How to Make Delicious Pesto from Whatever You’ve Got

You don’t need pricey pine nuts or even basil to make everyone’s favorite delicious green sauce. Here’s a handy guide for making pesto out of whatever you’ve got lying around.

Pesto is very versatile and only has a few essential elements. Experiment with different greens, herbs, nuts, and oils to invent your own original sauce. My pesto is always vegan (I sometimes forget that most pesto isn’t vegan) but if you like, feel free to swap some of the nuts for a bit of any hard, salty, aged cheese.

For BLE-portioned pesto recipes and handy category breakdowns, check out some of my recipes involving pesto. Or, you can just make pesto however you like and simply count 0.5 oz as a fat serving.

Essential Pesto Elements


The greens you choose will be the pesto’s most distinctive flavor. Tender herbs and greens like parsley, cilantro, and arugula can be used raw, no problem. But tougher stuff (kale or collards) will need a quick blanch in boiling salted water to soften them up, and should be drained thoroughly to make sure you’re not adding a bunch of extra liquid to your sauce. And nothing says you can only use one green at a time—feel free to mix and match to your heart’s content.

TRY: Basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, chervil, arugula, dandelion greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, scallions, garlic scapes, kale, collards, mustard greens, radish tops, beet greens, spinach, watercress, carrot tops, pea shoots


You have my permission to never buy pine nuts again, they are stupidly expensive. There’s a whole world of tasty nuts and seeds out there that’ll add the rich earthiness that you’re after in your dream pesto. 

TRY: Walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts


Olive oil is traditional (and delicious), but a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed could be swapped in if you didn’t want olive oil’s particular grassiness distracting from other flavors. For an oil-free pesto, you could use an avocado like in this recipe


Lemon juice and zest are normally my go-to’s for brightening up a pesto sauce, but you could really use any citrus like lime or vinegar to balance things up.


Don’t mess with the garlic. There are some parts of tradition that we just don’t want to mess with. Garlic is essential.


Don’t forget the salt. A pinch of good quality sea salt will do. 

Additional Flavorings

Of course, there are other fun things you can add to pesto like jalepeños, sundried tomatoes, etc. Have fun! 

Modified from this article at Bon Appetit

Best Ratios

Here’s my favorite ratios, I usually use this as a starting place and then adjust ingredients to taste.

  • 2-3 cups greens
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (or other acidic ingredient)
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (or replace with more nuts)
  • 1/4 cup oil (or more to desired consistency)
  • 2-3 raw garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)

How to Make Pesto

I’ve always just thrown everything into a food processor and stirred in some finely chopped nuts at the end for texture, but this article made me feel like I’ve been doing it wrong my whole life because I haven’t been using a mortar and pestle. Authentic shmentic, I say use whatever method you want, and there is something to be said for convenience!

And Now Some Inspiration!

Here are some of my favorite ways to use pesto.

With Eggs and Potatoes

Photo from My Instagram

On Potatoes

Photo from Minimalist Baker

Mixed w/ Ricotta in Lasagna

Photo from Katie’s Bright Kitchen

On Pasta or Spaghetti Squash

Photo from Katie’s Bright Kitchen

Photo from My Instagram

Mixed Into Quiche

Photo & Recipe from Katie’s Bright Kitchen

On Polenta Rounds w/ Cheese & Tomatoes

Photo from My Instagram

What are your favorite ways to use pesto? Share in the comments!


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