Alternative Pestos From The Garden

My husband has been making pesto using fresh greens in combination with basil. This year our basil crop just didn’t produce the volume that we anticipated. It has been a very wet and strange growing season here in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Pesto is delicious but it can be really expensive to buy at the grocery store. Early in the year, I was buying it in jars through the mail and I have to say that if a jar gets busted in the mail, it can create a big mess and mess up whatever else is shipped in the same box.

Our favorite pesto from the store is Simply Pesto but at nearly $7 for a jar, it is not affordable for putting back even if the jar is good sized. We usually just buy the Mezzetta brand which is about half the cost. Pesto is traditionally made with olive oil but some of the less expensive brands use a blend of oils or just sunflower oil. This is just something to be aware of when buying it online or in the store.

This article highlights how you can make pesto using some alternative ingredients. For example, you can use walnuts rather than the more expensive and harder to find pine nuts. A 2 lb bag of chopped walnuts is under $15 whereas you will often pay at least $25 per lb for pine nuts.

Rainbow Chard
Rainbow Chard, green onions, basil, parmesan cheese, chopped walnuts, and olive oil make a great pesto. Pizza seasoning and some salt were added in too.

For the pesto, Matt used kitchen scissors and snipped up the greens and onions. The walnuts came to us chopped but the pieces were still big enough that he put them in the coffee grinder for a few pulses. All of this was added to the mortar and pestle. He used enough olive oil to get a typical pesto consistency and added some pizza seasoning and parmesan cheese.

It is nice to have a mortar and pestle that has a lid that attaches to prevent overflow and splatters. Sorry that I cannot provide exact measurements for each ingredient. When making garden pestos with whatever you have on hand at the time, it is easiest to just taste a little as you go.

We bought a medium-sized stainless steel mortar and pestle for the kitchen because they are durable and easy to clean compared to some traditional materials like marble and volcanic rock. If a metal mortar in pestle interests you, here is the link to the one we bought. You get two plastic lids with it too which is nice.

Alternative Pesto Ingredients

Here are some lists of ingredients that can be used in pesto to supplement or replace the traditional ingredients you find in grocery store pestos and traditional basil based recipes.

Greens and Herbs

  • Try different varieties of basil beyond the classic sweet Italian varieties
  • Mustard greens. Some people even use wild mustard greens.
  • Chard
  • Spinach
  • Green Onions
  • Garlic Scapes
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley


  • Sunflower
  • Grape
  • Olive
  • A blend of the oils listed above
  • Vegetable oil (Most oils labeled vegetable are really just soy oil FYI.)



  • Parmesan
  • Romano
  • Asiago
  • Blend of parmesan, romano, and asiago


Garden pastas are quick and easy to make with what you can get fresh from your garden patch.


Like many preppers, we have a decent supply of dry pasta. For garden pasta the vegetable spirals are tasty. I buy the Tinkyada vegetable spirals that are made from rice since I cannot eat traditional wheat products. I like Tinkyada because they maintain a good texture and they are affordable for people that cannot eat wheat products. They make a variety of rice pastas on dedicated equipment so they are a great choice for those that are very sensitive to wheat..

Garden Vegetable Pasta With Fresh Pesto

Cut up a few yellow crookneck squash and zucchini. Saute in olive oil for a few minutes. Add some cubed or diced chicken. Canned chicken will also do. Add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, pizza seasoning, etc.

Boil and drain pasta as directed. Add your fresh pesto to the pasta and mix. Top with the seasoned chicken and veggies. Add extra parmesan if desired.

This is a very versatile recipe. You can add in a variety of garden veggies and spice it however you want. The type of meat can vary too. Chicken is what I usually use because it complements the pesto so well but you could easily use turkey or pork and get a similar style of dish.

Preserving Pesto

Pesto can be frozen. We put some extra in freezer bags and that worked well. I have seen people put pesto in ice cube trays and then empty the cubes into freezer bags. This is an extra step but it might help when you are trying to portion it out for recipes or times when different numbers of people are dining. For example, you could just grab a cube or two to use on bread.

People do can pesto but there is a lot of debate about how safe it is. Currently, the FDA doesn’t recommend home canning pesto due to the risk of botulism. I am going to continue to just freeze ours. It is just so easy to do and there is basically no risk of food poisoning.