Cheap Eats — Pesto

by Katy on July 31, 2009 · 8 comments


The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

I may be in a time warp, because I am freshly in love with pesto. I know that the rest of the world went pesto-crazy 10+ years ago. But here I am in 2009 trying to figure out how to work this magical green paste into everything I cook.

My sister Sara was over at the house all day prepping the backyard for a brick patio. She was doing some pretty serious manual labor and working up an appetite. I wanted to make a nice lunch for everyone. Here’s the thing though:

Sara is a vegan.

I had already made her a nice burrito the evening before with beans, peppers and onions. All seared in a cast-iron skillet. Yum. This is my vegan-for-Sara standby, and I’d served it way too recently to offer it up again.

I happened to notice a big basil plant, ($4) I had impulse purchased at Trader Joe’s last week and began to hatch a plan.

I had some pecans in the freezer that my mother had brought home from a trip to Texas. I know pesto is supposed to have pine nuts, but my cooking style is all about figuring out substitutions. How bad could it be?

So I threw a big handful of pecans into the food processor. (The frozen nuts were satisfyingly loud.)  I then added a handful of basil, and four cloves of garlic, olive oil, plus salt and pepper.

Wowie-Zowie, this stuff was good, really good!

I served it over spiral pasta, with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top and everyone scarfed it down.

The confluence of cheap, healthy, easy to make food that is actually enjoyed by the 11, 13 and 44-year-olds in my house is a depressingly rare. My sons can be picky, but in completely opposite ways.

Unfortunately, Sara’s boyfriend was craving burritos, so they missed out on our fabulous lunch.

Sad for them, delicious for us.

This cost this meal was: noodles, ($1) basil, ($1) garlic, (10 cents) olive oil (maybe 50 cents) and the pecans (free!). Plus, I have enough pesto leftover for a few more meals.

Cheap food does not have to be unhealthy and flavorless. So I will say this only once, Non-Consumers:

Stay away from the ramen!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Julius July 31, 2009 at 1:18 am

Well, shopbought pesto often uses pecans as a cheaper substitute for pine nuts, so you’re not far off the mark with that…

I’m now wondering what you could throw in as a vegan substitute for the parmesan (or pecorino) that pesto is also supposed to contain.


Angela July 31, 2009 at 4:01 pm

I made pesto recently for the first time in over 10 years, after receiving a giant head of stemmed basil in our CSA. It was delicious. I do also add parmesan cheese, but I like a mixture of pine nuts and walnuts. It’s good to know a lot of different types of nuts will work!

Pesto is delicious as a sandwich spread in place of mayonnaise. I also like it just by itself on bread or toast.


Kristin @ klingtocash July 31, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I made a pesto the other day (no nuts), spread it on french bread and baked it. It was so good. I love fresh basil. I missed my farmers market this week because of a doctor’s appointment and I was so sad. I got a big bunch of basil last week for $1 and I used it all.


Karen July 31, 2009 at 10:46 pm

You can use walnuts, almonds, pecans, pine nuts, macadamias, any nut you like, so pesto is great in that it is so adaptable: the perfect frugal sauce! You can use cilantro instead of basil. I like to make one of cilantro, lime rind, pecans, oil, fresh pepper and a pinch of salt. I’ve also substituted parsley in place of basil in the classic pesto recipe, sometimes adding a couple tablespoons of sundried tomato . If you have a tablespoon or so of pesto left, use it as a flavoring in a vinaigrette.


Cheryl August 1, 2009 at 6:16 am

If you have any basil left, roll the leaves (widthwise) and slice them into very fine slices. (Called a ‘chiffonade’, I think).Throw this on top of ordinary spaghetti and you’ve got Gourmet Spaghetti! So good!


Mary Anne August 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm

A large enough recipe for leftovers actually need much more than your handful of basil leaves. Try 2 cups, packed. Any nut will work but you must use extreme caution around those with tree nut allergies. I have been using the same pack of basil seeds for 3 years, I got them free in the mail $0.00)… they still grow year after year….


Kristin August 3, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Eeek….I will admit here that I spent $4.59 on a very small (maybe 8-12 oz) container of basil pesto at the grocery store last week!

Thanks for all the great pesto ideas…I already have the olive oil, nuts and parmeggiano-reggiano on hand….now I need to get a big bunch of fresh basil! And plant some in a pot so I have it on hand all the time.


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