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Winter Pesto

Winter Pesto

In the midst of winter many people regret not having had the foresight to freeze batches of pesto when fresh basil was in season; others self-indulgently used up their supply much faster than they expected. In either case, here is a recipe that will satisfy pesto addicts anywhere, and can be made in any season.

See all spinach recipes.


Note: This pesto keeps well refrigerated for 2 weeks with a tablespoon of oil poured on the surface to prevent dryness. For freezing, omit the cheese and butter and freeze in an airtight container. Thoroughly defrost before using, and add the cheese and butter after it is defrosted.


  • 3 Cups tightly packed fresh spinach, stemmed
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1/4 Cup walnuts (optional)
  • 1/2 Cup olive oil
  • 2/3 Cups grated Parmesan
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 Teaspoon salt

I’m in a big pesto place right now. I guess some people might feel like pesto is a kind of “yesterday” food, but I have never been too much into food-is-fashion, and it’s just so amazing and versatile.

I do love it on pasta, but I also love to stir a spoonful into rice, maybe this Scallion Tomato Rice, or soup, or to dot some on hot pizza, or use it on a crostini.

And I always make my pesto myself myself because:

1) it’s easy, and 2) I’m allergic to nuts.


Basil Pesto, also called Pesto Genovese, is a flavorful sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese. There are several variations of basil pesto, sometimes I like to add crushed red pepper to make it a little spicy.

There are plenty of store bought pesto sauces on the market but once you make it at home, nothing else will ever compare.

How do you make fresh Basil Pesto?

Fresh Basil Pesto from scratch is so easy to make. Place all the ingredients, basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and cheese in a food processor or blender and process until finely chopped and a loose sauce begins to form. I like to leave it a little chunkier so it doesn’t form a paste but other recipes process until a paste begins to form.

How do you freeze fresh Basil Pesto?

Making big batches of Homemade Basil Pesto and freezing it is one of my favorite things to do with it. It’s a great way to meal prep your way through the winter months.

To freeze your pesto, fill up the wells of ice cube trays and place in the freezer. Freeze until firm, then pop the frozen sauce out of the tray. Place the Basil Pesto Sauce cubes into a freezer bag and store in the freezer until ready to use.

To thaw, simply place in a saucepan over low heat and thaw, stirring occasionally or heat in the microwave until thawed.

How To Make It From Scratch

With these simple tips, you can make the Best Basil Pesto in just 5 minutes:

  • To maximize the flavor of your pesto, toast the pine nuts for a few minutes (be sure not to burn them) until golden. This step makes them a bit more buttery than raw pine nuts.
  • Lemon….I know it’s not traditional but I like the bright, fresh flavor lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice give the pesto….and it helps keep the green color vibrant by preventing oxidation.
  • Process in batches….I do half the ingredients in the food processor and process until very finely chopped….almost paste like, THEN I add the remaining ingredients to the processor and pulse so there are larger pieces of ingredients thought out the sauce. Bigger pieces means BIGGER flavor!

I love to use the Basil Pesto sauce in soooo many recipes like this super easy Caprese Tortellini Salad and this AHHHMAZING Grilled Chicken recipe. It’s so totally easy and extra cheesy….a big hit with the kids!

It’s also fantastic as a sandwich spread like in this Chicken Cutlet Sandwich or these super simple Meatball Sliders….both great recipes for game day!

Want to see what else we have NOT growing in our garden…..check us out on Instagram!

Related Video

I've done a similar pesto with coriander but it's def not "authentic". If you tell an Italian about making pesto with herbs other than basil they'll shudder. It's a good alternative though. I had parsley in the freezer. Basil doesn't keep well frozen. I used pecorino instead of parmesan.

Looks like a tasty recipe! I made winter pesto crostinis with kale, spinach and parsley that came out awesome. Here is a link to the recipe:

This dish was delicious as written. I used fresh herbs rather than dried ones, and substituted farfalle (bow-tie) pasta for the linguine. Next time I will add some halved cherry tomatoes.

Yummy. I shouldn't have added so much olive oil to cover it for leftover-safekeeping, but that's just a matter of experience. Buy good Italian bread to sop up the extra pesto. Oh, I almost forgot -- I didn't have the entire amount suggested of pine nuts, so I toasted and added pecans and walnuts -- also yummy.

Winter Pesto - Recipes

1. Bring two quarts water to a simmer in a medium pot you will be using this to poach the chicken strips.

2. Lightly coat a medium skillet with olive oil cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the cinnamon, paprika, red pepper flakes, basil leaves, and onion. Cook until the onion has softened, about two minutes. Add the escarole and cook until it has wilted and softened, another two minutes. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, about five minutes.

