Basil Walnut Pesto

5 stars based on 3 votes

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One of my favorite things about summer cooking is stepping out my back door to pick fresh herbs from my vegetable garden. It always amazes me how the tiny seedlings I impatiently wait for to sprout in May grow into more herbs than I can possibly use up in August.

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As you can see, my basil plants are two feet tall, which means it’s time to make pesto! (You can also see they need some attention — it’s best to pinch the flowers off to keep the leaves growing.)

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This is a classic recipe for Italian basil pesto. The only difference is that I use walnuts instead of more traditional pine nuts. This is because in recent years an increasing number of people (including myself) have fallen prey to a bizarre problem with pine nuts called Pine Mouth Syndrome — a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth that develops a day or two after eating pine nuts. It can last for weeks and make eating or drinking anything very unpleasant. Several food writers have written about it, and since it also happened to me, I thought it was worth mentioning. There is some evidence that the suspect nuts come from China but no one knows for sure. In any case, I’ve sworn off pine nuts for a while.

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To begin, combine the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

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Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper.

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Process until finely chopped.

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Then, with the food processor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Be sure to use good quality olive oil; it makes a big difference.

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Add the Parmesan cheese and process again.

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That’s your pesto! Try it on pasta, potatoes, grilled meats, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, or vegetable soup (coming soon!).

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Basil Walnut Pesto

Servings: Makes about 1-1/4 cups
Total Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups gently packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini or Colavita

Instructions

  1. Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until coarsely chopped, about 10 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper and process until mixture resembles a paste, about 1 minute. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly blended. Add the Parmesan and process a minute more. Use pesto immediately or store in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (this seals out the air and prevents the pesto from oxidizing, which would turn it an ugly brown color). It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. (If you're planning on freezing it, omit the cheese and stir it in once you defrost it.)

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    Heavenly! I just made it – and made my husband a very happy man :)

    - Vicki Frederick on September 29, 2014 Reply
  • Thank you for sharing this recipe using walnuts. I also have Pine Mouth and have found that I can eat Mediterranean pine nuts but not Asian ones. I have to order them, as they are very hard to find in stores. I can’t wait to try your recipe!

    - Vicki Frederick on September 28, 2014 Reply
  • why did my pesto turn out grainy and not smooth like yours? do i need to process more?

    - chris on September 23, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Chris, Yes, just keep processing until smooth.

      - Jenn on September 23, 2014 Reply
  • Thank you for this recipe. After years of joyfully eating pine nuts I had several bouts of Pine Mouth before I realized the culprit. I find it strange that quite suddenly many people have it. Hopefully it is something to do with the source and we won’t have to swear of pignolas forever. In the meantime walnut pesto will comfort me.

    - Collette on August 29, 2014 Reply
  • For the first time I grew a herb garden and have lots of fresh basil. I used this for your recipe for grilled pesto shrimp and it was really yummy.

    - DonnaA on August 3, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I just made this pesto recipe and as I’m typing enjoying it with my whole grain pasta, delicious! Can’t wait to substitute my pizza sauce with the pesto, should be amazing! Thanks for sharing Jenn :-)

    - Angie on July 31, 2014 Reply
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  • 5 stars

    This is the only recipe I use for pesto. I’ve made it many, many times. Last year I froze enough to last all winter. My basil crop has reached the point this year that I need to start making pesto again. I always reduce the olive oil in this recipe to 1/2 cup (instead of 2/3 cup) for a less oily result. I love to use a dollop of pesto in a quiche or spread a little on sandwiches instead of mayo.

    - IndianaAnna on June 29, 2014 Reply
  • Even without the metallic taste condition you describe, the price of pine nuts leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Thanks for the recipe.

    - Sarah Wersan on December 28, 2013 Reply
  • Made two big batches with my end of season basil; one with walnuts and one with pine nuts. I put the cooled pesto into ice cube trays. After they froze solid, I transferred the cubes into ziploc freezer bags. This makes them super easy to pull out and toss into a pan as needed.

    - Paula on November 7, 2013 Reply
  • This was a great recipe, thanks! I have a pine nut allergy (oddly, the only nut I am allergic to and it is NOT fun!) but LOVE pesto and i really enjoyed this

    - Susan on September 19, 2013 Reply
  • Will try today! Looks fantastic.

    - kitchenroach on August 22, 2013 Reply
  • Great idea,had it with pasta and chicken yummm!

