Weeknight Cooking

Feta, Pine Nut and Mint Pesto

July 11, 2011

Feta, Pine Nut & Mint Pesto

- Jenny

I will admit I am not exactly a snout-to-tail kind of gal -- my kids are not that adventurous and I am just not that skilled -- but I do fancy myself a stem-to-flower cook. This is largely because I am both cheap and nervous.  

Shop the Story

After realizing last year that there was a dearth of herbs at many of the farmers markets in D.C., I decided to take matters into my own hands this spring, and got to planting. This has yielded all the expected pleasures: Is there anything more divine than a salad fashioned from the cucumber and sorrel you just picked three minutes ago? And disappointments: Damn you cilantro and your sad little appearance, like an extra in J. J. Abrams film! But this has also made me covetous of every little leaf. 

I just cannot let anything go to waste, and have taken to gnawing on Thai basil straight from the pot (not bad, a little dirty) and freezing it too (will let you know how that turns out in February). With a two-week vacation looming, I simply could not stand to let my regular basil and mint go unused and possibly dry out in my absence. 

So the night before I left, I whipped up Raw Blood Orange Cucumber Composed Salad w/ Bulgarian Feta, Pine Nut & Mint Pesto by coffeefoodwritergirl. (I need to be clear that I did not make the salad, though I have no doubt given the ingredient list that it is delicious and a great accompaniment to this pesto.)

The great joy of pesto, of course, is that it takes approximately the length of one Beyoncé song to make. Before you know it, you’re dumping it over some perciatelli and serving it to your across-the-street neighbors who stopped by for a bite, one of whom may or may not be telling you that anthropology is a “step child discipline of the Enlightenment” but you’re not really sure because you were too busy dancing a little to listen carefully and besides all Washington dinner conversations are like this, so you’ll catch up next week. 

There are two revelations about this recipe: who knew feta could be used for pesto, and what a thrill to make it without garlic. I don’t know what Bulgarian feta is so I cannot proclaim if it is superior to the sort I had in my fridge, but let me tell you, it makes for a mighty fine sauce -- smooth and tangy. Don’t worry about measuring your herbs too terribly much, it will be good. Make sure your pine nuts are as fresh as possible -- the lingering taste of a rancid pine nut is a new addition to the growing list of why I need to clean out my pantry soon. 

The husband of the couple from across the street, who is not a fan of any cheese, pushed his pasta to the side in favor of a burger, and his wife, not missing a beat, grabbed the bowl and polished it off.  “I have to have this recipe immediately!” she said, moaning slightly. 


Makes about 1 cup


  • A handful of mint (a little under a cup)
  • A large handful of green basil (a very full cup)
  • a little under ½ cup pine nuts (raw if possible)
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from about one small lemon)
  • ¼ cup Bulgarian feta (or any feta will work)
  • your very best extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 turns coarse ground black pepper
  • Place all ingredients into food processor (or blender if you do not have). Drizzle a little olive oil in to moisten, then pulse a few times, and continue to drizzle olive oil in until reaches a smooth and fluid, but still very thick consistency. Check for salt and pepper and add more lemon juice if necessary; then blend on high until as smooth as possible. **Note: I also used this on pizza and it was AMAZING!!!


Enjoy Jenny? See the Tender Yellow Cake she baked last week -- a perfect pedestal for all your summer berries.

By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.

Jennifer Steinhauer


Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gato Madre
    Gato Madre
  • Marceline
  • ecoteri
  • perkobat
  • Panfusine

Written by: Jestei

The ratio of people to cake is too big.


