Sauces and Seasonings

Healthy Walnut Pesto

Bowl of homemade walnut pesto with walnuts, fresh basil, and parmesan cheese in the background

There are few things better than homemade pesto. Made with fresh, high quality ingredients, the simplest dish can be elevated with a spoonful of pesto. I’m giving this green condiment an extra nutrition boost with heart-healthy walnuts in place of the traditional pine nuts.

I was never much of a pesto person growing up. Sure, I had pesto here and there, but it was usually the jarred stuff. In fact it wasn’t until college when I met Bry that I finally got what the hype was about this green sauce.

During college, Bry took the opportunity to study abroad in Rome for a summer term. And along with some beautiful earrings, he also brought back a love of homemade pesto.

While fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil, and pine nuts aren’t the cheapest things for college kids to buy, it was worth the splurge each time we made it.

Jump forward five years and we found ourselves on our honeymoon in the Cinque Terre – the birthplace of pesto. We’d sit at a vineyard, a glass of wine in hand and enjoying pesto made from ingredients that were all grown onsite. Life was so good.

While I don’t expect anyone to be making their own olive oil or Romano cheese, I do strongly encourage you to buy top quality ingredients for this pesto. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but the richness in flavor is worth it.

What You’ll Need

  • Freshly grated Romano cheese
  • Walnuts, unsalted
  • Fresh basil
  • Garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Water (trust me)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Okay, so water may seem strange, but in my quest to lighten up this pesto just a smidge, I needed to reduce the olive oil. However, the result was a super thick paste. To thin it out, I tried adding a little water and was pleasantly surprised that the flavors didn’t get muddled or watered down.

The recipe as-written still makes a thicker pesto, perfect for spreading on bruschetta or stirring into hot pasta, but if you want your pesto a little thinner, you can either add a little more water or oil, depending on your preference.

Why Walnuts?

Over the years I’ve experimented with subbing in different types of nuts for the pine nuts. While I have nothing against using pine nuts, I’ve found other nuts to be both cheaper and easier to find.

Walnuts in particular are packed full with heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids, so the nutrition nerd in me couldn’t help but love the idea of making an ultimate Mediterranean diet pesto by using both walnuts and olive oil.

While I’m often lazy and just use raw walnuts to make this pesto, there is a slight bitterness that goes away if you use roasted walnuts instead.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Get all your ingredients measured out and ready to use.

2. Place basil, garlic, cheese, walnuts, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of water and salt in a food processor. Pulse until basil is fully chopped and ingredients are starting to combine.

3. With the food processor running on low, slowly pour olive oil into the food processor until well-combined.

Once the oil is fully incorporated, scrape down the sides, taste and adjust as needed. If you want a thinner pesto, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.

Spoon pesto into a sealable container and keep stored in the fridge for up to a week. You’ll know pesto has gone bad when it turns brown and has a rancid taste. Pesto also freezes really well!  

Are you a pesto traditionalist? Or do you like to play around with the ingredients? I’d love to hear your go-to recipes in the comments below! And be sure to Pin this recipe before you go!

Heart Healthy Walnut Pesto

Made with quality ingredients, this traditional pesto gets a heart-healthy spin with walnuts in place of pine nuts.
Prep Time10 mins
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Keyword: Heart-Healthy, Homemade Pesto
Servings: 8
Calories: 88kcal
Author: Kelli


  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves tightly packed
  • ¼ cup walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
  • teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


  • Place basil, walnuts, garlic, cheese, salt, lemon juice and water in a food processor. Pulse until basil is chopped small and ingredients are fully combined.
  • Place processor on low and slowly drizzle in olive oil. Continue mixing until fully combined.
  • Scrape down the sides, taste and adjust as needed. If you want a thinner pesto, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • Transfer pesto to a sealable container and store in fridge for up to one week.


Nutrition for ⅛ of recipe (about 1 tablespoon): 88 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated, 4 g monounsaturated, and 2 g polyunsaturated), 2 g carb, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 2 g protein

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