Pesto without pine nuts is still pesto! You won't miss the pine nuts with this super quick and easy walnut basil pesto. Toss it with warm bow tie pasta or spread it on crostini for a yummy bruschetta base. Inspired by my oh-so-simple 2 minute classic pesto recipe.
"Pine nuts are dear," Grandma Nina used to say. (Dear was a word she used often to describe something that was expensive.) She's right and that's why this extra creamy pistachio pesto sauce is made without pine nuts.
And now we are calling on walnuts. You're going to be nuts about how good they taste in this homemade pesto pasta sauce!
Swap the pine nuts for walnuts in pesto
Pesto already has so few ingredients with the nuts being the most flexible ingredient of all. We are substituting walnuts for the pine nuts with creamy and just-as-delicious results.
Here's what you need to make this walnut pesto recipe:
Fresh basil leaves. Whether from your garden or in an herb packet from the grocery store, fresh basil leaves are paramount to pesto. Of course you can use different greens like spinach or arugula, but we are making classic pesto and for that we need basil.
Fresh garlic cloves. Just 1 or 2 add a nice little bite. The traditional recipe for pesto alla Genovese doesn't usually have garlic but when has that stopped us?
Extra virgin olive oil. I know choosing olive oil can be subjective because some definitely have more grassy notes and others more fruity notes.
There's a lot going on flavor-wise so the mildest flavored extra-virgin olive oil is suggested. Extra-virgin olive oil is olive oil that has been cold-pressed instead of being heated and refined.
Walnuts. I use the toasted walnut halves or pieces like the ones sold at Trader Joe's but you can also dry toast walnuts in a skillet.
Parmesan and/or Romano cheese. I say "and/or" because we are going to use both. You don't have to if you only have one or the other on hand but each adds its own flavor texture (Parmesan is more crystal-like) and flavor profile (Romano has a saltier flavor).
Unsalted butter. Marcella's secret and adds so much luxurious flavor to pesto.
Equipment needed to make pesto
The word "pesto" in Italian means "to pound or crush"
You have plenty of options, some mechanical and some not, to pound out some basil pesto recipe.
A food processor like the Magimix food processor is a great countertop appliance to make a simple and really creamy pesto with walnuts.
Mortar and pestle
While you could use a molcajete, a marble mortar and pestle is truly the classic way to make a homemade pesto pasta sauce. Pesto made with a mortar and pestle is creamier in texture but the downside is that it takes longer than the food processor method.
Similar to a food processor, a blender can also be used to make pesto. Don't overblend or your pesto will end up bitter! A high speed blender, like a Vitamix, can heat your pesto, pulse blend the pesto to your desired texture.
p.s. this is the Vitamix model I own.
You can finely chop the basil and pesto ingredients by hand using either a knife or a mezzaluna. Put on some music and grab a drink. It will take a little longer and there will be more texture to the pesto.
Options...they're a good thing!
How to make walnut basil pesto
What other kinds of nuts work in pesto?
A borrowed technique for the best walnut pesto
This technique from the queen of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, makes such an amazingly rich pesto. (Btw, her best-selling cookbook, Essentials of Italian Cooking, is the perfect gift for the aspiring Italian cook.)
Marcella uses both the food processor and mixes the pesto by hand for this technique. Here's what you'll do:
- Quickly pulse the ingredients basil, garlic, walnuts and cheese in a food processor which eliminates the need to chop the basil.
- Muddle in a bit of butter and a second cheese (parmesan) by hand, adding a rich creamy texture to the pesto.
Where to use pesto
Homemade pesto without walnuts is the best base for a pressed Italian sandwich great for a tailgate party!
And spread a little pesto onto a flatbread before topping with chicken, cheese and onions for an amazing chicken pesto flatbread that makes a super simple and light dinner recipe.
Storage suggestions and other good stuff
- Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 4 days. Stir periodically to keep the oil from separating.
- Freeze. Fill your favorite silicone ice cube trays or these awesome ½ cup Souper Cubes and make a couple of batches of pesto and you'll have fresh pesto for the coming winter. Freeze pesto in an airtight container or freezer safe bags/containers up to 6 months. Defrost completely in the fridge before using.
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2-Minute Fresh Basil & Walnut Pesto Sauce
- Place the basil, salt, pepper, whole cloves of garlic and walnuts in the medium sized bowl of a food processor or mini prep. Pulse about 5-7 times to chop the basil and garlic. Then, turn the machine on and pour the oil in slowly through the feed tube at the top. Stop when you have a thick sauce, about 30 seconds or so.3 cups basil leaves, 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt, garlic, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, 3 Tablespoons toasted walnuts, ½ cup olive oil
- Remove the pesto to a medium bowl and add in butter and parmesan cheese. Use a bar muddler to press the cheese(s) and butter into the pesto. This should be really easy especially if the butter is softened as noted above.2-3 T softened butter, ½ cup Romano cheese
- Toss with hot pasta. Add pasta water as needed to make a thinner sauce as desired. Serve with parmesan.
- Refrigerate in an airtight container with a lid for up to 4 days.
- Freeze small portions in ice cube trays (Souper Cubes are awesome too!) so you can have pesto all year long.
- Defrost in the fridge or at room temperature and stir to blend before using.
- Use roasted and salted sunflower seeds in place of nuts. Pistachios make great pesto as well!
- Other herbs or green to use in pesto are spinach, kale (stems removed) and arugula.
- Never heat pesto directly on the stove. Heat isn't pesto's friend. Toss cold or room temperature fresh pesto with hot pasta.
- Limit pesto's exposure to air by either using immediately or storing covered in an airtight container.
- Press a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of pesto before covering with an airtight, hard lid.
- Freeze as soon as possible if freezing is your intention.
About Lori Murphy
Lori has over 30 years in the food industry as a marketing strategist, culinary instructor and chef for three kids with discerning palates. As the chief content creator at Josie + Nina, Lori is dedicated to helping home cooks create food memories through fresh ingredients and Italian flavors.