This creamy chard pesto makes a tasty twist on your usual pesto. It starts with the same base of greens, nuts and parmesan, but then has added creaminess and fresh lemon for a bright, luscious sauce. Versatile and delicious.
This post may contain affiliate links, where we earn from qualifying purchases. See more details in the policy page.
We're big fans of pesto in our house, in part as it makes such a great base for a quick meal. I always make my own which I know for some might seem over the top, but it honestly takes about the same time to make as heating water and cooking the pasta (if not less) so is only the slightest bit of extra work for a delicious result.
Plus, you can play around with the exact ingredients in the sauce. Making pesto can be a great way to use up some stray greens in the fridge, like kale or arugula (arugula pesto is one of our favorites and a green we always have on hand). You can even get a little creative with carrot top pesto, for example.
Sometimes I use different nuts based on what I have or what I feel might go best.
This creamy chard version is a bit more of a diversion from the classic in that it adds in a creamy element. I know, you may argue it is no longer a pesto, but actually that's not necessarily true.
What does pesto mean?
The name "pesto" comes from the Genoese dialect, "pestâ", meaning "to pound or crush". Pesto alla Genovese is the classic basil and pine nut version, but you find other versions in other places, such as pesto alla Trapense in Sicily with tomato and almonds.
This sauce, while I make it with the help of a food processor rather than by hand, using the same basic method, just with a couple twists in the ingredients, so arguably still fits the broad term. But while far from traditional, it's certainly a wonderfully tasty sauce. And about as versatile as the traditional, too.
Top tip: pre-cook the chard
The one thing that makes this sauce take slightly longer is that I recommend that you pre-cook the chard. Yes, it takes a tiny bit longer, but this process helps to take out any bitterness in the leaves. To me, it's definitely worth the extra few minutes effort.
Make sure you squeeze out the liquid well before making the sauce as like spinach, the leaves can hold a fair bit of liquid once wilted. After that, it all comes together really quickly.
How to use this creamy pesto
You can use this sauce in much the same way as you would use a regular pesto. It's great stirred through pasta and we love it as part of my creamy chard pesto baked orzo.
It would be great used to top salmon before baking and would also go well with chicken. You could try it spread on bread for extra flavor in your sandwich, too. Like I say, it's really versatile!
This creamy chard pesto is a delicious balance of smooth creaminess, bright freshness from the lemon and basil along with the typical nutty and herb flavors you'd expect in a pesto. It makes a nice change from your usual versions, but is just as versatile to use. Definitely worth trying soon.
Try these other tasty sauces perfect for pasta:
- Butternut squash pasta sauce
- Walnut sauce (another traditional Italian sauce)
- Creamy bacon sauce with spinach
- Plus get more sauces and other condiment recipes in the archives.
Creamy chard pesto
- 3 oz chard weight without stems - about ½ bunch
- ¾ oz basil leaves only
- 1 oz almonds
- ½ lemon zest
- ¼ cup creme fraiche
- 1 oz grated parmesan plus a little more to top
- ¼ cup virgin olive oil (or extra virgin)
- Remove the leaves from the chard and blanche them in a pan of boiling water - cook them for around 1-2 minutes until soft and the leaves darken slightly. Remove the leaves, allow to cool and drain well by squeezing out excess liquid. (If you like, you can place them in cold, iced water after cooking to help keep a slightly brighter color, and cool quicker, but I don't think it's that needed.)
- Squeeze out any excess liquid from the chard more than once then roughly chop. Put the chard and basil in a food processor and pulse to break up well. Then add the almonds and lemon zest, pulse again to chop and mix, then add the creme fraiche and parmesan. Finally add the olive oil in a steady stream with the food processor running and pulse until smooth and well blended together.
- Use as you would other pestos eg with pasta, spread in sandwiches etc.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.