Poor Man’s Pesto Sauce (No Pine Nuts)

Poor Man's Pesto Sauce
Posted On: June 17, 2015
Last updated: November 1st, 2023

I’ve loved pesto sauce since my first taste.  I’m pretty sure it was just store bought pesto in a jar though.  I have also learned just in the last year that all 3 of my kids love it too.  I can put my homemade pesto on just about anything and my boys will chow down.  The biggest bummer about buying jar pesto sauce is the cost, but I do understand why it costs a bit.  Those pine nuts, basil and Parmesan really add up when you’re trying to make a homemade batch of this great green sauce.

Why it’s the “Poor Man’s” Pesto

I’ve made pesto a bit over the last few years, but I’ve always cringed at paying the price for bulk pine nuts and of course you need to add in the cost of a large bundle of basil and Parmesan cheese.  The last couple times I made pesto I had a huge amount of basil from my husband’s garden so I decided to experiment with new ingredients to make a cheaper alternative. 

I replaced expensive pine nuts with sunflower seed kernals.  The only reason I tried them was because these little kernals have a similar shape and look to pine nuts, and it was my husband’s idea.  They’re about a third of the cost and they’re a great source of magnesium, vitamin E and other vitamins, check it out here.

My next replacement was the Parmesan cheese for Asiago cheese.  I credit this replacement with my Costco discovery of their Asiago cheese block.  I love the stuff! It’s has a similar sharp nutty taste like Parmesan, but about half the cost.

Garden Greens

My last money saving option for Poor Man’s pesto is not a replacement, just an option; home grown basil.  My husband is the gardener in our family and he always grows basil for us and it grows like a weed, so that’s the cheapest way to get tons for fragrant basil for cooking.  It’s such a pleasure getting fresh herbs and some veggies from right outside our back door and what a great cost and health saving measure.  Basil grows very well in the summer and it’s the best way to enjoy this super-economical green sauce. 

How to Use the Basil Pesto

This pesto is fabulous on pasta dishes, chicken, use it as a sandwich spread and even on roasted potatoes.  Pesto is such a versatile delicious sauce you can try on all sorts of foods, but it’s way less expensive to make on your own.  If you can’t use up all the pesto you made, freeze the extra in ice cube trays and you’ll have fabulous pesto dishes through the winter months.   

poor mans pesto in white bowl, some on a silver spoon with white grey napkin n background with a basil plant behind it.

Poor Man’s Pesto Ingredients

  • Fresh basil– Basil is the star of this sauce, so you really need to use fresh leaves.
  • Sunflower seeds– I use unsalted roasted sunflower kernals that you can find in most grocery stores. If you can not find unsalted, just be sure to use less salt in the pesto.
  • Asiago cheese– This is a great alternative to parmesan with a similar nutty flavor to parmesan. If you have parmesan, then by all means you can use it.
  • Garlic– I recommend fresh garlic cloves for this. You can mince them or crush them, they will be processed anyway.
  • Salt– I like to use sea salt here.
  • Black pepper– fresh ground black pepper, fine or coarse is fine.
  • Extra virgin olive oil– I like to use the best olive oil, the kind you would use in salad dressing, so I usually have organic extra virgin on hand
  • *OptionalLemon juice. Just a drizzle to give it just a slight amount of acidity is nice, but not necessary. 

Another Secret Alternative

Short on Basil?  Add in some fresh baby spinach to replace what you’re lacking in basil. It’s a thing and it won’t mess with the look of your pesto which is great.

Try this pesto anywhere you might want to add that great green goodness to your dish.  Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Poor Man's Pesto Sauce (No Pine Nuts)

Makes about 1 1/4 cups of Pesto Sauce. You can adjust the olive oil amount based on your thickness desire or once you make a dish requiring pesto, you can add a little cream, oil or maybe pasta water to thin out your sauce.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Condiment/Sauce
Cuisine Italian
Servings 10
Calories 155 kcal


  • 2.5 oz. fresh basil (About 1 1/2 cups stuffed) stems removed
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seed kernels lightly toasted (unsalted if you can find it)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese tightly packed (you can of course use Parmesan if you prefer)
  • 2 garlic cloves roughly chopped or smashed
  • 1/2 tsp ground sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil adjust to your liking for consistency
  • Optional: a drizzle of lemon juice


  • Add all ingredients except olive oil to food processor (my preference) or blender.
  • Give the ingredients a few pulses to start breaking up everything.
  • Slowly pulse in olive oil about a Tbsp at a time till all oil is in and continue pulsing to desired consistency.
  • You can adjust the consistency here with more oil if needed, taste and adjust salt and pepper also to your liking.
  • Enjoy immediately or chill in fridge.  The longer it sits in the fridge, the better the flavors will meld.


Use immediately or store in fridge 3 days or freeze extra in ice cube trays or small baggies for future use.[br]To use in cooking from frozen, place frozen unopened baggie in cool water for a while to start thawing or warm a frozen cube in microwave for just a few seconds at a time.[br]For pasta, mix thawed pesto into warm cooked pasta, add a little extra oil, cooked pasta water, milk or cream if wanting a creamier taste.

Nutrition Disclaimer:

The nutritional information provided is only an estimate based on a third party nutritional plugin. Different online calculators may give different results depending on their own sources. The estimates may also change based on the ingredients you use. If you have dietary restrictions and need to accurately calculate the nutrition of this recipe, Whole Made Living recommends consulting a professional nutritionist.


Serving: 2TbspCalories: 155kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 3gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 221mgPotassium: 83mgFiber: 1gSugar: 0.2gVitamin A: 414IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 78mgIron: 1mg
Keyword basil, budget friendly, gluten free, green sauce, low carb, pasta, pesto, sauce, vegetarian
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


  • This pesto looks so good! My first try was some frozen pesto at one of those sample stations at the grocery store, I was hooked! I love the idea of subbing the sunflower seed kernals. I’ll have to try it with the asiago cheese…..but I love the taste of fresh parmesan.

    You have a lovely site and adorable young ones! Best of luck to you!

  • What great ideas! Have a good crop of basil growing so will have to try it! Your photo’s are lovely!

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