Pecan pesto sauce

A traditional Italian pesto from Genoa contains pine nuts so in a way, this is a charlatans version of a much beloved Italian sauce. My recipe, through misadventure, contains pecans. The pecan derives from a species of the hickory tree, a deciduous tree native to Mexico and parts of southern USA. It is technically not a nut but a ‘drupe’ which is actually a fruit containing a single stone or pit and an outer husk. Pecans are high in monounsaturated fats and are buttery, rich and sweet.

It was another overtly hot Sydney day and we were on the verge of ‘hanger’. My kitchen possessed the majority of the requisite pesto ingredients. A massive bunch of basil that needed to be used, a wedge of Parmesan cheese, garlic, a bottle of olive oil but not a darned pine nut in sight. My kingdom for a pine nut! All that could be found were two big bags of pecans doing time in my pantry. (A pretty darned tough place to hang out, well, so all the other nuts out on parole tell me). In the past, walnuts, coriander and mint have been tossed into pesto sauces whereas pecans have been used for granolas and sweet baked goodies. Popping them into my pesto felt strangely wrong.

However, wilting and weakened and in the spirit of the Deep South from whence the pecan originated, I declared in my best southern accent, that I just didn’t give a damn. (In other words, there would be no running to the shops in a last minute manner.) Pecans were thrown in and all was well. We stirred the pesto through pasta and it was herbaceous, nutty, vibrant and just the ticket for a quick simple meal.


1 big bunch basil (this was 3 cups of basil leaves, I know because I picked them, packed them and I measured them, so there.)
1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pick the basil leaves and wash and dry them.
Add the basil, pecans, Parmesan and garlic to a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Slowly add the oil whilst the blender is going until all the ingredients are well combined.
Taste then season with salt and pepper to your liking.
This sauce is delicious when stirred through pasta, liven up a veggie soup and dollop a blob on top or serve alongside grilled and roasted meats or tofu.
Leftover sauce can be stored in a jar in the fridge for a few days, cover the top with olive oil to stop it spoiling.

A Cheergerm Recipe

30 thoughts on “Pecan pesto sauce

  1. Like you I’ve used walnuts in pesto before (think I actually prefer them to pine nuts) but would never have thought of pecans! Glad you were able to set yours free. Scarlet would be proud of that quick thinking in the southern swelter.

    • Thanks Mel. Walnuts are really nice in pesto hey? And these pecans turned out really well too, always glad to free a nut or two. Would love to have made Scarlet even prouder and thrown in ‘as God is my witness, I will never be hungry again.’ But I couldn’t quite do it….

  2. I’ve made pesto with macadamias before, and I imagine the flavour profile would have been a bit similar, rich and buttery. I love the sound of the pecan one, but I actually have macas in the cupboard…. Glad to see you don’t buy into the whole mythology that chopped basil doesn’t taste the same unless you use a mezzaluna to mince it 🙂

  3. My problem with homemade pesto is that it turns brown–any way to avoid that? I can keep the color by blanching the leaves but then they lose some flavor. Love the pecan idea–and macadamias, oooooh.

    • It doesn’t last really long in the fridge but I find if I cover it with oil, it preserves it. It’s always greener on the day it is made though and certainly not as green by the next day. I have read that blanching does slow down the oxidising process but you lose a bit of flavour. I try and make sure the basil or herbs are very dry and work fast. My pesto is never as green as the herb was at the beginning though but it tastes good. I think the fresher the herb the better.

  4. All manner of nuts have found their way into my pestos Cheery and I have to say I can barely discern the difference. Last week it was walnuts which worked well, I’ll give pecans a whirl (pardon the pun) next.

  5. Good to use what’s on hand. When those nuts are hanging there in limbo, chuck them in. The purists would say there is a discernible difference, but who cares. Nuts go off and need to be used. Hardly the time to be making Pecan Pie in the middle of summer.

  6. This is so lovely and versatile! When I’ve used pecans in the past, I sometimes also include cilantro for a Southwestern take on pesto. It’s just fun to change things up!!!

  7. Interesting that you use pecans, so says the skeptic. I’ve used walnuts and almonds (the latter common in Sicily) and both are good. Pecans have a very distinctive taste, so how tasty was it with the basil? Could you still taste the pecans? I agree, macadamias might be a good choice – something to try.

    • I really like pecans so I enjoyed the taste of the two combined and found them quite complementary. However, if you weren’t a massive fan of the pecan then it may not work. I haven’t used almonds before either so will have to give that a go too. (Macadamias would also be good and maybe with coriander for a more tropical style pesto?)

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