Pumpkin Seed Pesto

I know, some of you might be groaning over this non-traditional pesto, but you know what? I don’t care!! There are times to be a purist, and then there are times when being one keeps you from enjoying many other gastronomic delights! Relax and experiment with the endless varieties of pesto that can be created from fresh herbs, nuts or seeds, garlic, and cheeses.

Because pumpkin seeds make me think Southwestern cuisine, I decided to use cilantro for my herb in the pesto. No, it’s not basil, but it works! And the good thing these days, is that cilantro is available year round, so you can enjoy a fresh pesto in the middle of winter.

Typically there’s no half-and-half in pesto, but the key here is to cook the pasta al dente, and then place the drained, hot pasta in the creamy pesto sauce. The pasta, I used ditali, will absorb the sauce.

Pasta with Creamy Cilantro Pumpkin Seed Pesto

8 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces half-and-half
Large bunch of cilantro or fresh, de-stemmed of thick stems, approx. 3.5 ounces
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds, unsalted
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces cooked pasta of choice
4 ounces Cotija, divided

Place the olive oil, half-and-half, cilantro, pumpkin seeds, garlic, and salt in the blender jar. Blend until smooth.

Pour the creamy pesto in a serving bowl and add the prepared pasta. Stir gently to combine. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Add 3 ounces of the cotija and stir, then serve. If you prefer, use grated mozzarella or Monterey Jack.

Sprinkle more cheese on the servings of pesto, if desired. I served it with a cherry tomato and shallot salad with a cumin-lime dressing.

If you prefer, use a combination of cilantro and parsley in this pesto recipe or, use some fresh spinach.

This pasta would be good as a side dish to cumin-grilled fish or steak. And if you want to go crazy, add a can of drained black beans and a can of drained corn to the pasta for a heftier but meatless dish.

For a blender-size amount of traditional pesto click here.

By Published On: January 1st, 202444 Comments on Pumpkin Seed Pesto

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!


  1. Bernadette January 1, 2024 at 7:03 AM - Reply

    Great mashup Chica!

    • Chef Mimi January 1, 2024 at 9:01 AM - Reply

      Great pesto!

  2. ajeanneinthekitchen January 1, 2024 at 10:21 AM - Reply

    I love pepita seed pesto. I like your way of thinking. Happy New Year. :)

    • Chef Mimi January 1, 2024 at 11:10 AM - Reply

      There’s authentic, and then there’s not!

      • ajeanneinthekitchen January 1, 2024 at 11:14 AM

        Even authenticity needs an upgrade every now and then. :)

  3. Charlie DeSando January 1, 2024 at 10:24 AM - Reply

    Very nice Mimi, Happy New Year and all the best in 2024

    • Chef Mimi January 1, 2024 at 11:10 AM - Reply

      Thank you Charlie! Happy New Year!!!!

  4. David January 1, 2024 at 1:51 PM - Reply

    I personally love what you have done. I make cilantro pesto quite often (with a Southwest flair) – but never thought of pumpkin seeds. Brilliant. There are so many pestos all over Italy – the Genovese is only the moist famous. I can’t wait to try this! Happy New Year!

    • Chef Mimi January 1, 2024 at 3:01 PM - Reply

      Thanks, David! I like to have fun in the kitchen creating my own foods, as much as I like to learn about regional cuisines and make authentic recipes. It’s all pretty wonderful!

  5. Debra January 1, 2024 at 5:50 PM - Reply

    This is an incredible recipe, Mimi, and it sure does appeal to me! After looking at those beautiful photos I’m incredibly hungry and wish I had some right now! It won’t be long at all before I give it a try! 😉

    • Chef Mimi January 2, 2024 at 6:40 PM - Reply

      I hope you enjoy the flavors! Don’t forget to make it your own.

  6. Sherry Mackay January 1, 2024 at 6:30 PM - Reply

    i’m not a purist at all with food. cook and eat anything you want, any way you want is my mantra. I used to make pesto with whatever i had to hand – different herbs, different nuts, whatever! Happy new year to you!

    • Chef Mimi January 2, 2024 at 6:41 PM - Reply

      I agree wholeheartedly. Although, I also enjoy authentic recipes to learn about cuisines. Happy New year!

  7. Tandy | Lavender and Lime January 1, 2024 at 9:55 PM - Reply

    I make all sorts of pestos and today I plan on making a mixed herb one. I like the idea of using pumpkin seeds so will try that. May 2024 hold all that you need.

    • Chef Mimi January 2, 2024 at 6:41 PM - Reply

      Thanks, Tandy! I’m looking forward to the rest of 2024. No complaints yet!

  8. angiesrecipes January 1, 2024 at 10:10 PM - Reply

    I used all different kinds of seeds and nuts to make pesto. This looks great, Mimi.

    • Chef Mimi January 2, 2024 at 6:42 PM - Reply

      That’s such a great way to cook. Not only being creative but also using what you already have on hand!

  9. Anonymous January 2, 2024 at 1:27 PM - Reply

    Happy New Year, Mimi!
    No groaning over here — I love this non-traditional pesto — especially the use of Cotija. Delicious! I think it’s fun playing with different herbs and nuts for pesto variations. My mom used to make one with mustard greens. :-) ~Valentina

    • Chef Mimi January 2, 2024 at 6:43 PM - Reply

      Oh my. I bet that was pungent! Cooking really can be lots of fun. That’s the part I really enjoy – being creative!