    - Jules on April 25, 2013 Reply
  • My local Wegman’s stopped carrying pine nuts in their bulk food aisle because of problems with their supply and cases of pine mouth syndrome being reported.

    I’m not a fan of walnuts, but I’ve used almonds and pistachios and it worked wonderfully. As Becca mentioned, blanching whatever greens then shocking them in ice water will keep the color vibrant for days in the fridge.

    - Winston on March 9, 2013 Reply
  • Thanks for your discription of how. Living in Phoenix AZ, its mid november, and this could be the last batch of the year. Several lessons have been learned, comments are welcomed. Full sun? This year some of my plants were in the pepper bed getting sun only till noon, they did better in the heavy heat, so I made them all morning sun only, until the temps dropped. I add hot peppers, and add sugar to balance the bitterness. Also use a variety of basils, including Thai, Greek, Lemon, and several varieties of Sweet. My freezer is full of pesto cubes. Being end of seaon, this time I will separate varieties.

    - Lyle on November 18, 2012 Reply
  • Tried it since I love so many of your recipes, but must confess… I prefer using pine nuts to walnuts. Love to eat the pesta tossed with orzo… great, fast & easy side!

    - Cherie on October 2, 2012 Reply
  • Everyone should know about this tip. If you don’t plan to use all your pesto quickly, i.e. freezing it, blanching the basil leaves for about 30 seconds in boiling water will keep the pesto a vibrant green color. Before blending the pesto ingredients, blanch the basil leaves, take them out of the boiling water and run them under cool water to stop the cooking and then add to the food processor as the recipe directs. This really works and keeps pesto a nice fresh green color, even after freezing and defrosting.

    - Becca J on October 2, 2012 Reply
  • I never liked pesto, but this recipe has changed my mind. Even my boys will eat it over pasta. Wonderful recipe–thank you!!

    - Renee H on June 20, 2012 Reply
  • Pesto is one of my wife’s favorite flavors. This came out fantastic. We can’t wait to use it on different foods.

    - Mike on June 20, 2012 Reply
  • This turned out great, thank you for sharing.

    - Carissa on May 22, 2012 Reply
  • Walnuts are a great sub. for pignoli. I’m going to have to try this!!

    - TJ on May 19, 2012 Reply
  • a great idea. i never thought to sub walnuts for pignola nuts.

    - amy marantino on May 15, 2012 Reply
  • Walnuts were a great sub for pine nuts.

    - meredith Lovelss on May 15, 2012 Reply
  • Heading out to plant my basil seeds right now, with this dish as an inspiration! Loved serving this, as you suggested, drizzled over the summer vegetable soup.

    - Julie on May 15, 2012 Reply
  • This looks good. This is one of my favorite thing. I love this! This is very easy to make and a great.

    How to make the perfect basil pesto?

    - basil oils on January 5, 2012 Reply
  • Hi, Just made your walnut pesto! Delicious. Really am going to enjoy this with veggies or pasta…can’t decide which.

    Donna

    - Donna Lee on December 21, 2011 Reply
  • Ashlynn Deal

    I value the article post.Much thanks again. Fantastic.

    - Ashlynn Deal on December 12, 2011 Reply
  • Just got a bunch of purple basil from our CSA and wasn’t sure what to do with it so figured I would give this a try. Thanks!

    - Jenn on September 17, 2011 Reply
  • I also grow herbs and my basil was gorgeous this year! (live in Atlanta, GA) I have made about 5 quarts of pesto so far this summer. I also use walnuts instead of pine nuts, but it is mainly due to the difference in COST. A similar recipe was on The Barefoot Contessa on Food TV…so cheers to you and thanks for sharing!

    - Janice on September 2, 2011 Reply
  • I read that the problem with pine nuts was from the pine nuts from China, not the USA. You’ve got to be careful!

    - Patti on August 28, 2011 Reply
  • And walnuts are much cheaper than pine nuts anyway. Thanks for the recipe.

    - Marilyn Sullivan on August 25, 2011 Reply
  • This looks good. My husband loves walnuts. I’m still using pesto I froze last summer. I’ve never heard of pine mouth syndrome. It sounds awful. I do check to see where the pine nuts I purchase are from. We have some in our grocery that are from a local area in Texas. I checked one of the popular Italian brands and they are actually from China, which surprised me.

    - Danita on August 25, 2011 Reply

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