Summer Recipe for Nut-Free Pesto

November 17, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
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Visiting the Cinque Terre during a culinary vacation in Liguria, Italy.
Summer has not officially started at our house – that doesn’t happen until next week, when school is out. But the weather sure feels like summer, and the produce is definitely making us think of the wonderful flavors that summer has to offer. One of the first signs of summer in our family is the reappearance of pesto as part of our weekly meals. My boys are not big fans of anything green, but they both love pesto! We have it on pasta, on pizza, on sandwiches—and yes, I count it as part of their vegetable allowance for the day!

Learn to make pesto in Liguria!

Basil Pesto The basil is definitely growing in our garden already, although I don’t yet have enough to harvest for a batch of pesto, so I still have to supplement with store-bought basil. Of course, the Ligurians think that you can only really make pesto with Genovese basil, which has smaller leaves and a more pronounced flavor than the varieties you will commonly find in the U.S. Genovese basil seeds are easy to find, however, so you can order them and grow it yourself!

Most people think that pine nuts (or more rarely walnuts or almonds) are a main ingredient in pesto, and frankly, that makes it hard to pack in lunches, as my kids go to a nut-free school. But the fact is, Ligurian pesto is often made without nuts. Throw a few handfuls of basil in the food processor with some garlic and olive oil, them mix it with cheese – it makes for a wonderfully smooth, herbal dressing to any meal!

Book our Pesto, Pasta, and the Cinque Terre culinary tour.

Making Pesto This recipe is from one of our favorite cooking vacations in Liguria. If you can find Sardinian “pecorino” (sheep’s milk cheese), use it, but Pecorino Romano is usually easier to find.

Spaghetti con Pesto alla Genovese

Serves: 4 to 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes (depending on type of pasta)
Cook method: boil


  • 3 large bunches of basil, cleaned and large stems removed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt to taste
  • a handful of Parmesean
  • a handful of Pecorino Romano
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil (or more, as necessary)
  • 1 package spaghetti (or other pasta)

Instructions:Spaghetti with Pesto

  1. Crush all the ingredients with a mortar and pestle, or process in a food processor. The amount of oil you use will vary, but you want a thick but not oily consistency.
  2. The cheese you use will determine the amount of salt. Pecorino cheese in particular can be very salty, so you’ll have to taste the pesto to make sure you don’t use too much.
  3. You can toss it on any pasta. A classic preparation is with spaghetti, but I used it with cheese tortellini for the end-of-year school potluck this weekend, and it was a bit hit. It’s also good as a condiment for sandwiches and soups, or try it for a new take on potato salad – or even on eggs!

View of one of the villages of the Cinque Terre visited on a cooking vacation in ItalyHow do you like your pesto? With or without nuts? Extra garlicky?

Check. out other pasta recipes:

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