  10. Velva-Evening With A sandwich January 2, 2024 at 2:00 PM - Reply

    I am definitely no purist (laugh). I would never have thought to use pumpkin seeds together with cilantro. I like it! What a unique pairing.

    Happy New Year! I am looking forward to all your cooking journey this year.


    • Chef Mimi January 2, 2024 at 6:46 PM - Reply

      Years ago, the 80’s, I lived in Texas, and Southwestern cuisine, an offshoot of Mexican, Texas, and the Old West cuisines, became a thing. I became very familiar with the ingredients used in that combination, and pumpkin seeds are an important element.

  11. Ann Coleman January 2, 2024 at 6:18 PM - Reply

    Nothing wrong with trying something new!

    • Chef Mimi January 2, 2024 at 6:47 PM - Reply

      Not in my book!

  12. spicedblog January 3, 2024 at 7:05 AM - Reply

    I love the southwestern spin on pesto here, Mimi! The cilantro + Cotija would be great mixed in with pasta. I’ve never used pumpkin seeds like this, but I’m firmly in the “why not give it a try” camp! Happy New Year!!

    • Chef Mimi January 3, 2024 at 7:54 AM - Reply

      Experimenting and playing are so much fun in the kitchen. I belong to your camp!

  13. petra08 January 3, 2024 at 9:49 AM - Reply

    I love the colour of your pesto! The pumpkin seeds and cilantro sounds delicious. :)

    • Chef Mimi January 4, 2024 at 11:24 AM - Reply

      It’s very green, isn’t it?! Nice and fresh and it looks happy!

  14. Raymund January 3, 2024 at 4:53 PM - Reply

    This is a delicious invitation to break the mold and explore the endless possibilities of pesto. I can’t wait to give your creamy cilantro pumpkin seed version a try, and thank you for reminding me that a little culinary daring can lead to big flavor rewards!

    • Chef Mimi January 4, 2024 at 11:25 AM - Reply

      I don’t think it hurts to go outside the box of what’s traditional and authentic. I mean, why not?!!

  15. terrie gura January 3, 2024 at 7:47 PM - Reply

    Sounds great to me. I agree that some classic foods are open to interpretation, and people can lighten up about it! I’ve had carrot top pesto as well as arugula pesto, and this one sounds great, especially with cilantro.

    • Chef Mimi January 4, 2024 at 11:28 AM - Reply

      Carrot top?! That’s a new one for me. And now I’m wondering about beetroot leaves. Yay!!! More to cook.

  16. Healthy World Cuisine January 4, 2024 at 5:54 AM - Reply

    So delicious and so healthy! We have a pumpkin seed butter recipe and we can validate it makes pasta so rich and earthy flavored. Can’t wait to add your other ingredients into the butter to make pesto!

    • Chef Mimi January 4, 2024 at 11:29 AM - Reply

      Oh yes. And I love sunflower seed butter. Yum!!!! More to try!

  17. 2pots2cook January 5, 2024 at 2:51 AM - Reply

    Oh dear! Pepitas are so underrated!!!!! I have discovered such a fabulous dishes with the seeds as a base. Thank you soooo much for this one! I wish you and your family a Happy New Year dear Mimi!

    • Chef Mimi January 5, 2024 at 8:43 AM - Reply

      You are so right! Pumpkin seeds aren’t very popular where I live. Happy New Year!

  18. Eva Taylor January 5, 2024 at 11:47 AM - Reply

    I love making non-traditional pestos too, in fact, I have some almond flour pesto in my freezer right now. I love that you used cilantro instead of basil, I bet it lent a beautiful and fresh flavour to the dish. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy new year.

    • Chef Mimi January 5, 2024 at 2:59 PM - Reply

      Thank you Eva! I’m certainly hoping for a great year! With lots of great food.

  19. Ronit Penso Tasty Eats January 6, 2024 at 1:58 PM - Reply

    I make pesto from just about any nut and herbs. There’s really no reason to stick to just one version. Love this one! :)

    • Chef Mimi January 7, 2024 at 2:11 PM - Reply

      I agree, although Ligurian pesto made with baby basil leaves is the bomb!

      • Anonymous January 7, 2024 at 6:10 PM

        Of course, it’s a classic for a good reason. But it’s also nice to improvise. :)

  20. ingoodflavor January 11, 2024 at 9:22 PM - Reply

    I LOVE cilantro, so this pesto has my name all over it! I had a reaction of pine nuts once…it left a tinny taste in my mouth for over a week. I think poorly sourced pine nuts were the culprit. As a result, I often use pumpkin seeds to replace pine nuts in recipes.

    • Chef Mimi January 12, 2024 at 6:34 PM - Reply

      Oh goodness. I had a friend who was allergic to pine nuts, and she ate something I’d put pine nuts in and was sick as a dog. I felt horrible. Cilantro is wonderful!

  21. Jeff the Chef January 14, 2024 at 10:58 AM - Reply

    Well, I’m certainly not groaning over it! It wasn’t long after making my first few pestos that I realized that you can make them out of just about anything! And I don’t think I’ve ever made a bad one yet! I’ve never considered pumpkin seeds, but I’m going to now!

    • Chef Mimi January 14, 2024 at 3:16 PM - Reply

      That’s how I feel – there are no bad pestos!!!

Leave a Reply. I love 'em!