Chemist in the Kitchen

August 4, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Spicy Walnut Pesto

Spicy Walnut Pesto

My recent trip to Italy has come and gone, but my craving for Italian food has only intensified. Just yesterday I ate my weight in pasta, pizza, and patisserie, so I had to bring Italy to my kitchen. But of course, in my own way, with spicy walnut pesto.

What is Pesto?

The etymology of the word pesto is from the Italian word pestare which means to pound or to crush. This makes sense, as pesto has traditionally been made using a mortar and pestle to crush the ingredients together. Authentic pesto is comprised of some basic ingredients: fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and quality olive oil. Pesto is an emulsion (a mixture of one liquid into another that does not usually mix, such as oil and water). An emulsion is created between the hydrophilic or “water loving” ingredients of basil and garlic and the hydrophobic or “water repelling” ingredients of nuts, cheese, and olive oil. When blended properly by slowly drizzling the olive oil while mixing, we create the delicious emulsion known as pesto.

How Can I Use Pesto?

Although widely known as an excellent sauce for pasta, pesto can be used in many ways. Use pesto instead of tomato sauce on pizza, or brush onto warm, crusty bread for a great bruschetta appetizer. It can be added to sandwiches for a fresh, herby addition. You can serve it with proteins such as chicken, beef, or fish, or use as a dip for fresh veggies. That is what I love most about pesto, how easy and versatile it can be!

What’s Different About CITK’s Spicy Walnut Pesto?

In my version, I sub out some basil for fresh oregano and parsley to create a more complex, herbaceous flavor. This recipe uses walnuts instead of pine nuts because I love the earthy flavor that walnuts contribute without compromising the smoothness of the pesto. Toasting the walnuts in the oven gives an additional layer of flavor complexity as well. I also add jalapeno for a little kick without overwhelming the pesto’s delicious, herby flavor profile.

How Do I Store Pesto?

Store pesto with a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent oxidation from air exposure. For long term storage, freeze in an ice cube tray and defrost as needed, though I recommend using fresh for maximum flavor. If you’re like me, you might not even have to worry about leftovers… it’s so yummy and addictive that I just can’t put it down!

With love,


Spicy Walnut Pesto

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Category: Pesto

Cuisine: Italian

Yield: 1.5 cups

spicy walnut pesto

Spicy Walnut Pesto


  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 2/3 cup raw walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 large or 3 medium garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper (can be adjusted more or less to taste)
  • 3/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Place walnuts on a sheet pan in a single, even layer and roast until fragrant and has a good crisp bite to it, approximately 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool.
  2. In a food processor or a blender, combine cooled walnuts, parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, jalapeno, crushed red pepper, and salt. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides of the food processor or blender with a rubber spatula, until well combined.
  3. Add the basil, oregano, and parsley and pulse several times, again scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula, until well combined and an even consistency.
  4. While the food processor or blender is running, add the olive oil in a slow, consistent stream to emulsify the pesto. Adjust salt to taste.
  5. Serve immediately or store in fridge or freezer according to notes.


If not serving immediately, store in a jar with a thin layer of olive oil on top for up to one week. Can also be frozen in an ice cube tray for up to six months.
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