Nut-Free Pesto with Fresh Herbs

A Pyrex measuring cup full of green pesto, garnished with fresh basil leaves - the background is a vivid shade of pink.

There’s nothing quite like fresh pesto. For me, homemade pesto is the embodiment of simple and summery dinners al fresco, last minute meals made from pantry staples, and bowls of pasta layered with green and the deep liquorice scent of basil. This nut-free pesto uses toasted pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts (as well as several other nontraditional ingredients, resulting in a very nontraditional pesto). Based on my mom’s recipe for nut-free pesto—she manages to grow a bumper crop of basil every summer—I recommend freezing the leftovers (and there will be leftovers) into individual portions and using as needed. I’m enamoured with parsley and I love the pleasantly grassy, slightly astringent flavour it brings to this pesto. Feel free to mix up the fresh herb ratio to your liking; cilantro and even dill can be used in this recipe.

Bird's eye view of green pesto in a Pyrex measuring cup on a pink background.

How to use pesto

  • On hot pasta: When you have pesto and pasta in the house you can have a meal on the table in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. I love the pillowy, silken texture of good quality store-bought or homemade pasta, especially when its been coated in this nut-free pesto.
  • In a vinaigrette: Whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of one lemon, 1 tablespoon of pesto, and kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper (bonus ingredients can include finely chopped olives, sundried tomatoes, minced herbs, crumbled feta, and/or Dijon mustard). This dressing will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
  • Use the above vinaigrette for pasta salads made with fresh tortellini or campanelle, as a dip for a baguette or breadsticks, drizzled over warm roasted vegetables, stirred into hummus or a white bean dip, or blended into a quiche or French omelet.
  • In this recipe for Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Rosemary
  • Or this Easy Summer Spaghetti with Yellow Squash
Two bright blue ice cube trays filled with pesto on a pink background.

How to freeze pesto

This recipe makes an impressive amount of pesto and it’s unlikely you’ll be eating it all at once. Freezing pesto in individual portions is easy when you use ice cube trays. Add a large spoonful of pesto to each mold and freeze for a least 3 hours. Once the pesto is frozen solid it can be transferred to a resealable freezer bag or lidded container. Store pesto in the freezer for up to 6 months. Directly add to pasta while still frozen or defrost for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Close-up of frozen pesto cubes on a pink background.

Nut-Free Pesto with Fresh Herbs

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Freezing time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 25 mins
Course: Sauces and condiments
Cuisine: Canadian, Italian
Keyword: fresh herb pesto, herb pesto, nut-free pesto
Servings: 24 servings
Author: musicwithdinner

Equipment

  • Food processor
  • Sharp chef's knife or kitchen shears
  • Cast iron skillet (or other heavy bottomed skillet)
  • Spatula
  • Ice cube trays

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds raw, unsalted
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley carefully washed and dried
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves loosely packed
  • 2 cup baby spinach or baby kale loosely packed
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Instructions

  • Warm up a cast iron skillet (or other heavy bottomed skillet) over medium-low heat until the pan is hot.
  • Add the raw pumpkin seeds to the dry pan and toast for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and fragrant. This will happen very quickly so keep a close eye on the pumpkin seeds and transfer to a plate as soon as they're finished.
  • Add the toasted pumpkin seeds and all of the remaining ingredients to a food processor and blitz until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the sides of the food processor as you work, it may take a few minutes for all of the ingredients to form a smooth consistency.

Music with dinner

The best summer soundtracks hang lazily in the air as I’m cooking. There’s a distinct lack of angst and a sudden need for ease in my music choices (which is not to be confused with a preference for easy listening). Hymns to the Silence, Van Morrison’s 21st studio album, is a stellar example of this laid back vibe. So much so, that’s it’s become an actual hymn to anxiety reduction for my sister and I (we send each other texts quoting songs from HFTS on the regular). “Professional Jealousy” is the embodiment of jazz flute cool and the essence of backyard barbecues from my youth. Pour yourself something cold and get ready for relaxation (and nut-free pesto).

Van Morrison – Professional Jealousy

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