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Pesto at Restaurants-- Just about all add Cream!!!

This is a wonderful dish from North Western Italy, Pesto. Basil, olive oil, and Pine nuts. Blended together for a coarse blend, not too pureed.

It's not that common an item in Ital-American restos here, but the ones that do have it invariably add cream! Why??!! This makes for a rather disgusting and gloppy mess, IMO. I would rather not have to go to Italy to get this prepared the correct way.

Anyhbody finding the same problem with Pesto?

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  1. I've never had a pesto with cream. It's a common special in many NJ Italian restaurants. They do usually add garlic to your ingredient list, but never cream.

    4 Replies
    1. re: MGZ

      I just realized you're in NJ too. Where are you finding cream in pesto?

      1. re: MGZ

        You've had cream, believe me. You've had cream in your restaurant pesto. They even do it is a majority of restos in NYC!

        1. re: lemarais

          Again, you get this information where?

        2. re: MGZ

          Also, usually has parmesan cheese.

        3. I've never had cream in pesto anywhere. (I also agree with MGZ that it usually has garlic.)

          However, I have seen restaurants offer a "pesto cream sauce" -- which is adding pesto TO cream. But that's intended to be different than the pesto itself.

          1 Reply
          1. re: eamcd

            Yea, I've seen a lot of dishes labeled "pesto cream sauce" and even jars of it in the store but have never ordered pesto which seemed to have cream in it.

          2. Where is "here"? Because I've not seen it that way anywhere (even Panera serves a passable traditional pesto).

            1. Well, it's not that common to find Pesto in NJ Ital Americans, but these places proudly advertise it WITH cream!

              Banchetto Feast-- Westwood
              Arturo's-- Midland Park
              Francesca's-- Glen Rock
              I even was on the UWS last week, and found a place that has it-- Bellini-- menu says "with cream" AAargh.

              So of the one in 10 Ital-Amer restos that serve the dish, I would dare to say that 90% add cream. But make me wrong. Tell me where I can get great Pesto!

              12 Replies
              1. re: lemarais

                Maybe go to Italian restaurants rather than Italian-American ones. Kinda like the difference between Chinese and Chinese-American.

                1. re: c oliver

                  There are NO Italian restaurants on this side of the Atlantic.

                  1. re: lemarais

                    What on earth does that mean? Of course, there are. Can a country or regional food not have GREAT representation in a country other than their home country? Of course, they can and do. Are you saying that there are no French, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Ethiopian, etc. outside of their particular countries? Poppycock :)

                    1. re: lemarais


                      If what you are sayin' is that there are "NO Italian restaurants on this side of the Atlantic" because this is not Italy, I admit that I respect the play on words. Otherwise, can you please explain what you mean to us? Are you asserting that there is no place in, let's say, Manhattan, that doesn't serve "authentic" Italian food?

                      Now, I know that what is "authentic" is impossible to define. Moreover, if we're gonna talk indigenous, then I s'pose any Italian food that involves a tomato or a chile is definitely not "authentic", right?

                      1. re: MGZ

                        Out of thousands of Italian Americans, less than half a dozen serve anything resembling "authentic" cuisine actually served in Italy. Authentic is easy to define. It's a dish actually served in a restaurant on the other side of the "pond". Example:

                        Please tell me where I can get some of these menu items here:




                        But that's OK. I'll take my flight to get "authentic". All I want is pesto and Carbonara made without cream!!

                        1. re: lemarais

                          Fewer than half a dozen? Where do you get that number? Citation please. Try this on for size:


                          Sorry they don't have anything as pedestrian as pesto Genovese (pesto alone just means anything that is pounded) or pasta carbonara. It's Sardinian. Does that count as Italian?

                          1. re: lemarais

                            We've been to Italy five times and know well the difference between Italian American food and food as prepared in Italy. We have found quite a few restaurants in NYC, San Francisco and other cities throughout the US that cook many items similar to those on the menus you cite. We have had many stateside carbonaras made without cream.

