingenuity and flair.

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