Pesto sauce recipe

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A little home-made pesto sauce goes a long way as it is packed with flavour. Store any leftover pesto in a screwtop jar in the fridge (cover the surface of the pesto with a little extra oil).

Norma MacMillan

3 people made this

IngredientsServes: 4

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 30 g (1 oz) pine nuts
  • 30 g (1 oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 20 g (3/4 oz) fresh basil sprigs
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

MethodPrep:10min ›Ready in:10min

  1. Place the peeled garlic in a food processor or herb chopper. Add the pine nuts and Parmesan, and process until the ingredients are finely chopped and thoroughly combined.
  2. Add the basil, including all the soft stalks. (If the basil is picked from a mature plant with tough stalks, discard these before weighing the sprigs.) Process until the basil is chopped and the mixture begins to clump together.
  3. Add the olive oil and process until combined. The sauce should have a fine, slightly grainy texture.

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BA’s Best Pesto

This bright, herbaceous pesto makes pretty much everything taste better. More than just a booster for pasta, pesto is a truly versatile addition to any condiment arsenal, equally at home coating blistered green beans as it is swooshed under lamb meatballs with Greek yogurt or dolloped on top of scrambled eggs.

You will need a food processor—if you don’t have one, we highly recommend making this an excuse to get one it’s a good investment that you’ll use forever and ever and ever—and a handful of ingredients like basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmesan, garlic, and salt. The key for this classic pesto is to add the basil at the very end instead of blending everything all at once. That way the herbs will maintain their verdant color without bruising or losing flavor.

Editor’s note: This recipe was originally published August 21, 2018.

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Step 1

Combine basil, oil, pine nuts, and garlic in a blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add both cheeses and salt blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl.

Step 2

Do Ahead: Pesto can be made 1 day ahead. Top with ½" olive oil and chill.

How would you rate Classic Pesto Sauce?

This is a really simple, quick way to use up a harvest of basil! I just made the entire recipe twice and followed the instructions exactly and it's perfection. One recipe also fits perfectly into one Bonne Maman jam jar, if you're the sort who keeps those handy.

Delicious pesto. So easy and you can use in lots of ways. My fave is a simple whole wheat pasta with mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes. So yummy!

Recipes you want to make. Cooking advice that works. Restaurant recommendations you trust.

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Best-Ever Pesto

This Genovese specialty bursts with the summery flavor of basil, and we love it for way more than just pasta. (Though that's pretty great too!) Try tossing your roasted potatoes with a couple tablespoons, or mix a spoonful into mayo for a ridiculously addictive dipping sauce.

How long will it last after I make it?

Fresh pesto will last 5 to 7 days in the fridge, or up to 8 months in the freezer! We love freezing our leftover pesto in ice cube trays so we can pop out a single serving any time we're craving a bowl of pasta.

Can I do the whole recipe in the food processor?

Totally! We like stirring the cheese at the end for texture, but if you like a smoother pesto feel free to throw everything at once!

Can I make this recipe without a food processor?

Absolutely! Traditionally pesto was made using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle, so if you happen to have a mortar and pestle you're in business. You can also chop everything by hand, just make sure your knife is nice and sharp to minimize damage to the basil.

What's a good replacement for pine nuts?

You can use pretty much any kind of nut you like. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, or even pecans are all great substitutions. You can even use seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds!

Can I use a different cheese instead of Parmesan?

Absolutely! Any hard, salty aged cheese would work best. We like Pecorino or Manchego, but even Gouda would work if you're a fan!

Easy Homemade Pesto

I somehow always have extra basil on hand so I’ve found myself making pesto on a weekly basis. It’s one of the easiest things to make – with the help of a food processor – and it requires so little ingredients! Plus, having a jar of pesto in your fridge is always a life saver for those busy weeknights. All you have to do is cook up some pasta, slather on that pesto and sprinkle on some Parmesan. Done and done.

Now if you’re used to store-bought pesto, believe me when I tell you that this homemade version will change your life. It’s just so much more vibrant and fresh, and you can control exactly how runny or thick you want your pesto to be. Just be sure to add more olive oil until your desired consistency is reached.

I should also tell you that this is best made when using a food processor, not a blender. I have tried using a blender and the consistency just isn’t the same. And I know that pine nuts (also called pignolias) can be a bit pricey but one small 8-ounce bag of pine nuts will last you a lifetime. And it gives you an excuse to make more pesto for next time!

The ingredients you'll need

You'll only need a few simple ingredients to make this tasty sauce. The exact measurements are included in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:

Fresh basil leaves. You'll need about 1 cup of them, packed. Wash and dry them before using them.

Minced garlic. You can mince a garlic clove or use the stuff that comes in a jar.

Pine nuts. Just 2 tablespoons add lots of flavor and a great texture.

Kosher salt and black pepper. If using fine salt and not kosher salt, use about half the amount listed.

Extra-virgin olive oil. It's OK to use regular olive oil, but the extra-virgin is tastier.

Grated parmesan cheese. Make sure you use finely grated cheese and not shredded cheese. There's a difference.

The Best Pesto alla Genovese (Classic Basil Pesto Sauce) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Using a mortar and pestle creates a luxurious sauce with a rich, deep flavor and a beautiful, silky texture that's superior to what a food processor can do.
  • Pecorino Fiore Sardo is a slightly milder sheep's-milk cheese, and creates a more balanced, less harsh pesto sauce.
  • Mild olive oil results in a more balanced, less aggressively spicy sauce.

This pesto sauce, through rounds and rounds of testing, has been honed to the perfect ratio, ingredients, and method. And, while a mortar and pestle requires a bit of work, the superior sauce it produces compared to a food processor can't be argued with. This is the true, best pesto. Still, if you want to use a food processor, you will end up with a very good pesto using this ratio of ingredients. (Just pulse the garlic, salt, and pine nuts together first, then add the cheese and follow with the basil stir in the oil.)