                            In fact, you started a post on the Manhattan boards @lemarais asking where to find carbonara without cream and many of us gave you good suggestions. Seems like you are more interested in carping about the subject than actually eating the dish.


                            1. re: ttoommyy

                              Upon perusing OPs history, he had this complaint on the Manhattan board some months ago. Despite CHs recs of various places, he pretty much stuck to his claim.

                              I think Ruth Lafler's explanation below is a good one.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                I've edited my post after remembering this @c oliver. Our posts must have crossed. ;)

                        2. re: lemarais

                          And no French, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc. etc. etc.

                          That's just silly.

                      2. re: lemarais

                        Banchetto Feast seems to be a chain restaurant. I am looking at the menu and I do NOT see pesto with cream. Here is their description of their pesto:

                        PESTO 11.95/15.95

                        I looked at the Arturo's menu. There is a "house made fresh pasta with creamy basil pesto sauce" though perhaps that means consistency rather than ingredients.

                        The Bellini menu says: Fusili al Pesto:
                        Fresh Pesto of Basil, Garlic, Cheese, Olive Oil & touch of Cream

                        And indeed, Francesca's says: Penne pasta in a fresh basil, parmesan pesto cream sauce

                        I never heard of pesto with cream so I googled it and apparently, it is a common variant. Who knew?

                        My question to you is why don't you order something else if you don't like pesto that is made with cream?

                        1. re: Just Visiting

                          Where are those restaurants? If in NJ, perhaps as was mentioned it got bastardized along the way.

                          I was also thinking about high end restaurants which seem not to routinely have either dish. Perhaps cause they're looking for something more cutting edge or higher priced. In the case of carbonara, I bet many would be willing to fix it as they like have the ingredients on hand. They might not want to mess with making a single serving of pesto. Just a thought or two.

                      3. I've never ever had pesto with cream at a restaurant

                        1. Add this one to the list:

                          Osso Buco-- Hillsdale-- Pesto WITH cream!
                          Casa Giuseppe-- Lyndhurst-- With cream!

                          Please, don't treat me like I'm nuts-- (maybe I am) but I've come up with 6 places already with cream. Not many places even make the dish. Please give me places that make this wighout cream!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: lemarais

                            For a start - you're not crazy. It's definitely something I've seen pretty frequently. My quick guess would be that it's because it's cheaper for the restaurant - combined with a generic American affection for alfredo and other cream sauces.

                            As to why it's common, I have two guesses. The first is how the style of Italian-American restaurants is to heavily sauce pasta dishes. Classic pesto does not work as well in a heavily dresses pasta dish - however an alfredo/cream sauce is more accomdiating to that style. My other guess is related to the first - but that from a price standpoint. If people expect a heavily dressed pasta dish, the price of basil/pinenuts could make for a fairly pricey vegetarian dish if you go for the heavily dressed pasta dish.

                            Pesto has become a dish I truly prefer to eat at home - because in restaurants I go to, I agree that it's usually in a cream sauce or is so heavily sauced and so oily that it's equally unappealing.

                          2. Yeah, pesto with cream is standard where I am.

                            1 Reply
                            1. Wow, I have personally never seen that but truthfully, I rarely order pesto in restaurants. In season, I make my pesto with the ingredients you mention, plus garlic and parmesan cheese.

                              Upon googling, this is the first thing that comes up. Looks like the main purpose of the cream is to make the pesto more liquidy?


                              2 Replies
                              1. re: tcamp

                                I'm from Toronto Approx. 500,000 Italians, most of them post War. Although I would say most from the south Have never seen cream in pesto, but so many with parmesan that had I thought that this is how it is.

                                1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                  "Have never seen cream in pesto, but so many with parmesan that had I thought that this is how it is."

                                  Most pestos I know of include parmigiano.

