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.
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 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
- *Optional– Lemon 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)
- 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
- 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.