Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jul 9, 2007 10:41 AM

Nut alternative for spinach pesto

I would like to make a recipe I have for a spinach pesto (very tasty and healthy) for my young toddler boys. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup walnuts along with spinach, basil, garlic, tofu, Parmesean, and olive oil. I'd like to modify so the recipe does not have nuts... looking for suggestions as to if I should just make with out the nuts altogether, use soy nuts instead, or if there is some other alternative to the walnuts. Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Have you made the recipe as it stands? if so, what do you like about it, and would that quality be missing if you omitted the nuts? While the nuts provide some flavor, they also serve as a binder. The classic basil pesto uses pine nuts.

    How about bread or bread crumbs? The Spanish cousin to a pesto, romesco, often uses both bread and nuts (almonds and hazelnuts are perhaps most common in Spain), but I believe there are versions without the nuts. Other cultures have bread thickened sauces, both hot and cold.


    2 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      My mom always prepared a variation of the traditional pesto sauce for the dish called "Tallarin de albacas" (spaghetti with pesto). She never included nuts, and as far as I recall, it was always delicious!

      1. re: sandrina

        'Tallarin de albacas' sounds almost Spanish, except the usual Spanish word for basil is 'albahaca'.


    2. I have had pesto/pistou with no nuts at all. Just omit them.

      But I've never had it with spinach - the classic pesto/pistou is made with basil. And the classic is pine nuts, not walnuts, already a (cheaper) substitute.

      The classic recipe on the French side of the border is: Pour 4 personnes.
      4 gousses d'ail
      1 beau pied de basilic
      100 g de parmesan finement râpé
      10 cuillères d'huile d'olive

      Just garlic, basil, parmesan and olive oil. Obviously no tofu. I guess so much the better if you can sneak it in. I don't usually like tofu in "Western" recipes (love it in stir-fries and Asian soups).

      Soy nuts are much harder than walnuts or pine nuts. Are they allergic to pine nuts as well?

      3 Replies
      1. re: lagatta

        I actually really like this Spinach version of the traditional pesto for them (great way to get extra spinach in my little guys and in my husband and I). I've made a couple times as is but I've notice slight rashes on my boys faces (they are 2 yrs old) after they eat - I think it is more of a sensitivity (meaning they are too young and will outgrow it) versus a true allergy. So, we've decided to avoid nuts for the next 6 months and then try again but in the meantime, they liked this dish so I wanted to try it w/o nuts. I think I'll try w/o nuts, see if the texture is too "loose" - if so, I'll try paulj's suggestion of adding a little bread crumbs for binding.

        Just a quick side note... I know, I would normally never put tofu in my pesto but I got this recipe from a healthy cookbook and I think they've added that so you can use less olive oil. It is actually very tasty.

        Thanks for the replies... much appreciated.

        1. re: burbankfoodie

          yes, it is wonderful if you can get the little fellows eating lots of green vegetables!

        2. re: lagatta

          A bit off topic, but I almost always use pistachios in place of pinenuts for traditional (basil) pesto. I prefer the flavor, and they enhance the green color. Also, I sometimes use part spinach in basil pesto for a milder flavor.

        3. Spinach pesto is so good! I am allergic to tree nuts and peanuts, but have no problem with pine nuts, so I use those.

          Soy nuts would be gross.

          Maybe try dried garbanzo beans. or croutons?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Diana

            Yeah, many people who can't eat tree nuts and peanuts (groundnuts - actually a legume) can eat tree nuts, but you are probably better off omitting them for children and try later on. Obviously ask your paediatrician or paediatric nurse as well.

            Understand the tofu idea (must be soft, or silken, tofu) because authentic pesto is rather high in olive oil. You can also cut it simply using some of the hot water you are boiling the pasta in.

            No, soya nuts are hard little things, unlike soft tree nuts and walnuts. They would not work in this recipe, which must be unctuous.

          2. roasted pumpkin seeds in place of the walnuts is a delicious alternative but I've made pesto w/out nuts many times and like it equally.

            12 Replies
            1. re: HillJ

              that is a wonderful suggestion, I recently subbed pepitas in a orzo salad that I regularly use pinon nuts. The pepitas did not change it too much, and was similar in texture.

              1. re: chef chicklet

                I vouch for the pumpkin seeds too. When I had my Southwestern restaurant, we made a cilantro-jalapeno pesto with them.

                1. re: bogie

                  Just wanted to follow up... made the spinach pesto using the recipe with the only change being I just omitted the nuts. Wound up being really tasty - actually a little more potent than normal. Toddler boys liked a lot (and didn't seem to notice the change at all). We do change up the recipe though by serving cold and adding chopped tomatoes and cheddar cheese - makes it more like a pesto pasta salad but makes it easier to get a couple more things in my little guys. Lagatta, you seem to be on the same page as me in terms of trying to feed my kids healthy - do you have any other great ideas (non-pesto just general menu ideas) for me to try? Thanks everyone for the tips... I have to say the raosted pumpkin seeds sound like a really tasty alternative to try when I have a little more time.

                  1. re: burbankfoodie

                    would you mind posting your recipe? I have an 18 month old with the exact same issue and i would love to try it.

                    Feeding my daughter healthily is a huge priority for me, and I enjoy the challenge, so I would love ideas as well. Today I made her a batch of muffins using pureed zucchini and carrots that went over very well. I always add some ground up flax seeds to the batter, which adds nutrition and a nice nutty depth. Yesterday I made "pizza" muffins with spinach, olive oil and buttermilk and they were quite good as well. do your kids have any favorites?

                    1. re: alex8alot

                      Oh my! I have an 18 month year old as well! I would so love to exchange
                      ideas and recipes with you if you are at all interested!
                      Yesterday, I made him a baby lasagne dish with tiny turkey meatballs, and baby lasagne noodles in a light marinara sauce with small cubed zuchinni and carrots. He loved it! But then so did my husband!
                      I focus on three meals a day for him, breakfast being ever so important and love to bring things along when we're out so we don't have to order from the usual unhealthy/fat laden and greasy childrens menu. He has no allergies as of yet, but want to inlcude any and all points of nutrition.

                      My email contact info is within my profile.

                      Ideally a board that would allow us to address and exchange food ideas fo small children would be pretty great. Or, even having seperate threads going for ideas would be so valuable..

                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        Add me to the list of people who want to join the healthy eating for small children thread/board!

                        1. re: KeriT

                          Add me to the list too. Although my little one is still on purees we will be moving into "real" food shortly.

                          1. re: italy531

                            Nuts, in moderation, are healthy.

                            Also, studies seem to indicate that kids who don't eat nuts with a certian regularity develop nut allergies later on.

                            1. re: Diana

                              Good to know since all my daughter ate for dinner was peanut butter, she refused any bread and ate if off the spoon.

                              1. re: Diana

                                However, this doesn't apply in a family wtih a strong history of allergies.

                                And there is nothing wrong wtih peanut butter off a spoon for dinner, or lunch for taht matter :) I suppose I will have to stop that before my daughter is old enough to call me on it.

                          2. re: chef chicklet

                            I doubt a board would be set up for chow spawn nutrition, but a thread sounds great! the baby lasagne sounds fantastic. How about you start the new thread and we'll all follow? lead the way!

                2. If I'm not mistaken, Marcella Hazan insists that classic pesto (basil pesto) recipes did not acquire pine nuts until the formulation came to this country. She gives a nut-containing recipe in her book, but I think she says firmly that the classic one is basil, cheese, and olive oil. If that's the case, I say you are on firm ground to simply drop the nuts when you make this pesto.