                              2. Well pesto comes in many varieties. But to adequately "sauce" a dish of pasta, it would either take too much traditional pesto genovese, or it would be too strong, IMHO. (The traditional calls for raw garlic as well as Parmesan.) Sicilian, Calabrese, and Trappani all have their variations as well - and there are countless others that might be unrecognizable from what we consider "pesto" here. I had a friend who insisted - just insisted - that pesto is ALWAYS made with yogurt. I couldn't talk him out of it and had to manfully choke down his pride and joy.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: NonnieMuss

                                  When I want to make it creamy, I find a bit of good ricotta is just right.

                                  1. re: NonnieMuss

                                    I sauce it with pesto and some pasta water--comes out perfect.

                                  2. I have seen many places in NY/NJ area that have "pesto cream sauce". I don't order it because I don't like cream sauce at all. My husband, on the other hand, likes it. But he also likes "regular" pesto without cream.

                                    Like tcamp, I rarely order it in restaurants. I make boatloads of pesto in the summer and freeze in small batches and we enjoy it all year long.

                                    1. well that sounds strange to me, I guess it's because I never order pesto sauce when I go out to eat. I find pesto to be a simple sauce to make it very easy sauce to mess up and I have had some bad pesto experiences. I can't imagine adding cream to it though, to me that would be as odd as adding it to a piccata sauce.

                                      1. Cream??? really... find a new restaurant.

                                        1. I'm in the NY/NJ area too, and am used to making pesto at home. I haven't found pesto cream sauce at the local restaurants, but what I HAVE seen is that they sometimes cheat by making a very dilute concentration of pesto, just a faint echo of the real thing. It's sad, and very obvious when they do it.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: comestible

                                            PLEASE tell me where you get served pesto without cream in NJ! Thanks.!

                                          2. Sounds like something Olive Garden would do. ;o)

                                            1. Is it because Americans like "creamy"? Just like I can't find a single Ceasar Salad without a creamy dressing? Not one. Anywhere. People must like or think Ceasar dressing creamy? And the restos must carry that to the pesto. I've seen creamy Greek dressing as well. I guess anyone can do anything they want, like making pesto creamy...

                                              BTW, I make "cream of broccoli" soup with no cream or dairy at all, and it's very "creamy".

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                                Americans like creamy? There's another thread that suggests Americans like everything chunky. I find restaurant Caesar salads divided about equally between a creamy and a more oily dressing.

                                                1. re: Gastronomos

                                                  I make Caesar salad dressing that's creamy. No cream either.

                                                2. WEll we were in an Italian American Saturday in Westchester NY, and they had Pesto on the menu. I asked the waiter, and he went back and asked the chef if they use cream in the Pesto. Yes, said the chef, but he would make it for me from scratch without cream.

                                                  I'm convinced that all these nay sayers saying they never had cream in a Pesto are actually having the cream, they just don't know that it's in there! They've never been to Italy, so they don't know what a restaurant Pesto is really like without cream!!

                                                  It's all but certain that 98% of the restaurants on this side of the Atlantic use cream in Pesto. Same reason they all put cream in Carbonara.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: lemarais

                                                    Ummm, out here on the West Coast - at least where I've eaten, a pesto sauce does not come with cream. Believe me, most of us would know if it was there, even if we've never been to Italy. I love pesto, so depending on what else is in the dish, I like to order it. The menu says pesto - and that's what comes - no cream.

                                                    1. re: lemarais

                                                      Lemarais, Well, I wouldn't say the percentage is 98% (see the comments below), but some restaurants certainly do use cream in their pesto. Americans like things sweet, creamy, or cheesy, so it's no surprise. (Yuck.) My guess is that some people are eating cream who think that the creamy part of the pesto sauce is a combination of pureed cheese and olive oil, part of the traditional recipe.

                                                      1. re: gfr1111

                                                        These are some strange generalizations of Americans.

