Pesto without Pine Nuts

There’s little I enjoy more than a good pesto. This pesto without pine nuts is not only easy and great for meal prepping but it uses walnuts, which I always have on hand!

Chicken on a wooden cutting board with drizzled pesto and parmesan cheese scattered.

One of my favorite ways to preserve our basil is by making loads of pesto! 

Walnuts have the highest amount of alpha linoleic acid (ALA) of any nut. This type of fat is the plant source of omega 3’s. Our bodies convert ALA to the desired omega 3’s, DHA & EPA. 

Fun fact: your genetics and diet dictate how smoothly this conversion takes place. Another reason that you shouldn’t eat like your neighbor, find what works for you 🙂

What is pesto?

Pesto in Italian literally means “pounded”. So, traditional pesto is made with a mortar and pestle, if you’re interested in a mindfulness exercise (and have the time), this is a great one!

I find that only pulsing with the food processor (rather than setting it on churn for hours..) results in a courser textured pesto, more like the real deal.

Traditionally it is made with garlic, basil, pine nuts, olive oil and salt.


Basic pesto utilizes basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and quality olive oil.

Pesto without pine nuts Ingredients, walnuts, basil, pepper, lemon, olive oil, parmesan, salt and garlic.

During my study abroad (at MSU for international food laws) I visited Parma, Italy and never before have I seen so much cheese. Walls were covered in wheels of parmesan being aged – so good!

Since this recipe is simple. You need quality ingredients, spring for the freshest basil, the best parmesan and the highest quality olive oil.


An abundant herb throughout summer.


Walnuts are a great substitute for pine nuts in pesto.

  • How to know if they’re good: Purchase raw, unsalted nuts. They should smell fresh, like walnuts (not paint).
  • Storage: Because of their high fat content they can easily go rancid. You may want to store larger portions in the fridge or freezer.


Real parmesan only come from northern Italy.

  • At the grocery store: Look for Parmagiano-Reggiano. “Parmesan-Reggiano” is regulated and only used for cheese made in Northern Italy. So, when you find the authentic stuff, you’ll notice the price significantly more.
  • If you can’t find Parmagiano-Reggiano. American Grana is America’s version of Parmesan, it falls into the category of parmesans but is made with “enzymes” which can come from animal or microbial origin, not traditional rennet. Additionally, the milk is sourced from America, not Europe.
  • A word on pre-grated cheese: Please no Kraft pre-grated parmesan here (my dad’s such a fan, I can’t break it)… Typically pre-grated cheese has added non-stick agents that dilute the flavor, and may contain gluten.

Olive Oil

Since 96% of olive oil is imported into the US, it’s important to buy quality oil. After all, you won’t get the health benefits you’re looking for buying an adulterated one.

  • Packaging: look for a dark, glass bottle that has a single region of origin. Blends tend to be more apt to adulteration since they have multiple locations of transportation so there’s a greater chance of mixing, and disguising.
  • Taste: olive oil should taste green, herbaceous, a bit bitter and like fresh olives.
  • Price: Hate to break it to you, but if it’s cheap, it’s likely adulterated…


  • You can use lemon juice, I recommend a good brand like Lakewood Lemon juice. Or use the juice of a fresh lemon. Alternatively, if you have preserved lemons in your fridge, this is a great time to use them.
Lemon preserves in a mason jar shot overhead.

Preserved lemons are a nice fit here because they’re slightly salty and instantly yummy. Omit the salt in the recipe if you choose to use preserved lemons.

What is a good substitute for pine nuts in pesto?


They’re earthy, nutty, warm and a little bitter. They’re the perfect substitute for pine nuts. Plus, nutritionally speaking they contain the most omega-3’s of all of the nuts. Providing 2-2.5 grams per serving versus pine nuts 360 mg per 28 ounce serving.

Walnuts are also quite a bit cheaper than pine nuts. And, depending on where you shop, easier to find.

Pesto with spoon and drizzled oil.

What do you eat pesto with?

As I’ve expressed, pesto ranks up there with one of my top sauces. So naturally I can find a lot of uses.

Consider using it for any of the following dishes:

  • Chicken pesto
  • Pesto pasta (thin the pesto with a little pasta water)
  • Pesto rice
  • Pesto with seafood, such as scallops and shrimp
  • Pesto also pairs nicely with tomatoes
Pesto with spoon and drizzled oil.

Pesto without Pine Nuts

This pesto without pine nuts is not only easy and great for meal prepping but it uses walnuts, which I always have on hand and have the most omega-3's of all of the nuts.
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Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Harvest, Make Ahead, Quick
Allergen: Gluten Free
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 381kcal


  • Food Processor
  • Rubber, scraping spatula
  • Cheese grater, or attachment for your food processor
  • Measuring Cups & Spoons


  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup basil, packed
  • 2 cloves garlic, skin removed
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil,* divided into two equal portions
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice,** or the juice of about 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup parmesan regianno cheese,*** shredded


  • Add walnuts, basil, pepper, salt and garlic to food processor and process until the pieces are about the size of a pencil eraser, this may take about 30 seconds. Don't over process here, I personally find a courser texture more appealing.
  • Add 1/3 cup of oil and 1 cup shredded cheese, pulse again.
  • Add lemon juice and replace the top of your food processor.
  • While pulsing, begin to drizzle the remaining olive oil until you get a loose texture, add more oil if you still have a ball (and the consistency is too thick).



*I used about 1/3 cup oil in the drizzling step, adjust this amount to achieve the consistency you’re looking for. 
**You can use the juice of about 1/2 a lemon, prepared lemon juice or lemon preserves. If you use lemon preserves please reduce/omit the salt to your liking. See above in post for additional instructions. 
***American grana works here too. 


Calories: 381kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 38g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 10g | Monounsaturated Fat: 20g | Cholesterol: 15mg | Sodium: 680mg | Potassium: 114mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 0.5g | Vitamin A: 359IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 171mg | Iron: 1mg

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