3. Add a pinch of salt to the now-simmering water. Turn off the heat and add the chicken and stir so that all the strips are separated. Cook just until the strips have turned white they will be half-cooked. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the strips to a plate to cool.

4. Check the escarole mixture: You want to cook it until most of the stock has evaporated and it looks like thick soup or sauce, then turn off the heat. Stir in half the cheese and season with salt to taste. Add the chicken strips, toss them to coat with the mixture, and continue to cook until the chicken strips have cooked through, about 90 seconds. Spoon the mixture onto four plates, dividing it equally top with the remaining cheese and serve.

Winter Pesto - Recipes

I fell in love with pesto during my first trip backpacking through Europe. The first stop hubby and I made in Italy was the Cinque Terre, which the locals will tell you is the birthplace of pesto.

We arrived around 5 p.m. and we were famished. Little did we know, almost every single restaurant was closed until 7 p.m. (Italians eat very late dinners!). Finally, we happened upon a small store with their doors open and asked if we could order food. They said yes! I’m sure hubby did a happy dance while I tried to avoid looking like an American tourist…you would totally understand if you knew us.

After perusing their menu, we decided to ask what we should order, being that everything on the menu made little sense to us. They immediately pointed to their gnocchi pesto. We said sure!

You know that face you make when food is so good you have to close your eyes and stop chewing to allow yourself the enjoyment of every component of flavor and texture?

My first bite went something like that.

From that day on I was hooked on homemade pesto. Now, it’s one of those foods I can’t buy in a jar anymore. It must be homemade! Once I tasted the difference, there was no going back. Although the blog is new, are you beginning to notice that my favorite cuisines are inspired by the Mediterranean (like this Homemade Mushroom Ravioli with Butternut Squash and these Twice-Baked Greek Potatoes)?

Growing my own basil during summer months makes it so easy for me to prepare delicious pesto. However, when winter rolls around I’m in a pickle because my basil plants die as soon as the first frost hits. As you probably know, it is impossible to grow basil during the winter unless you have the funds for a greenhouse (which we don’t). Basil is also really expensive when store-bought and they package it in such small amounts that you would have to spend a fortune to get the amount needed for pesto.

That is when I discovered any green can work in place of basil. For this winter pesto recipe, kale greens are the star. Kale is a tough little plant, refusing to die just because of a little snow. It’s one of the only few plants that can withstand the frost. Thus, they are the perfect green for this winter pesto. Walnuts, in my opinion, are the perfect complement for kale greens so I used them in place of pine nuts. As far as the Parmesan cheese, you can use any hard cheese really (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Asiago). Or you can just leave it out if you follow a vegan diet. It’s totally up to you.

I use this Ninja Professional Blender instead of a food processor to make pesto and I always get great results because it is such a powerful machine. I love it because it can be used for so many other things such as smoothies, frappes, sauces, salad dressings, and pureeing soups.

You can toss this pesto with pasta, gnocchi, roasted/grilled/steamed vegetables, or mix it into a grain salad. The possibilities are endless! FYI: stay tuned for the next recipe, which will transform this winter pesto into a tasty entree.

My favorite social media is instagram and if you make one of my recipes, feel free to tag me so I can see! Thanks guys!

Recipe Summary

  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups lightly packed basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed baby arugula
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (see Note)
  • 1 teaspoon minced rosemary
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine Himalayan pink salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 pound chanterelle or black trumpet mushrooms, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Fine Himalayan pink salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 Thai bird chile, minced
  • One 8-ounce head of radicchio&mdashhalved, cored and cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey, preferably liquid raw (see Note)
  • Buckwheat Flatbreads or rye crackers, for serving (see Note)

Make the pesto Preheat the oven to 375°. Spread the hazelnuts in a pie plate and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then rub them together in a kitchen towel to remove the skins. Leave the oven on.

In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts with the basil, arugula, sage, nutritional yeast, rosemary, vinegar and lemon juice until a coarse puree forms. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Make the toppings On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the mushrooms with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and browned. Stir in the chile.

Meanwhile, arrange the radicchio on a rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the honey until smooth. Drizzle over the radicchio and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes, until the radicchio is wilted and browned in spots.

Spread the pesto on the buckwheat flatbreads and top with the radicchio and mushrooms. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and serve.

Winter Pesto Pasta with Italian Sausage

Winter pesto? I know.. it sounds like the most crazy thing.

It most definitely was not the plan.

I was envisioning the creation of a nice BASIL pesto, tossing it with some chicken wings annnnd.. PRESTO, healthy quick dinner option. Sounds delicious right? Yeah.. I thought so too.

