Creamy Walnut Sunflower Pesto

Pesto is by far my favorite pasta sauce, and it’s also one of the easiest to make at home. While the classic version (with pine nuts) is hard to top, there’s a million ways to make a good pesto. In my world, the only cardinal rule is that all pestos must contain basil and garlic. (Feel free to never, ever, try those radish leaf, spinach, kale, or arugula pestos. Trust me.) As long as you have basil and garlic, however, you can go crazy.

The version I’m sharing today is one of my favorites. Instead of pine nuts and parmesan cheese, this one uses walnuts and sunflower seeds to give the sauce a nutty earthiness that balances perfectly with the bright basil and garlic. It goes amazing with anything – pasta, crackers, pizza, chocolate ice cream… (well, maybe not anything), but it is pretty incredible.

Also, sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Blame the flu. It’s bad enough that the flu zaps your energy, but the fact that I couldn’t smell/taste anything for days was a significant hinderance to developing recipes… The good news is, I’m back! And I have some awesome stuff lined up over the next week.


Makes 1+ cup of pesto


  • 5 cups basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Dash of sea salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice


Step One

First, toast the nuts. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the walnuts and sunflower seeds and toss regularly until the nuts darken slightly and become much more aromatic, about 4-5 minutes. This is crucial; the toastiness will add so much more flavor to the pesto. The secret here is to keep the nuts moving around the pan so they don’t burn.

Step Two

Next, rinse and measure about 5 cups of fresh basil leaves. Loosely add the rinsed leaves to a large measuring bowl and when it reaches something near 5 cups, transfer these into a food processor along with everything else: the toasted nuts, the (peeled) garlic, a small drizzle of olive oil, some salt, and a bit of lemon juice.

Step Three

Pulse this mixture repeatedly, scraping down the sides as necessary, until you have a good pesto consistency. “Chunky” isn’t what you’re going for, but if you end up with a pesto smoothie, you’ve pulsed one too many times.

It’s that easy. Less than 10 minutes to an amazing pasta sauce. The lemon juice helps this pesto retain its flavor and color for up to a week in the fridge. What to do with your new pesto?

  • Toss with warm pasta and a dash of hot sauce
  • Serve with cold pasta, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes for an epic pasta salad
  • Spread onto crackers or fresh veggies for a snack
  • Make a pesto soup
  • Bake some homemade pizza dough and use pesto as the sauce
  • Make a pesto risotto




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    • Yes, me too! I just planted my basil seedlings and they’re only 1/2 inch tall at this point… it’ll be a few months before they’re ready for pesto 🙂

  1. Looks good! I love pesto. Never did like pine nuts but I have found that lightly toasting any nuts you add first really gives a flavor boost. Mostly I have used dry roasted cashews. Also, I usually add some nutritional yeast (instead of the traditional parmesan). But your looks darn good as is!

    Always joked w/ a friend that pesto recipe always calls for “garlic in vermifuge amounts”. That will really tell you who your real friends are after you eat some.

    • Thanks, Geoffrey! I’ve thought of try adding nutritional yeast to give pesto that parmesan-like flavor… I’m glad to hear it works!Yes, there’s no such thing as too much garlic 😉

  2. Pesto hummus!!! Use pesto instead of tahini, use any beans you chose… it is amazing!

    I also have used pesto as the sauce for a pizza & the result is also quite wonderful.

  3. I’ve actually made an amazing arugula pesto – you must give it another try! Just arugula, walnuts, garlic, hemp oil, nutritional yeast, and S&P. Dipped with veggies and also mixed into pasta – my coworkers loved it 🙂

    • Haha, I was kind of joking, I just love the flavor of basil and garlic, but I’m sure there’s some awesome pestos out there with other greens 😉

  4. Merlin’s beard!! This stuff is delicious! Yum yum yum. I’m eating a big bowl of this pesto with some pasta right now and I gotta tell you I resent having to put down my fork in order to type but I had to let you know you’ve done it again with another fantastic recipe. Whew, what a long sentence.

    Thank you Andrew! I eagerly await overabundant basil season.

    • This is the best comment ever, Sabine! Thank you for taking the time to write it – I’m so glad you enjoyed the pesto!! 🙂

  5. Pesto soup?!

    Also, this sounds like the best pesto recipe ever. I love how simple it is. I can’t wait to try it.

  6. Oh my goodness! Where has this been all my life? I’m going vegan for 21 days and this recipe is a must-do.

    Thank you!

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Dorcas! I hope my recipes can help on your challenge – good luck! 🙂

  7. OMG! This is the best! I’ve made this twice now and still love it. My mom and my husband’s family loved this as a spread on Mother’s Day and my husband and I enjoyed it as a pasta sauce. This is so versatile; thank you so much for posting!

  8. This looks yummy, I’m going to try this week as I recently found out I’m dairy intolerant so this is a great alternative! I’m live in the UK, what is a ‘cup’ in grams? Xx

    • You can’t convert cups to grams. The cups here are volume measurements, 1 cup is 8 oz is 236 ml or so.

  9. A question about pesto in general: can you substitute Italian basil with Thai basil? Would that taste weird? Thanks.

    • Yes that might be kind of weird, haha 🙂 I think it would work fine, and it might even be a cool flavor, but it would definitely be a little different.

  10. I made this last night and it was a huge hit for both me and the guy who wasn’t sure if he likes pesto! It was perfect with fettucini and topped with some warmed chickpeas and fresh garden tomatoes! I subbed pumpkin seeds for some of the sunflower seeds. Thanks!

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