How to Make Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Give your pesto a new twist by using pumpkin seeds.

I’m something of a pesto geek. I regularly make classic sweet basil pesto, garlic scape pesto and cilantro pesto. Right before frost, I’ve been known to enter a basil pesto frenzy, whipping up 30-plus cups of the stuff, which I carefully stash in the freezer for winter feasting and holiday gifts. I even have a box in the pantry labeled “pesto containers.” To me, pesto is more than a sauce, it’s an art.

Fresh Basil With Pesto

Pumpkin Seed Pesto With Basil

Turn late season basil into tasty pesto that includes pumpkin seeds from fall jack o’lanterns.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

This year, confronted with an abundance of pumpkin seeds (thanks to using homegrown pumpkin for holiday pies), I decided to blend basil with pumpkin seeds to create a true autumn harvest dish. The results are nothing less than yummy — and a great option for folks with nut allergies.


Ingredients for Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Ingredients for Making Basil Pesto

Use these ingredients to make basil pesto with pumpkin seeds (clockwise from upper left): parmesan cheese, fresh ground pepper, EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), fresh basil, pumpkin seeds, garlic, romano cheese.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
  • ½ cup dry roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, peeled (use 2 large cloves of German Extra Hardy hardneck garlic, and up to 4 cloves of smaller Red Grain/Standard Purple Stripe garlic)
  • 2 tablespoons grated romano cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground pepper (one good grind per batch)
  • up to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • optional: 1 very small handful of walnuts (or your favorite nut) to taste


Pumpkin Seeds and Basil in Food Processor Bowl

Adding Pumpkin Seeds to Food Processor

To make basil pesto, add ingredients to a food processor bowl. Pulse until fully combined.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Place the basil leaves, pumpkin seeds, garlic, cheeses and pepper into a food processor bowl fitted with a chopping blade. (Add nuts if using.) Pulse until materials are chopped and combined. With the motor running, slowly pour in olive oil. Process until ingredients are nicely combined. Scrape bowl sides once or more during the mixing if ingredients seem to be skirting the blade.

You can also make this pesto in a blender. Start with smaller amounts of material, gradually adding more as materials chop and reduce.

This recipe yields roughly one cup of pumpkin seed pesto. How to use it? If you can stop eating it as you make it, try tossing pesto with couscous or quinoa, spreading it on pizza crust as a base topping and blending it into frittatas. We also love it with fresh green beans. Of course, pesto sings as a classic bruschetta topping or pasta sauce. This recipe easily sauces one pound of pasta.

Prep Tips

Grind Pumpkin Seeds to Pulverize Shells

Whole and Ground Pumpkin Seeds

Grind pumpkin seeds in a coffee grinder to break up shells and create pesto free of pumpkin seed chunks.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

  • Pulverize seeds. On my first batch of pumpkin seed pesto, I occasionally encountered a chunky piece of seed, which was slightly odd to bite into. For subsequent batches, I tossed seeds into a coffee grinder and pulsed on medium grind until seed coats broke down. Including the seed coats brings maximum nutrition to this dish.
  • Think outside the pumpkin. Don’t limit yourself to strictly pumpkin seeds. Any winter squash — including acorn, butternut, delicata, spaghetti, turban, Marina di Chioggia and all the rest of that wonderful winter squash family — offer seeds that work well in pesto. The only caveat is that the larger the seed, the more likely you’ll need to ditch the seed coat. If you’re unsure, give the seed a nibble. If the coat is too hard for you to chew, shell seeds before adding to pesto. You can also whip this up using pepitas, the meaty insides of pumpkin seeds sold at the grocery store. My choice is fresh seeds because we grow and eat a lot of winter squashes.
  • Dry roast seeds. To roast pumpkin seeds, heat in a skillet over medium heat until seeds start to pop. Or try roasting in a low oven (200° F) for 60 minutes. Spread seeds in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet for best results.
  • Use whatever basil you have. Traditional wisdom says to use basil that has not flowered, because leaf flavor changes once flower buds form. Flavor does change, but I find late-season basil that’s flowered offers a refreshing sharpness that blends beautifully with romano cheese. If you prefer a sweeter pesto, avoid using leaves after flowering.
  • Choose your cheese. All kinds of cheese work in pesto, so pick your favorite and substitute at will. Good choices include parmesan, asiago, romano, aged gouda, cheddar and manchego.
  • To salt or not to salt? I don’t add salt to my pesto because the cheeses are already salty enough for our palates. If you crave more salt, add a pinch or two before a final whir in the processor.
  • Add oil slowly. I start with 1/4 cup EVOO and add just enough to keep the batch moist. Keeping pesto on the dry side reduces the volume for freezing. As you thaw each pesto batch, add EVOO as needed, whisking it into the pesto until it reaches the ideal consistency for whatever dish you’re preparing.
  • Save some for a wintry day. Freeze pesto in ice cube trays for a quick fresh-from-the-garden pick-me-up when making winter pasta sauces and soups. Store frozen cubes in a double-freezer zipper bag to avoid flavoring other items in the freezer. For gift giving or larger portion sizes (such as for eating with a spoon during a snowstorm), freeze in half-cup containers with tight-fitting lids.

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