Pesto is by far my favorite pasta sauce, and it’s also one of the easiest to make at home. While the classic version (with pine nuts) is hard to top, there’s a million ways to make a good pesto. In my world, the only cardinal rule is that all pestos must contain basil and garlic. (Feel free to never, ever, try those radish leaf, spinach, kale, or arugula pestos. Trust me.) As long as you have basil and garlic, however, you can go crazy.
The version I’m sharing today is one of my favorites. Instead of pine nuts and parmesan cheese, this one uses walnuts and sunflower seeds to give the sauce a nutty earthiness that balances perfectly with the bright basil and garlic. It goes amazing with anything – pasta, crackers, pizza, chocolate ice cream… (well, maybe not anything), but it is pretty incredible.
Also, sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Blame the flu. It’s bad enough that the flu zaps your energy, but the fact that I couldn’t smell/taste anything for days was a significant hinderance to developing recipes… The good news is, I’m back! And I have some awesome stuff lined up over the next week.
Makes 1+ cup of pesto
- 5 cups basil leaves
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- Dash of sea salt
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
First, toast the nuts. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the walnuts and sunflower seeds and toss regularly until the nuts darken slightly and become much more aromatic, about 4-5 minutes. This is crucial; the toastiness will add so much more flavor to the pesto. The secret here is to keep the nuts moving around the pan so they don’t burn.
Next, rinse and measure about 5 cups of fresh basil leaves. Loosely add the rinsed leaves to a large measuring bowl and when it reaches something near 5 cups, transfer these into a food processor along with everything else: the toasted nuts, the (peeled) garlic, a small drizzle of olive oil, some salt, and a bit of lemon juice.
Pulse this mixture repeatedly, scraping down the sides as necessary, until you have a good pesto consistency. “Chunky” isn’t what you’re going for, but if you end up with a pesto smoothie, you’ve pulsed one too many times.
It’s that easy. Less than 10 minutes to an amazing pasta sauce. The lemon juice helps this pesto retain its flavor and color for up to a week in the fridge. What to do with your new pesto?
- Toss with warm pasta and a dash of hot sauce
- Serve with cold pasta, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes for an epic pasta salad
- Spread onto crackers or fresh veggies for a snack
- Make a pesto soup
- Bake some homemade pizza dough and use pesto as the sauce
- Make a pesto risotto