Easy Basil & Garlic Pesto Recipe

Last updated 08/10/2020 | |

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You'll love this easy pesto recipe, with a secret ingredient that cuts the cost in half! Includes bonus recipes and freezing tips too.

pesto pasta with fresh tomatoes

Do you have tons of basil growing in your garden? We sure do, especially since I figured out how to grow endless amounts of basil from just one plant.

We use basil in tons of our favorite recipes--Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce, on pizza, in pasta salad, and lots more.

And when you pair it up with garlic...oh boy. That's a combo that can't be beat. To preserve our basil harvest, I make and freeze huge batches of pesto every summer.

glass jar full of pesto with walnut on top

Last winter, I ran out of homemade pesto and nearly died when I saw how much it costs! A teeny jar is $5, and it doesn't have the extra-garlicky bite that our family likes.

You can make pesto with basil from the store, although you'll save a lot of money by growing your own. My favorite variety of basil for pesto is Italian Genovese from Botanical Interests.

You'll also save money by growing your own garlic. Learn more about how to do that here. Neither of these are the one big secret to frugal pesto, though...

hands wearing gardening gloves planting basil

As a quick review, traditional pesto uses basil, garlic, parmesan, pine nuts, and olive oil. Can you guess which ingredient we're going to replace to save big bucks?

Yep! It's the pine nuts. These little guys must be gold-plated, they're so expensive. 30 bucks a pound? Heck no.

Here's the secret to making cheap basil pesto.

Replace the pine nuts with walnuts. They have a similar texture, the flavor works great with the other ingredients, and they're a fraction of the cost of pine nuts. Let's do this!

jar of basil and garlic pesto

Easy Basil Pesto Recipe

Ingredients
3 cups basil leaves, lightly packed
4-5 garlic cloves
1/3 cup walnuts
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

walnuts, basil, garlic, parmesan cheese

Instructions

Put the basil, garlic, walnuts, and parmesan in the food processor (this is the one I use and love) and pulse until everything is broken down, like this.

chopped basil and garlic in food processor

Add the olive oil in a thin stream as the processor is running. Process until it reaches your desired consistency.

adding olive oil to pesto in food processor

Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.

I freeze pesto in small canning jars and also in 1 Tablespoon scoops, just like I do when freezing garlic.

Yield: 2 cups

Kitchen Tips

  • Fresh pesto will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. The top layer may become dark, just like basil darkens when it's cut. It still tastes great, though.
  • Toss pesto with pasta, add to your favorite spaghetti sauce, or put a layer or two in your lasagna for a flavor boost.
  • Add it to your homemade pizza crust when kneading and tell your kids it's space alien pizza.
  • Mix pesto with bread crumbs, stuff mushroom caps, and bake for a yummy appetizer.
  • Can't eat nuts? No problem. My friends at Little Sprouts Learning have a delicious recipe for Nut-Free Pesto Sauce.
  • Another fun variation is Garlic Scape Pesto from my friends at Country Living in a Cariboo Valley. Yum!

The Secret for Making Pesto On The Cheap: BrownThumbMama.com

Easy Basil & Garlic Pesto Recipe

Yield: 2 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

An easy recipe for basil and garlic pesto with a secret ingredient that cuts the cost in half! Includes bonus recipes and freezing tips too.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 4-5 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Put the basil, garlic, walnuts, and parmesan in the food processor and pulse until everything is broken down.
  2. Add the olive oil in a thin stream as the processor is running. Process until it reaches your desired consistency
  3. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.

Notes

I freeze pesto in small canning jars and also in 1 Tablespoon scoops, just like I do when freezing garlic.

Fresh pesto will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. The top layer may become dark, just like basil darkens when it's cut. It still tastes great, though.

Toss pesto with pasta, add to your favorite spaghetti sauce, or put a layer or two in your lasagna for a flavor boost.

Add it to your homemade pizza crust when kneading and tell your kids it's space alien pizza.

Mix pesto with bread crumbs, stuff mushroom caps, and bake for a yummy appetizer.

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bowtie pasta with pesto and fresh tomatoes

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Pam

Hey, I’m Pam! I created Brown Thumb Mama to share my homesteading journey and help you live a greener life. Ready to learn more? Check out my Free Resource Guides, or my Shop to learn more.

6 Comments

  1. Andrea Raymond on June 17, 2019 at 7:51 am

    I use sunflower seeds as my husband can’t eat walnuts. I also will substitute some spinach for basil if I don’t have enough.

    • Pam on July 23, 2019 at 4:45 pm

      Great idea! A bit of spinach would be perfect.

  2. Jeri St Onge on November 8, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Any nut will work – it’s about your taste. Also, I made an asparagus pesto and froze them in an ice tray. Once they are frozen pop them out and put them in a zip lock bag. Now you have as much or as little pesto for your meal(s) as you need. Love this recipe.

  3. Cindy on October 8, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Would pecans work instead of walnuts. My husband has a walnut allergy. How would cashews change the texture and taste? I have never made pesto but we love it.

  4. Beth on September 23, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    My sister has a nut allergy, so I’ve found that seeds also work well. I like pumpkin in the fall and sunflower all year.

  5. CTY on August 23, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Another down side of pine nuts is that oft times they are imported and folks not normally allergic to pine nuts have intense reactions. Apparently our bodies can easily accept nuts from local trees but not from trees abroad. For this reason and my budget, I use cashews (because that’s what I have on hand most0.

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