Basil Pesto Recipe

Pesto is one of my favorite condiments to keep on hand. Try these easy, fun pesto recipe variations to brighten pasta, salads, roasted veggies & more!

One of my favorite things about summer is the bounty of fresh herbs that are just outside my doorstep. Fresh herbs make any meal instantly more flavorful and beautiful. My favorite thing to do with all of those fresh herbs (aside from sprinkle them on everything) is to make pesto! It’s especially great for lazy summertime cooking. I like to dollop it on grilled vegetables, pasta, spaghetti squash, salads, eggs, toasted bread, pizza, sandwiches… you get the idea. With just a few easy steps, it makes anything an instant tasty meal whether you feel like cooking or not.

What is pesto, and how do I make it?

Traditional pesto is a blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. With a food processor, it comes together in just a few steps:

  1. Pulse the nuts, lemon juice, and garlic in the food processor until they’re finely chopped.
  2. Add the basil and pulse again.
  3. Next, drizzle in the olive oil with the food processor blade still running.
  4. Finally, add grated Parmesan cheese and process briefly until combined. For vegan pesto, simply skip the cheese.

That’s it! It’s really simple to make, and it’s easy to vary according to the season or your mood. It will keep for a few days in an airtight container in the fridge, though its surface may start turning brown. As a result, it’s best to cover your pesto with a thin layer of plastic wrap before sealing your container. This will keep it fresh and green!

Pesto Recipe Variations

Once you’ve made the classic basil pesto recipe, try changing it up! You can make delicious variations with all sorts of nuts, seeds, veggies, and leafy greens. Here are some of my favorites…

  • Swap out the pine nuts for any nut of your choice! I particularly like walnuts and pistachios.
  • Make nut-free pesto by using pepitas or hemp seeds.
  • Use any herb or leafy green. I like a combination of parsley & cilantro, or use part basil and part arugula. Finely chopped kale leaves are also a great combination with basil!
  • Don’t let your veggie stems go to waste. Blanch kale stems and blend them into pesto with basil leaves or another herb.
  • Punch up the flavor! Add a roasted red pepper, sun dried tomatoes, a charred jalapeño, artichoke hearts, etc.

There possibilities are endless – let me know if you have a favorite variation!

I made pesto! Now what do I do with it?

The obvious choice is tossing pesto with pasta, but your options don’t stop there. Add it to a quinoa salad or a Caprese salad, top it onto a grain bowl, scoop it onto spaghetti squash or mac and cheese, or incorporate it into this yummy baked zucchini dish.

Pesto Sauce Recipe

I’m going to date myself here but I remember one year it was sun dried tomatoes, another year it was polenta, and yet another year it was anything Asian, then Mediterranean, then Southwestern, and so on and so on. This year olive oils and flavored vinegar from California are big as well as rubs for barbecues.

One of my favorites from years ago and still popular today is pesto. There was a summer back in New York City when you could always find a dish on the menu that had a variation of pesto.

There was pasta with pesto, pesto on pizza, pesto sauce for fish, pesto vinaigrette for salads, black bean pesto, red bean pesto, cilantro pesto, arugula pesto, pesto, pesto, pesto. Get the idea?

Summer is the time of year when gardens are full of pesto’s essential ingredient and what the Greeks called the “royal herb” or as we know it, basil. If you don’t grow it, you can often find it at farmers markets in great big bunches for a fraction of the cost that you pay for it in the winter when it’s sold in those tiny plastic bags.

About Basil

Fresh basil has a wonderful pungent aroma and an incredible flavor that is sort of peppery and some people say tastes like anise (licorice). It is usually found with green leaves, but the Opal variety has intense purple color.

Pesto, which originated in Genoa, Italy, comes from the Italian word pestare that means to pound or to bruise. The traditional way of making pesto and still the best way is with mortar and pestle. Doesn’t mortar and pestle just sound bruising?

You can use your blender or food processor if in a hurry or if you’re making large quantities, but they go far beyond bruising, they puree those poor tender basil leaves.

Typically, pesto is made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper, but why not experiment with various herbs and nuts and cheeses to come up with your own special pesto.

Whenever I make a batch of pesto, I keep some in the refrigerator and freeze a bunch in ice cube trays. When frozen, I remove them from the trays and store them frozen in zip lock bags.

This way whenever I need a quick pasta meal or I want to add some flavor to one of my soups, I have my supply. Plus as I mentioned earlier, the price of basil during the summer compared to wintertime makes freezing a batch worth the effort.

Flexible Ways to Prepare Pesto Sauce

In accent Provence, France the pesto was prepared without using pine nuts, as no pine trees grow there to provide the nuts. Sometimes almonds are used instead of pine nuts, and mint leaves are mixed in with the basil leaves. Some have even used spinach or cilantro in place of basil.

The interchangeable use of the nuts and greens just depends on your taste. In our kitchen at Splendid Recipes and More, we have used pecans in place of pine nuts, and almost always use Asiago cheese in place of the traditional Parmesan cheese.

Here’s the recipe for the traditional pesto sauce, though as we said, at Splendid Recipes and More, we use Asiago cheese. Here is what you will need.

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, no stems

½ cup grated Romano/Parmesan or Asiago cheese

Place all the ingredients in a food processor, except oil, and pulse. Start to add oil slowly, pulsing until ingredients form a smooth paste.

Note: If you do not use right away, or there are left overs, store in a jar with a layer of olive oil on top to prevent discoloration, and top jar with a tight lid and store in the refrigerator. Will store for 3 to 5 days.

Pesto is no doubt one of the worlds most loved sauces, next to the mayonnaise and the Mexican traditional salsa.