Tonight's Dinner: Pea pesto over gnocchi

May 16, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. ET

When people think of pesto, basil and walnuts often come to mind, but what if you substitute peas for the basil and sunflower seeds for the walnuts? A sweet and allergy-free pesto is born.

I've always been a big fan of pesto sauce. It's just a nice light alternative to the standard marinara or bolognese. Unfortunately, since one of the main ingredients is either pine nuts or walnuts, I've never made it at home because my husband's allergic to any and all nuts. So, of course, that means all nuts have been excised from the house. (Well, all save for my stash of peanut butter. I mean, a girl has to have something to satisfy those late night cravings.)

Anyway, a friend of mine recently told me about a recipe she saw for pea pesto. While it still called for pine nuts, the main ingredient was peas instead of basil. My whole family loves peas, so I thought I'd whip some up, then I was faced with the same dilema I'm always faced with: find a substitute for the nuts or cut them out altogether. Well, if you've had pesto, you know the tablespoon or two of nuts adds a delightful earthy flavor that gives the sauce that extra special something. Leave the nuts out and it's still okay, but there's definitely something lacking.

So I decided to add some sunflower seeds to the mix instead of pine nuts. Yes, they have a different flavor, but still provide the earthiness necessary for a really good pesto. The result wasn't only delicious, it also meant my husband could enjoy dinner with us without having his EpiPen® nearby. So, if you have someone in your house who's allergic to nuts, but loves pesto as much as I do, try substituting sunflower seeds. Both you and your allergic family member with be thrilled with the outcome.

Pea Pesto Over Gnocchi


  • 2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, separated
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup spinach leaves
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound gnocchi


  1. Cook peas in boiling water for 3 minutes, or until heated through; drain well.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat; add peas and garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes.
  3. Place peas, garlic, spinach, basil, sunflower seeds, and cheese in food processor and pulse until coarse; add 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and blend until smooth and thick. If you'd like the sauce a little looser, add more oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pesto has reached desired consistency.
  4. Meanwhile, cook gnocchi according to directions on package; drain and divide among 4 plates. Ladle pesto over gnocchi and serve.

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