Ingredients for making basil walnut pesto.

No-Fuss Basil Walnut Pesto Recipe (for Busy Moms)

Pesto, aka pesto alla genovese is a traditional Italian sauce made using:

  • Basil (from Genova)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmigiano reggiano
  • Pecorino romano
  • Pine nuts
  • Garlic
  • Salt

If you want to make authentic pesto alla genovese perfectly, there are quite a few steps and it takes a while.

I’m a busy mom, and if you’re here, I’m guessing you are too!  I don’t have time for all of the little, unimportant steps, so I’ve whittled the recipe down to the absolute basics so I can get the pesto on my kids’ pasta pronto

Don’t worry, this basil pesto recipe with walnuts is delicious and it passes the taste test with our Italian family here in Italy.

Read on for how I make basil walnut pesto, what to put it on, substitutions that work, and how to store it.

I hope you and your family enjoy this easy, fuss-free basil pesto with walnuts!

This Basil Walnut Pesto Recipe Is Easy and Fuss-Free

  • No putting your food processor in the freezer
  • No toasting your nuts
  • No drying your basil leaves after washing
  • No grating your garlic
  • No lemon juice
  • No mortar and pestle
  • Uses only one type of cheese

How To Use Easy Pesto

Plate of fresh pesto outside in Tuscany, Italy.
  • Pasta (penne, gnocchi, trofie, orecchiette, spaghetti)
  • On panini (sandwiches)
  • On pizza
  • On stuzzichini
  • Drizzled on soups or salads
  • As part of a Buddha bowl
  • As a dressing for a caprese salad made with mini mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes (perfect for aperitivo!)

Good To Know:  My Italian husband can’t agree with using pesto in any way besides on pasta.  The other options on the list are only used by me and my kids.

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Ingredients for making basil walnut pesto.

No-Fuss Basil Walnut Pesto Recipe (for Busy Moms)


  • Author: Candice
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 34 servings 1x

Description

A quick, easy, fuss-free recipe for basil walnut pesto.  It uses fresh, simple ingredients and there are only a few steps so you can get dinner on the table ASAP!


Ingredients

Units Scale

3.5 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed (about 50 grams)

2 Tbsp walnuts

2 peeled garlic cloves

½ cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese)

Pinch of salt (only add after tasting!)


Instructions

1. Add the walnuts, garlic cloves, basil leaves, and parmigiano to the food processor or blender.  Pulse.

2. Add the olive oil and pulse until creamy.  You may need to scrape the sides of the container and repulse.

3. Taste and add salt if necessary (and pulse briefly).

That’s it!  You’ve got your homemade pesto sauce!

Notes

If you have a chunk of cheese, measure around 60 grams and cut it into small chunks – no need to grate it.

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Cuisine: Italian/Mediterranean

Variations of Basil Walnut Pesto

  • Red pesto – add a few sundried tomatoes
  • Nuts – instead of walnuts, use nuts or seed you have on hand – pistachios, pine nuts, peanuts, almonds
  • Nut-free – instead of walnuts, use pepitas or sunflower seeds
  • Cheese – instead of parmigiano, use another aged, hard, salty cheese
  • Vegan – make it vegan by skipping the parmigiano altogether or using a hard vegan cheese or nutritional yeast (start with 3 Tbsp and as more as needed)
  • Greens – instead of basil, you can use spinach, rocket, broccoli, or a combination of herbs and greens.  I haven’t been successful with kale.  You’ll probably want to try strange greens combinations ahead of time and not spring it on your unsuspecting children
  • Make it spicy – Add a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Fresh breath version – Leave out the garlic cloves if you have an interview or important meeting the following day

Unacceptable Variations

  • Don’t use oils other than extra virgin olive oil (no vegetable oil, seed oil, avocado oil, etc).
  • Don’t use lemon juice or lemon zest.
  • Don’t use cheeses that aren’t aged, salty, and hard. So, no mozzarella or cheddar cheese, folks.

Good To Know:  Have leftover cooked or roasted veggies?  Use them in place of the basil to make your simple basil walnut pesto.  It’s a great way to use up leftovers and get kids to eat vegetables!

How to Store Easy Pesto

Close up of homemade basil walnut pesto.

Keep covered in a container in the fridge for up to three days.  Put a layer of plastic wrap directly on the pesto if you want to prevent oxidizing (which turns it brown).  Otherwise, just give it a little stir before you use it.

Helpful Tip:  We also freeze pesto into ice cube trays, then pop them out and put them in freezer bags.  Use 1 small cube per person.

FAQ

Basil walnut pesto ingredients on a cutting board.

Can I use ricotta cheese to make pesto?
No, you need to use an aged cheese in this pesto recipe.

Can I use mozzarella cheese to make pesto?
No, you need to use an aged cheese in this pesto recipe.

What is the official recipe for traditional basil pesto  (pesto alla genovese)?
The authentic (and more complicated) recipe for pesto alla genovese is controlled by the Pesto Consortium in Genova.

Can I use basil stems in pesto?
Yes, you can use basil stems in pesto, as long as they aren’t too large or tough.  They need to be delicate enough to be broken up by the food processor or blender.

Does walnut basil pesto taste like traditional pesto made with pine nuts?
Yes, basil pesto made with walnuts tastes almost the same as pesto made with pine nuts.  In fact, if you look at the ingredients list on manufactured pesto, you’ll rarely see expensive pine nuts.  Instead, you’ll often find peanuts, walnuts and cashews are used.

How can I make a vegan pesto with walnuts?
Omit the cheese in the recipe and add extra oil if needed. Or, use an aged vegan cheese.