Gato M. August 5, 2011
Madet he pesto tonight after eating a large portion of a batch my friend made last week. I made it to put on lamb burgers. Unbelievably delicious. Using leftovers for grilled chicken tomorrow. Regarding high cost of pine nuts, I purchase a sizeable bag at Costco and keep in the freezer. It's still pricey, but the best deal around for pine nuts.
Marceline July 18, 2011
pistachios sound yummy.
Not only are pine nuts expensive, the ones in bulk at Whole Foods typically come from China, though lately I've seen some from Spain. Melamine, any one?
Jestei July 19, 2011
this sounds interesting. maybe i will try pistachios. indeed i went to WF last night so i could make this again and saw a tiny bottle 9we are talking a few ounces) for $7 and nothing else. i left sad and empty handed.
ecoteri July 17, 2011
pine nuts are both prohibitively expensive (hello - over $9 for 100 Grams? Ouch). and they are also being pegged as questionable because some of the ones sold here are not really eatable - in fact, they take away your ability to taste for weeks.

So, any suggestions about what other nuts would work in this recipe? I am thinking almonds we make a wicked Almond and Arugula pesto (no cheese, even) or maybe hazelnuts (filberts)
Panfusine July 17, 2011
I used Pistachio in the same proportions, it was fabulous!
Marceline July 17, 2011
mmm - mint pesto always good, and feta is a good variation on the cheese part.
You should try the TP farmer's market on Sundays - there's always a vendor with nice herbs, or herb plants. It's where I get my sorrel when available.
perkobat July 17, 2011
Thank you for creating something without garlic! I can't eat garlic and have a hard time with other people's creative cookery and at restaurants. Non-garlic-eaters of the world unite!

Jestei July 19, 2011
oh i hope you enjoy!
Panfusine July 14, 2011
planned this for friday nights dinner, just picked up the pine nuts..
Jestei July 15, 2011
Okay I've cleared the books for Friday, see you chez vous! :)
Panfusine July 15, 2011
Absolutely welcome! As the sanskrit saying goes... 'Athithi devo bhava' (revere the guest as God!)
Panfusine July 15, 2011
"It really IS pesto".... so said my five year old in an absolute state of glee and delight that only kids possess, before proceeding to demolish 1/2 a dozen slices of peppercorn parmesan bread smeared thickly with this.. as we speak my 2 yr old is using the end of the loaf to scoop up & lick the pesto straight! (while I proudly clicked away!) I cheated slightly, substituted pistachio instead of the bad rancidy batch of pine nuts that I had picked up! and added pickled green peppercorns instead of black pepper. Pesto at home will never be the same again! Can't thank you enough for making my day!
em-i-lis July 12, 2011
I just made this and served it with grilled shrimp, grilled radicchio and toasted breadcrumbs. I found 1/4 c lemon to be too much so added a handful of sorrel leaves. Great meal. The pesto itself is beautiful! Yum.
Jestei July 14, 2011
So glad it worked. By the way I used the "juice of one small lemon" and did not measure it so I may well have used less than a 1/4 c.
mcs3000 July 11, 2011
Sounds so good, especially in the sandwich Amanda mentioned. Btw: enjoying your vacay tweets, Jenny.
Jestei July 14, 2011
thank you! if you have not visited sw utah i HIGHLY recommend it.
TXExpatInBKK July 11, 2011
It's wonderful to know I'm not the only cilantro challenged person out there! I bought a few plants recently because I thought it would be so much easier (and cheaper!) to grow my own but they wilted like I'd taken a blow drier to them and I had to admit defeat. This pesto sounds right up my alley.
Jestei July 14, 2011
i am starting a cilantro support group. thanks for joining!
EmilyC July 11, 2011
I couldn't stop thinking about this pesto all day. Served it over pasta tonight; it didn't disappoint. Cantaloupe, which I was feeding my 20-month old at the same time, happens to make a good side.
Jestei July 14, 2011
Oh that sounds divine!
SKK July 11, 2011
I love the title "Stems to Flowers" This would be a great contest theme!
fiveandspice July 11, 2011
Yes! I second that! The ChezSuzanne's Kid friendly theme too. Such great ideas.
Jestei July 14, 2011
yes good contest for the vegetarians here!
WeeklyGreens July 11, 2011
Have just realized

1. My silly comment posted twice. Oops. Sorry.
2. Both comments appeared right after those of Mollie Katzen! I am humbled.

