Basil Walnut Pesto

Basil Walnut Pesto

Versatility.  It’s a good thing.  Nobody likes a one-trick pony.  I feel that way about food sometimes too.  Yes, there are dishes that require exacting precision, where there can be no deviation from the ingredients or their amounts.  This Basil Walnut Pesto isn’t one of them. This simple, fresh pesto recipe is easy to make and is open to endless riffs.

Whole plants of fresh basil.


I decided to make a batch after a trip to the farmer’s market recently where I bought some beautiful, fragrant, fresh basil.   At the market, they sell the whole plant — roots and all. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that these plants are at least 24 inches long and take up a standard size grocery bag on their own.  So, of course, I had to make a pesto.

Fresh basil makes the best homemade pesto

Pesto, to me, it is truly a multi-faceted condiment.  It’s herbaceous, and bright, but with enough umami depth (hello, parmesan cheese) to make it really interesting.  Traditional pesto is made with toasted pine nuts, but I use that as a general guideline and  take liberties with other nuts as well. For this basil walnut pesto, for instance, I subbed toasted walnuts for the standard pine nuts.

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rinsing basil in a large bowl of water

Start by washing the fresh basil well

Do not skip this part. It’s imperative… even if your basil came from the market in a plastic clam shell — trust me, it needs to be washed.

  • Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the basil leaves. 
  • Swish the basil with your fingers, vigorously to dislodge any dirt (or critters) that may be clinging to the leaves.
  • LIFT the basil leaves out of the water. This will leave any sediment resting at the bottom of your bowl and not on your fresh herbs.
  • Transfer the basil to a salad spinner and spin like a lunatic to make sure the leaves are very dry.
  • If there’s still moisture on the basil, you can pat the leaves dry with a paper towel. 
Dry the basil in a salad spinner.

See? That’s what the basil should look like. The leaves should be refreshed and vibrant green without any dark spots. If your basil is slightly wilted, the dunk in fresh water should bring them back to life… otherwise, you might want to buy some fresher herbs. 

grating parmesan for the sauce.


Basil walnut pesto (or any pesto) has a cheese element. I like Parmigiano Reggiano (real deal, from Italy), but you can also use Pecorino Romano. Just be sure to use a good quality, freshly grated cheese. (Note: you can tell if you’ve got real parmesan from Italy, by looking at the rind. It’s mandated to have the word Parmigiano Reggiano embedded out in little pinpoint font in the rind. Read more about how they embed the text from this Food 52 article.)

Adding the ingredients to a blender.

How to make basil walnut pesto

  1. Add the fresh basil leaves to a blender or food processor first.
  2. Top the basil with the lemon zest, red pepper flakes, garlic, freshly grated cheese, and toasted walnuts last. (You want to add the walnuts last so that they weigh down the basil leaves and help to push them towards the blades of the blender.
  3. Pulse several times until the ingredients are well chopped.
  4. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the machine running until you have a smooth, savory basil walnut pesto.
  5. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary.
adding walnuts to pesto.
blending pesto.

Look at how beautifully vibrant this pesto is. The flavors are bright, herbal and unctuous. You can use this homemade basil pesto in so many ways, too. Let’s explore a few…

Ideas for ways to use homemade basil walnut pesto

Whatever you intend to do with your pesto, I think this version is a good starting point.   Of course, if you want to get crazy, you could substitute arugula or spinach for the basil, you could use traditional pine nuts or other nuts like pecans or cashews.  

freezing in ice cube trays.

Can you freeze basil?

Yes, you can!  When you have copious amounts of basil, go ahead and make copious amounts of pesto — then freeze it in silicone ice cube trays.  

Frozen cubes of pesto.

When the pesto is frozen, pop them out and transfer to a freezer-safe storage container for use whenever you need it.  That way you’re never caught empty handed.  

A white dish filled with the homemade sauce.

How long will fresh basil walnut pesto last in the refrigerator?

Fresh basil will usually keep for about 7-10 days, if you’re careful about how you store it. Follow these simple directions:

  1. Place the pesto into a glass or plastic storage container with a tight fitting lid. 
  2. Smooth the top of the basil with the back of a spoon so that it’s fairly even and flat.
  3. Pour olive oil over the top of the pesto to cover it so that none of the basil is in contact with the air.
  4. Seal the container and refrigerate.

The olive oil acts as a protective layer and prevents the fresh basil walnut pesto from spoiling too fast. 

Basil Walnut Pesto on grilled bread.

Finally, here’s yet another example of how to use your pesto – slathered on grilled bread and topped with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella and a sprinkle of chopped walnuts.  Pour a glass of wine and meet me on the patio!  

Basil Walnut Pesto with tomato and mozzarella.

