Eat for Eight Bucks: Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recipe

Robin Bellinger

Shopping List

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds: $0.60 1 bunch basil: $1.00
3 ounces Parmesan: $3.00 1 pound pasta: $2.00 3 tomatoes: $2.00

Pantry items: Garlic, salt, peppercorns, olive oil, butter.

Total cost (for 4 portions): $8.60

Because I fell for home cooking at about the same time I fell for a guy with a serious nut allergy, pesto has never been one of my summer staples. Sure, I heard you could leave out the pine nuts or swap in something else, but since I had never been wild for the green sauce anyway I put basil to work in salads and on pizzas instead.

Last week I finally got around to whipping up some pesto with pumpkin seeds, playing the part of pine nuts, and now I am smitten. I've tossed it with cold whole wheat couscous, twice I've stirred it into pasta, and I've eaten it by the spoonful while the baby begged for her fair share.

Since my mortar is far too small to handle these quantities, I am happily using a food processor. This recipe will generously coat a pound of fettucine or spaghetti; I like to add a tablespoon or two of butter and a half cup of the pasta cooking water while I toss everything together. With plain sliced tomatoes, pasta with pesto becomes a simple but filling celebration of summer, even for those among us who are never without epi-pens.

Pumpkin Seed Pesto

-enough for 1 pound pasta-
Adapted from Chez Panisse Pizza, Pasta, and Calzone

Recipe Details

Eat for Eight Bucks: Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recipe

Prep 20 mins
Cook 0 mins
Total 20 mins


  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, depending on size, age, and your preference
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 or 6 black peppercorns
  • 2 cups basil leaves, roughly chopped and loosely packed
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Lightly toast the pumpkin seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking every now and then. Toast until they become fragrant or begin popping--just a few minutes.

  2. In the meantime, put the garlic, salt, and peppercorns into a mortar and pound to a paste. (I have been using 4 smallish cloves of juicy young garlic with mouthwateringly pungent results.)

  3. Put the toasted pumpkin seeds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are about the size of large breadcrumbs. Add the basil and the garlic-salt puree; pulse until the mixture looks evenly combined, but stop well short of a puree. Drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil evenly over the contents of the food processor and pulse to combine again.

  4. Scrape the pesto into a medium bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Taste for salt and pepper and add more oil, if necessary, to achieve your desired taste and texture.