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How to Make Pesto Your Way

Pesto is a fantastic condiment to have on hand and is incredibly versatile. But how easy is it to make at home versus buying it at the store? Spoiler alert: so easy! Let’s talk about pesto fundamentals and how to customize based on what you might already have on hand.

The basics of traditional pesto involves fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Romano or Parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil and pepper.

It is incredible versatile and can be used as a flavoring agent for just about anything! Add it to pasta, use it as a pizza sauce, marinade chicken with it, turn it into a sauce for power bowls… we’re just scratching the surface.

You might be wondering if it’s that basic, why not just buy it premade from the store?

The benefit of making pesto from scratch is that you can put your own twist on it. Anything made fresh is usually going to taste better than what’s coming out of a jar anyways.

Let’s break down the pesto fundamentals to explore the many varieties that can be created.

Basil leaves. This is what gives pesto a lot of its flavor and bright green hue. For a traditional Italian flavor, I recommend sticking with the basil leaves, plus a super green add in. Torn spinach and kale can be added to the mix to boost the vibrant color and sneak in some leafy greens. If you wanted to waiver from the traditional taste, play around with other herbs! Oregano (a little bit goes a long way), cilantro and parsley would all work well here.

Pine nuts. These little guys add richness to pesto and a dose of healthy fats. But don’t think that pine nuts are the only way to create a delicious pesto. Any nut or seed high in healthy fats will work wonders. Experiment with other varieties, such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds.

Try this: Super Simple Kale Walnut Pesto

Garlic. This ingredient is a staple and in my opinion, not one to be messed with unless you are sensitive to garlic.

Romano/Parmesan cheese. It is entirely possible to make a pesto that is dairy-free by omitting the cheese altogether. The cheese takes on more of a supporting role, so don’t worry about depriving the pesto of its rich flavor if you go this route. Instead of cheese, try nutritional yeast! It is a dairy-free alternative that lends a nutty flavor, and provides additional protein and significant amounts of B vitamins to the mix.

Try this: Nut Free Pesto (made with sunflower seeds)

Olive oil. This is another staple that I wouldn’t leave out. If you wanted to give it a creative spin, try an infused olive oil that compliments the other pesto flavors.

Additional flavors. Although not part of the original formula, there are additional ways to kick your homemade pesto up a notch. If you like a little spice, sprinkle in some crushed red pepper flakes, or add a hint of freshness with citrus zest.

What flavor combinations would you try?


Carly Paige, health coach and cooking instructor, believes that healthy doesn’t have to be hard. Her mission is to show you simple swaps in and out of the kitchen to elevate your everyday that will transform your health. Carly is the author of Simply Swapped Everyday, a healthy guide and cookbook with over 75 plant-powered recipes and founder of FitLiving Eats – a place where she shares nutritious recipes and how-to guides.

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