How I Made Homemade Basil Pesto for About $5!

Homemade pesto is such a rarity! Try out this recipe for spreadable basil pesto; you won’t believe we cut a few corners to save some money!

Basil pesto and I were not always on the best of terms.

When I was younger, my mum would make fresh pesto from the basil in the garden for polenta (corn grits). And although it added some color to the polenta, it never agreed with me. Maybe it was the strong basil flavor, or the pine nuts I found off-putting. I guess I’ll never know.

But when I was in my gourmet foods class, one of the recipes I had to try and make was basil pesto. This time, however, something was different and it was delicious! Today, I’m giving you the recipe I have formulated for making pesto.

A deconstructed pesto! Follow me on Instagram to see more pics like these!

The problem is, pesto is usually cheaper to buy pre-made than it is to make it yourself.

Yes, it is one of those rare foods. If you don’t have basil growing like crazy in your herb garden, basil at the store can be quite expensive. I found that buying a live plant was cheaper than buying a container of basil!

Pine nuts, good parmesan, and good olive oil can all run a high tab as well and thicker pestos like I have come to enjoy are not so easily found on supermarket shelves. But today, I want to make spreadable basil pesto affordable (and accessible) so that you can add it to your next… well, whatever!

These were eaten about 30 seconds after pictures were taken!

Spread it on slices of toasted bread for easy pesto crostinis. Put it on your polenta. Or, you can wait for next week’s recipe! I’m going to be building off of what I am making today to show you a quick and simple appetizer!

There are a couple of ingredients that are not worth cutting corners on for the sake of price.

The most important ingredient is olive oil.

It doesn’t have to be super expensive, but make sure your olive oil is at least extra virgin. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great in low or in this case, no heat cooking. But if you have a cheaper oil, you run the risk of you basil pesto being bitter. Since basil is so light and sweet, a bitter oil could destroy everything.

The other ingredient I’d rather not cut corners on is parmesan cheese.

Now, you can use shaky cheese (as I have called it all my life), but using freshly grated or even just refrigerated and grated cheese will have a huge flavor difference. However you want to make it is up to you!

Now we get to the fun part: cutting other rather expensive corners.

The first corner to cut is on the basil.

Sounds weird, right? But for this recipe, I subbed a cup of the basil for spinach. It sounds counterproductive, considering this is basil pesto. But you know what? It worked!

If you have the basil taking over your herb garden, however, this is not a corner that needs to be cut. Been there, done that, my friend. Sometimes, you just have no idea what to do with all that basil.

The one thing you cannot do, however, is use frozen basil instead of fresh. I tried it, and the basil had lost some of its flavors in the freezer. Frozen basil would be great for a marinara as a background flavor, but not when it is the star ingredient!

The second corner is those pesky pine nuts.

I went to two different grocery stores in order to find pine nuts. I bet the first one had it, but I just wasn’t looking in the right aisle.

Because when I went to the second grocery store, the pine nuts were in with the snacking nuts! I asked the store assistant, “Who’s snacking on these things??” (I didn’t get an answer on that, by the way.) Pine nuts were not made for snacking. But somehow, one selection of pine nuts sat there, nestled between almonds and cashews.

And it was a 4 oz. jar for $6.99.

This is madness! I mean, if you can afford it, congrats. Even though I could afford it, I just don’t see the point in it. A lot of people use walnuts in place of pine nuts, but I can’t eat them. Almonds are used on occasion as well, but those can get pricey too. So in the spirit of food blogging and test kitchen-ing, I set out to try something different.

I used sunflower seeds.

They are so cheap and easy to come by! Why not try them in a pesto? They still have that nutty flavor we are after.

And I will say… Sunflower seeds did the job quite well! My only reservation is if you get salted sunflower seeds, shake some of the salt off in a strainer first. Don’t try and rinse the salt off!! It makes the seeds bloaty.

So here is the price rundown!

When I itemized the ingredients by how much of each I used, this is the math that I have come up with…

Spinach: $0.37

Basil: $2.99 (basically ended up using the whole container)

Sunflower seeds: $0.19

Extra virgin olive oil:$0.83 (Aldi brand)

Parmesan cheese:$0.83 (Aldi brand)

TOTAL: $5.21 for a cup of spreadable basil pesto. And if you want it thinner, you’ll end up getting more pesto out of the deal! (though you would have to add the price of using more oil.)

And a couple facts you should know about my spreadable basil pesto before making it…

Firstly, pesto has a way of browning when it is exposed to air for too long. In my experience, this hasn’t affected the taste. But if you are using this recipe for a party, it is best to keep it covered with plastic wrap until you are ready to serve it to your guests!

Plastic wrapping should look something like this.

Secondly, this recipe can be made and served immediately. But I will say, when I tasted it the next day, all the flavors got to mix and mingle and it tasted even better! So if you are strapped for time, don’t worry. Your pesto will still taste good. But know it will taste even better tomorrow!

So after all of this info I have shared with you, what’s holding you back from making pesto? Most of these ingredients are foodstuffs we already have in our house, like shaky cheese and olive oil. The rest is a little blending for a little deliciousness that is, spreadable basil pesto!

Love pesto? Next week I have a cute appetizer that will use just that! Update: click here for that recipe!

Cheers dears!


Spreadable Basil Pesto

Make pesto affordable again! (And more spreadable, too!)

Yields: about 1 cup

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh basil
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more to taste)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, pulse dry ingredients a few times to break up solids.

While the food processor is on low, slowly pour in the olive oil. Allow food processor to run until the mixture is a slightly chunky but uniform paste. Drizzle in more oil if you want a thinner pesto.

Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator with plastic directly on top of the pesto until it is ready to be used.

  • Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
  • Cook time: n/a
  • Total time: 10-15 minutes

Founder and Writer for Food Drinks Life. Drop a line, say hi!