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This Sunflower Seed Pesto & Veg Pasta is One Seriously Nutrient-Rich Meal

Skip the pine nuts and try sunflower seeds instead to make your pesto even nuttier – and healthier!

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When you think of a gorgeous, vibrant green pesto, you think of a few key ingredients: Leafy basil, a heaping dose of olive oil, fragrant garlic, savory parmesan and crunchy pine nuts. But who says pine nuts have to be included in a good pesto? We’ve decided to change things up and create a pasta sauce that’s just as nutty, but with extra health benefits. And once you try this Sunflower Seed Pesto & Veg Pasta, you might not want to go back to pine nuts in your pesto.

Sunflower seeds are a small-but-mighty ingredient. They’re very nutrient-dense, delivering a powerful (and highly beneficial) combination of vitamins, minerals and hunger-satisfying extras. Each seed contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, protein, fiber, folate, vitamins E and B6, copper, zinc, manganese – and the list doesn’t end there. Sprinkling some over the top of your pasta, or incorporating them into the sauce as we’ve done here, can make your meal more nutrient-rich too.

This pretty-as-a-picture pasta dish is beefed up with fibrous zucchini, asparagus and tomatoes and served with a nutty sunflower seed pesto. Together, all of these ingredients create a meal that’s as filling as it is nutritionally dense. All of the fiber in the veggies included will slow your digestion and help you stay satiated well after you’ve cleared away the plates. And you can’t overlook the benefits of those tiny sunflower seeds. Just 1 ounce of these seeds delivers 3 grams of fiber and 5.5 grams of protein – and we’re using more than 1 ounce to create this pasta’s pesto sauce alone.

Oh, and did we mention it’s veg-friendly? If you’re trying to eat more plant-based meals, this vegetarian recipe is a great place to start.

Sunflower Seed Pesto & Veg Pasta

40 min



  • 1 1⁄2 cups stemmed and chopped kale
  • 1 cup fresh basil, stems removed
  • 3⁄4 cup unsalted roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1⁄4 tsp each sea salt and red pepper flakes
  • 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil


  • 12 oz whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced into half-moons
  • 1⁄2 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • sunflower seeds and basil for garnish


  1. Make pesto: To a food processor, add all pesto ingredients except oil. Pulse 5 to 6 times to break up. Drizzle in oil while continuing to pulse, until the mixture is broken up into fine pieces but not completely smooth.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
  3. In a medium skillet on medium, heat remaining oil. Add onion and cook for 4 minutes, until soft and beginning to brown. Increase heat to medium-high and add zucchini and asparagus. Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring. Add tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes.
  4. Drain pasta and toss with pesto. Stir in sautéed vegetables. Garnish with additional sunflower seeds and basil, if using.

Nutrition Information

  • Serving Size ¼ of recipe
  • Calories 682
  • Carbohydrate Content 76 g
  • Cholesterol Content 0 mg
  • Fat Content 36 g
  • Fiber Content 13 g
  • Protein Content 23 g
  • Saturated Fat Content 5 g
  • Sodium Content 141 mg
  • Sugar Content 6 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat Content 19 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat Content 11 g