Vegan Basil Walnut Pesto

Herbs in the window

One a hot September day when you drive around town in your car with the broken air-conditioning, your shirt sticking to you and the sun beating down beautiful and hard, it’s nice to come back to your kitchen, pull herbs from your windowsill, nuts from the cabinet, and assemble something fresh and simple to eat.

Basil and walnuts
A fistful of fresh tomatoes

That’s what I did today. I returned to the kitchen not just after a morning out working, but also after, for the most part, four days away from it altogether. After four days of no appetite and lots of fruit and lots of juice, I came back to one of the most normal things in my routine, one that always feels so strange to be away from—I came back to make something to eat.Vegan walnut pesto

I’ve noticed in my life, and I wonder if it’s true in yours, that when I’ve been away from food for a little while, whether because of fasting or because of traveling or because of illness or because of something else, the things I want most are simple things. There’s as much joy in an apple, sliced thinly on a plate, as there would be, on other days, in an elaborate four-course meal. I’m as thankful for some small-batch pesto, whipped up during lunch, as I was the week before for a three-layer cake. Going without something makes you see its value. Going without something simplifies what you think you need.

Tomatoes and vegan pesto

So today, I found great joy in two red tomatoes from our farmer, sliced onto two of our vintage wedding plates, topped by a quick pesto, a few breadcrumbs and balsamic. I got to assemble the meal, I got to want to eat it and then I got to take it, bite by bite, and bring it to my lips.

Tomato slice with vegan walnut pesto

Vegan Basil Walnut Pesto
Makes one cup of pesto

The first question everyone asks about pesto is if you have to use a food processor. The answer is no! The food processor is the easiest option, but there are others. You could mix all these ingredients just as easily in a high-powered blender, for example. Or take a page from more traditional cultures, and use a large mortar and pestle (but wow, that would be more work!). I will say, however, that we use our food processor all the time.

1 cup walnuts
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup high-quality olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves of garlic, grated
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and blend until smooth. Taste, and adjust to tastes: If you think it needs more salt, add some. If you want a little more kick, you could add more garlic or more red pepper flakes. And if you want the sauce to be thinner, add more olive oil.

Suggested serving idea: Slice a few fresh summer tomatoes onto a plate and drizzle or spread pesto on top of them. Finish with a slight drizzle of balsamic vinegar and maybe some breadcrumbs.

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home,, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

12 thoughts on “Vegan Basil Walnut Pesto”

  1. Yes to all of this! I always find that the food I crave is the most simple whether it’s a bowl of pasta with a basic tomato sauce or a regular old chocolate chip cookie. There’s a place in the world for fancy food but there’s really nothing better than classic flavours, done well.

    • Right? Tim and I dined out at an amazing restaurant recently, one featured everywhere including big food magazines, and we got an appetizer that as SO SIMPLE I couldn’t believe it, and it was delicious and lovely and something anybody could make at home. Made me think!

  2. Lovely post! I loved the shot of this dish you had on Instagram and was hoping you’d share about it. 🙂 I am just getting over being sick for about a week, and totally agree about craving the simplest foods. My dinner last night was simply 1/2 and avocado with lemon and salt, and I couldn’t have been happier!

    • Aw, Marie, right there with you. Being sick is such a bummer! Glad you’re eating, even just a half an avocado, again — the simple things are such good things!

  3. I often feel the same way when even when I’m not away from food, but when I’ve been in the kitchen out of necessity compared to being in the kitchen for pleasure–you know? But I do agree that it’s often making something simple that brings me back to that place of intention where I am able to recapture the joy and the sense of calm I find in the kitchen. Pesto is one of those amazing simple things.

    • Yes, I totally get that. There’s such pleasure in getting to stop and think and savor what you’re doing, cooking and otherwise. Well said.

  4. Yes to simple things like pesto! You’re right, sometimes a break from all the elaborate stuff in life makes us realize that we can really survive on very basic, fundamental things. It’s reminds me of the poem “I wish you enough” by Bob Perks. Ah, life if good if we have enough. xoxo, F.

    • It’s true, Felicia. And true beyond just food. I find after I’m sick I’m so much more easily content with a life of work, food and sleep. Everything else feels like details. I like that perspective.

  5. I have the same food processor and I just love mine, too! It’s so funny how I never thought I really needed a food processor until I received one as a gift a few years ago and now I can’t imagine not having one in my kitchen toolbox.

  6. Pesto is simple but so extraordinary at the same time. I just adore it, usually have one or two different types in the fridge at all times. Tonight I had pasta with sundried tomato pesto. Fresh herbs are the best!


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