Parsley and pumpkin seed pesto

Parsley and pumpkin seed pesto

River Cottage Every Day
6–8 tablespoons
Simon Wheeler

Traditionally, pesto is tossed with hot pasta or spooned on to classic Italian minestrone, but I’m much more likely to use it as part of my lunchtime repertoire. I love to add it to sandwiches made with cold roast meat, tomatoes and crisp salad leaves. In fact, if I’ve got some really good, fresh white bread, I’m happy to anoint it with a generous slick of pesto and nothing else. It’s also very good as a dressing for lunchbox salads. You could even take some to work to augment hot soup or a plain baked potato from the office canteen.

Classic pesto is, of course, made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan and olive oil – and lovely it is too, especially if you’ve grown the basil yourself and harvested it minutes before blitzing. But the basic notion of pesto – a nutty seed (or seedy nut) pulverised with herbs, hard cheese and richly flavoured oil, is ripe for experimentation and customisation. At River Cottage we’ve had a lot of fun, and a lot of success, inventing pesto variations.

Parsley is my favourite pesto herb, since it is so abundant and easy to grow. They will keep in the fridge for several days, or longer if the surface of the pesto is covered with a thin layer of oil.


Quantity Ingredient
75g pumpkin seeds
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
large bunch parsley (about 50g), leaves only
150-200ml rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil
50g parmesan or matured hard goat’s cheese, finely grated
1/2 lemon, juiced
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


  1. Put the pumpkin seeds and garlic in a food processor or blender and pulse until the seeds are in coarse grains. Add the parsley leaves and pulse briefly until finely chopped and blended with the seeds. Then, with the machine running, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream until you have a fairly thick, nicely grainy paste.
  2. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. Stir in the cheese, thin with a little more oil if you want, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice.


  • Parsley and walnut pesto

    Make as above, but with 75g lightly toasted walnuts instead of the pumpkin seeds.

    Basil and pumpkin seed pesto

    Simply replace the parsley with basil (or include both herbs).

    Parsley, walnut and blue cheese pesto

    Make as above, but use 75g lightly toasted walnuts instead of pumpkin seeds, and replace the suggested cheese with Dorset Blue Vinny, Harbourne Blue, Beenleigh Blue or another crumbly blue.

Use these pestos in the following ways:

  • • along with shreds of cold chicken, pork or beef and a few lettuce leaves.

    • Combine in a sandwich with some of the broad bean hummus.

    • Spread thinly over a flatbread or tortilla and top with crumbled goat’s cheese or thickly spread soft cheese. Add a little leftover ham or cooked bacon, if you have some, then finish with a few peppery salad leaves and roll up into a neat parcel.

    • Toss with cooked white beans, such as cannellini (tinned or cooked at home from scratch), plus diced tomatoes and some cold cooked potatoes to make a substantial lunchbox salad.

    • Mix with leftover peas and/or leeks, then combine roughly with some torn buffalo mozzarella and pack into a pitta bread.

    • Cook 350–400g pasta shapes, drain and toss with one quantity of pesto while still hot. Leave to cool. Use this as the base for various portable salads, by adding cheese, cubes of ham or chicken, flakes of sardine, mackerel or cold leftover fish, roughly chopped hardboiled egg, cooked pulses, or chopped cold roasted vegetables.

    • Use a heaped tablespoon of pesto to replace the parsley and Parmesan in the onion frittata.

    • Pesto thinned down with a little extra oil and lemon juice makes a good dressing for any of the slaws, or the tabula kisir.

    • To make pesto bread, slice a ciabatta or French stick diagonally at 3–4cm intervals, without cutting right through to the base. Spread any pesto thickly between the slices and trickle with a little oil. Place on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake in an oven preheated to 190°C for 10 minutes, removing the foil for the last 3–4 minutes. Especially good for summer barbecues, and to serve with soups.
River Cottage
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
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