How to Make Pesto Sauce (with any greens!)
Great pesto sauce can be made with so much more than basil and pine nuts! This handy guide will teach you how to make pesto sauce with any greens, including spinach, kale and even carrot tops in just a few simple steps!
Years ago (we’re talking pre-marriage), my roommate had a boyfriend that was a fire fighter. He’d developed some pretty great cooking skills in the fire house, and one of them was making homemade pesto sauce.
We thought it was a very big deal that he knew how to make pesto sauce, because we had no clue how to make it ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying making it from scratch isn’t impressive. It is impressive, but it’s also incredibly easy! We simply had no idea.
Over the years, it’s become one of my signature recipes, and every cook should have pesto sauce in their cooking repertoire because it elevates any dish.
This handy guide will teach you how to prepare it out of almost any combination of greens, herbs and nuts that you have on hand.
Pesto change-o — it’s like magic. 🙂
Why you’ll love this recipe:
- You’ll learn how to make pesto sauce with a wide variety of greens, herbs, and nuts you have on hand.
- Pesto sauce can be frozen for later or stored in the fridge for a couple days, so it’s great for meal prep.
- It’s incredibly versatile. Pair it with various meats, seafood, and grilled vegetables.
What is pesto sauce?
Pesto is a classic, uncooked sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. It’s got a bright, fresh-tasting flavor that’s used as a sauce for pasta, chicken, fish, pizza and sandwiches.
Pesto sauce ingredients
Classically, pesto is made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, and olive oil, but times have changed.
No basil? No problem. You truly don’t need it. And you certainly don’t need those expensive pine nuts, either.
You can use a variety of greens and herbs, or a combination of two or more. I’ve personally used all of the following at one time or another with great results:
- Greens: Spinach, power green blend, arugula, swiss chard, kale (baby kale or dinosaur kale) and carrot tops.
- Herbs: Basil, cilantro, parsley and mint.
- Nuts: Pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, pepitas and sunflower seeds.
Combine half greens, half herbs, or any ratio truly works. Don’t be afraid to get creative — there’s really no wrong answer.
Use your favorite nuts or seeds, and leave that Parmesan out of the equation if you don’t have it or follow a vegan or paleo diet. I’ve left the Parmesan out several times and have always been happy with the results.
I always add fresh lemon juice to my pesto sauce to amplify the fresh, bright flavors. It’s not a classic ingredient, but like I said….times have changed. 🙂
Pesto combinations to try:
- arugula + pistachios (see this grilled flatbread pizza)
- spinach + walnuts (see this spinach pesto)
- kale + pepitas or pecans
- carrot tops + walnuts or pine nuts (see my carrot top pesto recipe)
- power green blend + pepitas or sunflower seeds
- parsley + mint + walnuts or almonds
How to make pesto sauce
Pesto sauce may be made using a mortar and pestle. In fact, the Italian meaning for the word pesto is “pounded”.
I prepared pesto using the mortar and pestle method in cooking school on the first day for our soupe au pistou, which is basically Provence’s version of minestrone soup topped with pesto. The soup was amazing, as was the pesto, but most of us don’t have time for that.
These days, most people prepare pesto using a food processor or high powered blender. My preferred method is my trusty food processor.
- Simply add everything but the oil into your food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the oil through the feed tube with the processor on until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Adjust the seasoning and your homemade pesto sauce is ready to go!
If you’re wondering how to keep pesto green (really vibrant green!), blanch your herbs or greens in boiling water for 15 seconds, then plunge in ice water to stop the cooking process.
Drain immediately, blot gently to dry, and use them in your sauce.
I personally don’t take the time to do this as I haven’t had a problem with my pesto sauce turning brown, but it’s an option if you’re worried about discoloration.
Store fresh pesto in the fridge in an air tight container for 5 days maximum, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Of course! If you’re following a vegan, paleo or Whole30 diet, omit the Parmesan completely, or even replace it with nutritional yeast.
- Use pre-toasted nuts to save time, or bake on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350ºF oven for 5-10 minutes until golden and fragrant.
- Add up to 2 tablespoons more olive oil to reach desired consistency.
- In general, this is a very flexible recipe. Use whatever ingredients you have on hand, and follow the ratios provided in the recipe card below.
What to do with pesto sauce
There are so many ways to use pesto sauce — the options are endless!
Toss it in your favorite pasta dish, top chicken or fish, use as a spread for burgers and sandwiches, use in chicken salad and potato salad instead of mayo, swirl into hummus, and use as a condiment for grain bowls.
Below are some of my favorite recipes with pesto sauce:
- 30-Minute Creamy Pesto Tortellini Skillet
- Cheesy Pesto Vegetarian Spaghetti Squash Boats
- Grilled Lemon Pesto Chicken Kebabs
- Grilled Veggie Flatbread Pizza with Pesto
- Quick Chicken and Pesto Pasta by Noble Pig
If you make this recipe I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and rating below, or tag me @flavorthemoments on Instagram!
How to Make Pesto Sauce (with any greens!)
- 4 cups greens*
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/3 cup toasted nuts or seeds**
- 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan omit for vegan or replace with nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*
- Place the greens, garlic, lemon juice, nuts, parmesan (if using), salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until roughly chopped. Scrape down the sides, then with the processor running, add the oil through the feed tube and process until it reaches the desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
- Heat gently and toss with pasta, serve with chicken or grain bowls, or spread on pizza crust or sandwiches!
- *Use whatever greens you have on hand, such as basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, carrot tops, spinach, arugula, kale, swiss chard, power greens, or a combination!
- ** Use whatever type of nuts or seeds that you have on hand, including pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds, pepitas and sunflower seeds! Use pre-toasted nuts to save time, or bake on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until golden and fragrant.
- ***add up to 2 tablespoons more olive oil to reach desired consistency.
- If you’re wondering how to keep pesto green (really vibrant green!), blanch your herbs or greens in boiling water for 15 seconds, then plunge in ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain immediately, blot gently to dry, and use them in your sauce. I personally don’t take the time to do this as I haven’t had a problem with my pesto sauce turning brown, but it’s an option if you’re worried about discoloration.
- Store fresh pesto in the fridge in an air tight container for 5 days maximum, or freeze for up to 3 months.
- If you’re following a vegan, paleo or Whole30 diet, omit the parmesan completely, or even replace it with nutritional yeast.
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.