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Print Pin
3.88 from 75 votes

Basil and Walnut Pesto

A simple pesto with a kick of red pepper! Great tossed with pasta, smeared on crostini or mixed into vinaigrettes.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pesto
Dietary Restrictions Egg Free, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 12


  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic peeled
  • ½ cup walnuts toasted
  • ½ cup parmesan-reggiano
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Diamond kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon Morton’s Kosher Salt


  • To the bowl of a food processor or Vitamix blender add basil, garlic, walnuts, parmesan, lemon zest, juice, and red pepper flakes.
  • Pulse a few times to break down the basil.
  • In a steady stream add olive oil, pulsing until olive oil is blended into other ingredients and mixture forms a loose paste. If your pesto is too thick, add additional olive oil one tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Enjoy!



Store the pesto in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Spread the top of the pesto into an even layer and top it with olive oil to cover it. This will prevent the pesto from oxidizing and turning dark.


Calories: 130kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 2mg | Sodium: 261mg | Potassium: 51mg | Vitamin A: 465IU | Vitamin C: 1.7mg | Calcium: 70mg | Iron: 0.5mg

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This easy pesto recipe is ready in 15 minutes! Perfect for pastas, sandwiches and grilled seafood plus so much more. Get more ideas and some helpful tips for freezing this herbaceous sauce!

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  1. 5 stars
    SOOOOO Good! Thank you for sharing! I used a pinch of nutritional yeast instead of cheese and it still tasted amazing.

  2. I’d suggest half the garlic, a small amount of lemon juice, and more walnuts and cheese. Turned out a bit too runny and very garlicky.

  3. Pesto with hummus is fabulous!

  4. 5 stars
    This recipe is lovely and delicious! I didn’t have any lemon and it still came out wonderfully!

    1. so glad you enjoyed it Shevon. Try it with a little lemon next time, it’s good!

  5. 5 stars
    Your recipe sounds great! How long does this pesto last in the regular fridge?

    1. You can keep it for 5-7 days, but I would put a thin layer of oil over the top of the pesto to keep it fresh and bright. The oil will protect it from oxidizing.

  6. 5 stars
    Amazing, nutty, layered and bright pesto! What a lovely variation on a pine nut pesto. This is much better and healthier for you! Perfection! (I left out the red pepper flakes for my kids and this recipe was still amazing!) Thank you!

  7. is a serving 2 tablespoons?

    1. Actually, I believe it’s more like 3 tablespoons — just shy of a quarter cup.

  8. 2 stars
    I followed this recipe to a T and found it overpoweringly lemony despite loving lemon. I would significantly reduce the lemon.

  9. Estelle de Bruyn says:

    5 stars
    yum yum – just made a batch – have basil in my South African garden – used macadamia nuts

    1. Lucky you! Macadamia nuts would be so buttery and amazing!

  10. Trudy Mann says:

    5 stars
    You can also freeze pesto in an 8 oz. Ball Canning jar by filling the pesto to not more than 1″ from the top and then topping with a thin layer of olive oil to protect the fresh pesto, seal and freeze. One 8 oz jar of Pesto is enough for a pasta dinner for 4-5 people. Love Pesto of all kinds, thank you for the recipe.

    1. What a great idea, Trudy! I love your thought to add an extra layer of olive oil to protect it. Genius!

  11. Is there anything better than fresh, homemade pesto?! I really love the flavors in simple soups and that caprese toast has me hungry again!

    1. Food on toast is always the best — these were actually grilled sourdough toasts — and they’re super yummy!

  12. Emily @ Recipes to Nourish says:

    5 stars
    Love all of that beautiful basil and parmigiano-reggiano! I LOVE pesto, it’s one of my favorites and we tend to make a lot of it when basil is in season. I love that you freeze the pesto, that’s such a great idea.

    1. Freezing is the best for me, because I have a VitaMix blender and I need at least a cup of something to make it “blend”. But 1-2 cups of pesto is just too much for one recipe, therefore, I freeze. Definitely use silicone ice cube trays though — it’s virtually impossible to get out of regular trays unless you defrost it — and then — what’s the point?

  13. 5 stars
    Oh my gosh, what gorgeous basil you found! Your pesto sounds wonderful, and I love all of your suggestions for using it in various dishes. Beautiful photos too!

    1. Thanks, Andrea! Pesto is an absolute must for spring and summer!

  14. 5 stars
    I just bought a basil plant and have great plans for it. Do you propagate your buds? I do through out the growing season and end up with a ton! Your pest is on the “to do” list. Freezing is an excellent idea, too.

    1. Propagate what? Who? I’m gonna need a step-by-step on that — you are talking to a BLACK THUMB!

  15. This looks like an absolutely delicious pesto! Pesto is so versatile isn’t it? I love it how it can compliment so many dishes!

  16. 5 stars
    Our market sells it in a large bunch also, what a great idea to make it into pesto. The freezer tip is a great idea too!!

    1. When you’ve got that much basil, pesto is a must!

  17. That basil plant looked perfect. I love pesto so thanks for sharing about the tip about freezing. Next time I find a good basil plant I’m going make some of this 🙂

    1. Let me know how it works for you, Stephanie

  18. This recipe looks so delicious and refreshing. I agree that sometimes you don’t want a recipe that is set in stone.

    Pesto is so amazing, I love how you’ve used it.

    1. Thank you, Angela! I’ve got a bunch more pesto ideas coming soon!