And then… No basil. No chicken wings. Grocery Store FAIL.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of grocery shopping with small children, let me enlighten you… it’s unpleasant excruciating. Seriously.. who is the inventor of the “race-cart?” You know, the giant double wide monstrosity that takes the strength of 5 full grown women to push in an actual straight line. If by some miracle you have the strength of “The Hulk” AND children that are actually willing to keep their arms, legs, and heads in the vehicle, there is still the remaining issue of not 1, but 2 working horns. Excruciating.

WOW..who knew I had such deep seeded issues with grocery carts?

No basil. No chicken. NO WAY I was going to a second grocery store.

And so my friends, Winter (as in NOT made with basil because you CANNOT find it and if you do it costs $1,00,000) Pesto Pasta with Sausage (because HOW IN THE WORLD DOES A GROCERY STORE RUN OUT OF CHICKEN?) was created.

And can I be completely honest with you.. I’m not even one bit sorry about it.

The star of this recipe is definitely unexpected.. Kale.

Yep.. I said it. As if making pesto WITHOUT basil wasn’t enough.. I replaced it with a cliche superfood. WHHAAA?? Is anybody even still reading?

Trust me, nobody was less enamored with the idea of kale pesto than me. 30 minutes in the kitchen preparing a sub par meal that nobody was going to even touch, because KALE.

You guys.. they ate it. Every. Last. Bite.

I can’t say no whining, because I like to keep it real.. and let’s face it, pesto is REALLY REALLY green (which freaks kids out).

But… this creamy concoction of parmesan, pine nuts (or walnuts because maybe you think $800 is too much to spend on nuts), olive oil, garlic, cilantro, parsley, kale and a squeeze of lemon juice will not disappoint. Toss the pesto with some whole wheat pasta and top with a golden medallions of crispy Italian sausage and it’s seriously delicious (and not in a .. it’s not so bad considering the grocery store was out of basil type way).

Bottom line, make this winter pesto AND put it on all the things that you adore. You’re welcome.

Time Saving Tips and Tricks:

Prep: You can make the pesto ahead of time. Just store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator with a tiny bit of olive oil drizzled over the top. You could also have the noodles pre-cooked and ready to go. Store them in the fridge in an airtight container. When you are ready to use them, drizzle them with a bit of warm water or chicken broth and warm over medium-low heat on the stove.

Make Ahead: This dish dries out a bit after being refrigerated. If you do want to eat the leftovers (and you should) just add a little bit of olive oil or chicken stock, stir, and then heat.

Freezer: Pesto is ideal for the freezer. You can use ice trays to freeze it in individual portions or just store it in a freezer safe mason jar. Top the pesto with a bit of olive oil to keep it from oxidizing (turning ugly brown), place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface, and screw on the lid (if using a mason jar).

Winter Pesto

Pesto is a versatile sauce. It is perfect on pasta and pizza or for dipping vegetables and other snacks. This pesto uses hearty winter greens like kale and chard, as well as carrot tops, in addition to herbs. Carrots at our farmers market often come with tops attached, and we cook with them instead of throwing them away. However, if you don’t have carrot tops, the recipe will still turn out great.

Younger chefs can tear greens with their hands, while more experienced chefs can practice their knife skills. All ages will enjoy using a blender to watch the ingredients transform!

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 2 to 4

1 bunch winter greens (examples: kale, chard)
1 bunch carrot tops, leafy parts only (optional)
1 bunch parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup raw nuts (example: almonds)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or your preferred sweetener
¾ cup mild oil (example: olive oil, grapeseed)
Salt and pepper to taste

Food processor or blender
Cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons

1. Wash your hands with soap and water. Thoroughly rinse all fruits and vegetables.

2. Rip out the stems from the winter greens, keeping the leafy, soft parts. Rip the soft parts into small, bite-sized pieces. If using carrot tops, rip the leaves off the stems. Use only the leaves. Do the same for the parsley: rip the leaves from the stems.

3. Add the winter greens, carrot tops, parsley, cheese, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, and honey to the food processor and pulse for five one-second intervals. Scrape down sides with a spatula and repeat pulses.

4. Turn on the food processor and begin to slowly pour the oil into the mixture. Allow to blend until smooth.

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Leftovers will keep in the fridge in a sealed container for a few days. The pesto may turn brown on the top from oxidation (being exposed to air), but that’s normal.

Winter Pesto

• 1/2 cup chopped nuts
• 3 cups kale or other winter greens
• 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Roasted jalapeno pepper, to taste (optional)

You can go old-school and use a mortar and pestle, but feel free to use a food processor instead. Add everything to the bowl of the machine and puree until smooth add more oil for consistency and season to taste with salt.

Pesto can be used right away or kept in the fridge for three days. Alternatively, you can freeze it for up to three months.