Mollie, I love your books and all the important work you are doing! Keep it up and know that people out here are paying attention.
fiveandspice July 11, 2011
This would be delicious on a sandwich too! With grilled veggies or something of the sort.
Amanda H. July 11, 2011
I've been using the leftovers from our photo shoots for this! My kids' camp sandwiches have been this pesto, sliced cucumber and fennel salumi on pullman bread.
TheWimpyVegetarian July 11, 2011
This reminds me of a possible theme I would love to see for a contest some week: best kid's food or best healthy kids food. I never had children but now have 5 grandchildren through my husband, ages 3-7. It's a constant struggle for me to come up with meals they will enjoy beyond chicken tenders, Kraft mac 'n cheese, and hot dogs. I bet there are some fabulous ideas in this community like your pesto, sliced cucumber and fennel salumi sandwich!
WeeklyGreens July 11, 2011
I want to be Amanda's kid. And I want to go to camp, too.
WeeklyGreens July 11, 2011
ChezSuzanne, I just recently reorganized my website so it's easy to find the kid-friendly recipes in one place (shameless plug alert!!) Check it out:

I hope you find something your grandchildren like! I am adding to this list all the time. I am often surprised at what my own 5 and 2 year old will eat if only presented with the option...
TheWimpyVegetarian July 11, 2011
Thanks WeeklyGreens! They're all coming to visit us for a week at the end of July, so I'm definitely going to check out your site!!!
Fairmount_market July 11, 2011
ChezSuzanne, I second the kid friendly contest theme. Also, I recommend foods that kids can help make. My 8 year old daughter loves to roll out fresh pasta, and both the 8 and 3 year old love playing with pizza dough. Here are some of their pizza dough sculptures, pre-rising: http://fairmountmarket.blogspot.com/2010/09/pizza-play.html
Fairmount_market July 12, 2011
Also on the subject of kid friendly cooking, my kids love Mollie Katzen's Pretend Soup. The popover recipe is the best ever. And I think the first word my 3 year old learned to read is "EAT" which is the last instruction of each of the easy to follow recipes.
Jestei July 14, 2011
I am glad amanda came up with just such a sandwich!
alexwalkerdc July 11, 2011
I am also oppressed by my burgeoning herb garden. This will be a good use of all that mint. Now if I could just think of something besides pasta to put pesto on....(wish I were a fan of lamb, but I'm not)
Panfusine July 11, 2011
cooked basmati rice pairs wonderfully with pesto..
Jestei July 14, 2011
mrswheelbarrow suggested i make simple syrups with my herbs and freeze them.
TheRunawaySpoon July 11, 2011
I just posted a recipe for Squash Blossom Pesto. I love how simple it is to make, but how exciting it tastes and looks! http://bit.ly/pJNb5x
Jestei July 14, 2011
yum to squash blossoms.
WeeklyGreens July 11, 2011
Cilantro-challenged DCists unite! Glad to know I'm not alone and it's clear I need to start shopping for real estate on your block.
Jestei July 14, 2011
well if you move to my block you have to mulch. it's part of the deal.
WeeklyGreens July 11, 2011
Cilantro-challenged DCists unite! Glad to know I'm not alone...your writing cracks me up and it's clear I need to start looking at real estate on your street.
Mollie K. July 11, 2011
Amanda H. July 11, 2011
Mollie, what a treat to see you here!
Jestei July 14, 2011
I am so honored you read the post and so exciting to see you here. Thank you!
TheWimpyVegetarian July 11, 2011
Perfect! And I love the idea of this with lamb as thirschfeld suggested. I might need to buy some lamb and make this too! I'll be very interested in hearing how the freezing of the Thai basil goes. Sometimes I have so much basil and like you, don't want it to go to waste. So I make basil oil with it. But I love the idea of freezing some for next winter!
Jestei July 14, 2011
let's keep tabs on each other's winter herbs and report back shall we?
Lizthechef July 11, 2011
Lucky neighbors - sounds pretty intoxicating.
Jestei July 14, 2011
I just love the ease of it.