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Easy Basil Pesto with Walnuts (5 Minutes)

Basil pesto with walnuts will transform your appetizers, pizzas and pasta. This easy homemade version takes 5 minutes to make with just a few fresh ingredients.

The recipe makes 1/2 cup/120 grams using fresh basil, walnuts, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and garlic. It’s a perfect way to use up your summer garden basil.

pesto in food processor bowl

Pesto is a classic Italian condiment that’s known for its bright green color and fresh flavors. It’s an incredibly versatile sauce that can be used in many different ways.

While a basil pesto recipe is typically made with pine nuts, we’re using walnuts instead for three reasons:

  1. Walnuts provide a rich, earthy, nutty flavor that complements the vibrant freshness of basil.
  2. Walnuts are considerably less expensive than pine nuts.
  3. Pine nuts can occasionally cause a rare condition called “pine mouth” (or pine nut syndrome) after consuming pine nuts. This condition causes a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth that can last for several days. It’s not harmful or dangerous but can be unpleasant.

What you can expect

This is a quick and easy recipe made with a few simple ingredients available at any grocery store.

Pesto is a great way to put some of that extra basil to good use from your herb garden or farmer’s market. It’s easy to freeze and use long past the summer.

There are so many great ways to use pesto. And you can tweak it to suit the purpose or your taste.

Ingredients – tailored to your taste

fresh basil leaves, block of Parmesan, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt , pepper

Basil: I like to use sweet basil, but use whatever you have. Genovese basil is a common variety used in traditional pesto recipes.

Parmesan cheese: You can use pre-grated fresh Parmesan cheese or grate a block of Parmesan cheese yourself. A block is typically fresher because it hasn’t been exposed to as much air or processing. It also has a slightly stronger flavor.

Olive oil: Use what you like – extra virgin olive oil (which has a stronger flavor) or classic olive oil which is a blend of refined and unrefined olive oil. Here’s an article explaining the best oils to use for cooking purposes.

Walnuts: It is best to buy unsalted walnuts since Parmesan cheese is quite salty.

Variations

Most recipes are pretty similar but here are a few ways you can change up this simple walnut pesto sauce:

  1. Substitute the walnuts with pine nuts (used in traditional basil pesto) or with pistachios, almonds, pecans or sunflower seeds. 
  2. Toast the nuts before adding them to the pesto for a richer taste.
  3. Substitute the parmesan with Pecorino Romano
  4. Omit the parmesan cheese altogether.
  5. Add some heat with red pepper flakes.
  6. Try adding a splash of lemon juice or fresh lemon zest.

How to make basil pesto with walnuts

ground walnuts in food processor bowl
Process nuts and fresh garlic cloves.
pesto in food processor bowl
Add and process the fresh basil leaves and cheese. Then slowly add olive oil in a steady stream until smooth-ish.
pesto in clear acrylic bowl

Shortcuts

  • Use minced or crushed garlic in a jar or tube (but fresh is best here!)
  • Buy shredded or ground fresh Parmesan cheese (same – fresh is best)

Make Ahead

  • This basil walnut pesto recipe lasts 5-7 days in the fridge in an airtight container. For best results, cover it with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent oxidation.
  • Pesto freezes well. I freeze it in ziploc bags in 1/4 cup/58-gram portions or in ice cube trays to use whenever I need a smaller amount of pesto. It lasts 4-6 months in the freezer.

Recipe FAQs

Is basil pesto healthy?

Walnut basil pesto has several health benefits. Walnuts are an excellent source of heart-healthy fats, including plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. They are also a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Basil contains essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidant properties as well.

Can I make basil walnut pesto without cheese?

Yes, you can make pesto without cheese or replace the cheese with nutritional yeast for a dairy-free or vegan version.

Can I use dried basil instead of fresh basil?

Fresh basil leaves are recommended for the best flavor and aroma in pesto. Dried basil will cause a change in the flavor and texture.

How to use fresh basil walnut pesto

Basil pesto is a classic but there are many other kinds. Check out these 14 types of pesto. If you’re a pesto lover like Jenna, you’ll find lots of different ways to use it. Here are a few.

  • on scrambled eggs
  • in your favorite pasta or rice
  • on pizza
  • as a sandwich spread on grilled cheese, burgers, wraps, sandwiches
  • on crostini appetizers
  • as a dip
  • as a topping for salmon or shrimp
pesto in food processor bowl

Recipe ideas with homemade pesto sauce

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pesto in food processor bowl
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Easy Basil Pesto with Walnuts (5 Minutes)

Basil pesto with walnuts will transform your appetizers, pizzas and pasta. This easy homemade version takes 5 minutes to make with a few simple fresh ingredients. Makes 1/2 cup/120 grams.
Prep Time5 minutes
Total Time5 minutes
Course: sauces and spreads
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 8 tablespoons

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/4 cup walnuts or pinenuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, Note 1
  • 2 small cloves (or teaspoons) garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Instructions

  • MAKE THE PESTO: Grind walnuts and garlic in a food processor for 30-60 seconds. Add basil leaves and process for another minute. Slowly add in oil from the feeder tube until combined. Add Parmesan cheese and process a few more seconds. Freezes well.

Recipe Notes

  1. Variations
    • Substitute the walnuts with pine nuts (for a classic version) or with pistachios, almonds, pecans or sunflower seeds.
    • Toast the nuts before adding them to the pesto for a richer taste.
    • Omit the parmesan cheese.
    • Add some heat with red pepper flakes.
    • Add a splash of lemon juice or fresh lemon zest.
       
  2. Make ahead:
    • Pesto lasts 5-7 days in the fridge. For best results, cover it with a thin layer of olive oil if freezing it in a container to prevent oxidation and discoloration.
    • I freeze it in ziploc bags in 1/4 cup portions or in ice cube trays to use whenever I need a smaller amount of pesto. It will last 4-6 months in the freezer.
 
Nutrition values are estimated using walnuts for 1 tablespoon of pesto. 

Nutrition

Calories: 172kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 110mg | Potassium: 48mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 371IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 71mg | Iron: 1mg
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