make pesto out of [almost] anything

Leftover greens in your fridge? Have some stale nuts in the back of your cupboard? You’re halfway towards a versatile sauce and dip.

Core ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup nuts of your choice (almonds, pine nuts, pecans, walnuts)

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp minced garlic

2 cups greens of your choice (basil, or see below for details)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Sprinkling of shredded parmesan cheese


Optional ingredients:

Fresh or dried herbs of your choice (basil, oregano, thyme, choose one)


  1. Add olive oil and nuts to a food processor.
  2. Add greens, cheese, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Process on high until creamy.
  4. Taste. If lacking in flavor or color, add more greens. If flavor is present but subdued, add salt.
  5. If pesto is too thick, add olive oil. If too thin, add more greens.
  6. Scoop out of food processor and serve with bread, crackers, pasta, or carb of your choice.


(1) add oil and nuts (2) add everything else (3) evaluate flavor and color. if it looks like this, add greens.


The good stuff:

Seriously, make pesto out of any nut and any green.

Traditional pesto is made of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan, and olive oil. These native ingredients of Italy aren’t always so accessible to the modern US city dweller, and let’s be honest, no one wants to drop the money required for a bag of pine nuts.

If stellar lumens don’t work out, my vote is pine nuts for our next currency.

Lucky for us, the texture of any nut will substitute well for pine nuts. Almonds are possibly my favorite, but walnuts can add a nice sweet flavor as well. If peanuts are all you have, they’ll probably do, but their flavor can sometimes overwhelm the dish.

Once you’ve found an appropriate nut in the back of your cupboard, grab any green you have left over. I find myself frequently tossing about-to-expire greens like kale or spinach in the freezer only to later make a great pesto out of them. If you aren’t using basil, you may want to complement your greens with some dried herbs, but pick one and don’t overdo it. The garlic, salt, and lime juice will bring out the natural flavor of whatever green you decide to use. Here are some of my favorites:

Salad greens (kale, spinach, arugula)

Most any salad green that isn’t iceberg lettuce works great as a base in pesto. With more flavorful greens like arugula, you can skip the dried herbs that you would add for greens like spinach.


Fennel Fronds

You know those fuzzy green strands on the top of fennel? They’re wonderful in pesto. They have an anise-like taste that complements well with the savory ingredients. Plus, it’s a great way to use an ingredient that most people throw away. Some stores unfortunately chop the majority of fronds off of their fennel, and pulling them off of the celery-like stems does take time, but it’s all worth it.

You won’t get 2 cups of fennel fronds from a fennel, so it’s best to combine them with a salad green or basil.


Basil Plant

The classic pesto ingredient. Every once in a while after months of spinach pesto, I’ll cave and go buy a basil plant. Sometimes I’ll nurture it for a few weeks to make it grow, but most often than not, I’ll consume the entire plant in a single batch of pesto. The plant rarely recovers, but the dish is always spot on.

Pro tip: avoid giving your basil plant a cute baby name if you’re going to use it all at once.


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