                                                    2. They're all getting it out of a jar?

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                        I live in a small city with many Italians in the population. Most restaurants offer at least a pasta dish or two, no matter what the origin of the restaurant is. Most often, when pesto is a sauce for a pasta, it is described as being a pesto-cream sauce. I avoid it because I know it will be a standard cream sauce to which a small spoonful of jarred (commercial) pesto is added. The Italian restaurants in town may make their own pesto, but they are definitely keeping prices down and profits high by only using a little pesto mixed with a lot of cream sauce or pure cream to thin out and extend the pricey pesto. The final result tastes nothing like the pesto Genovese I make in the summer when basil is cheap and abundant. I'd rather it not be on menus at all, rather than bastardized as it is, but if I make that case, I'd have to avoid most other pasta and sauce attempts at these restaurants. None is particularly authentic to the regional recipes from which the names are borrowed. Bolognese in a local restaurant is just a tomato sauce with meat. Even a simple marinara can look and taste different from restaurant to restaurant. I think mine tastes Italian, but I admit that I use way more garlic than most Italians would. Everything gets adapted for local preferences. If it so happens that in your neck of the woods people are big on creamy, saucy pastas, chances are good that cream will creep into dishes where it has no business being an ingredient (pesto being a prime example).

                                                        That said, I have certainly been to Italian restaurants in other cities with high Italian populations that offer excellent pesto that is cream-free. To suggest that 98% of pesto pasta dishes include cream is a silly supposition, unless you can claim to have done the research to back the statement. However, it is quite likely that restaurants trying to keep prices low in a tough economy cut corners by extending sauces with pricey ingredients with cream and other economical fillers.

                                                        1. re: 1sweetpea

                                                          "To suggest that 98% of pesto pasta dishes include cream is a silly supposition"

                                                          all I can say is Wow.

                                                      2. It's pretty easy to make. It's really easy if you have a food processor but you can do it in a blender too. If you've really got the craving it's hard to beat home-made pesto. Also, pesto definitely includes garlic.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: virtualguthrie

                                                          It's so easy and the best part is you can use different veggies. I love to make homemade pesto, and recently made asparagus pesto which was also easy and good. It freezes well, as well.

                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                            It's not the pesto, it's getting the pasta right that's the tricky part.

                                                            For whatever reason, I can't do the pasta as well as the better restaurants can. There's also a method to adding the sauce, you can't just dump it on top of the pasta, either.

                                                            And I'm still convinced that pesto with cream is fairly standard in Ital American restos. I heard that it's also an easier bet for a chef to make, less to go wrong. I've heard this about Carbonara as well, where in restos cream is ubiquitously added.

                                                            (Cream in Carbonara is even more disgusting than in Pesto!!)

                                                        2. It's not typical in the Boston area, though sometimes one finds something accurately described as a pesto cream sauce (not as pesto).

                                                          I do think that it's because American middle- to low-brow restaurants use dairy products (chiefly cheese, but also cream) as a cheap culinary trick, as Americans have become habituated by advertising to the visuals of lusciousness it creates.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                            I agree @Karl S. I also think that many "middle- to low-brow restaurants" would also assume that pesto in its most basic form may not appeal to their typical customer as it is really so simple. Unfortunately, in the US many have come to equate Italian food with heavy, over-sauced, creamy, gloppy food and this is so far from the truth.

                                                          2. It's not that common an item in Ital-American restos here,
                                                            I guess not in NJ, with the predominantly Southern Italian influence.

                                                            Pesto is from Genoa. In Northern California -- where the Italian influence is mostly from that part of Italy (Genoa, Lucca) it is ubiquitous. I've seen it with cream, but I would say that was the exception rather than the rule. I think that since pesto is not "authentic" to southern Italian cuisine, the southern Italian-American restaurant culture in New Jersey may have imported the Americanized version into their menus.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                I've never made pesto with cream, doesn't sound half bad... (see what happens when ya post things on the web? monsters are born)

                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                  I agree that it does not sound bad and if I were to be served such a dish by another name, I would probably enjoy it. I think the problem lies in when a restaurant lists a dish with "pesto" and one with cream is served. I would be put off as I expect a pesto to not contain any cream.

                                                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                    well yes, it does come down to nomenclature and I would want to know upon ordering. still...