This beautifully bright green homemade Basil Pesto recipe is so good you'll want to eat it by the spoonful. It is a natural pair to just about any flavor - fish, shrimp, chicken, tomatoes, squash, any kind of carb... you name it! Do yourself a favor and make this traditional Italian condiment while your summer garden is still in bloom.
What is Pesto?
Classic pesto is a sauce made of fresh Italian basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and hard aged cheese (like parmesan or pecorino) that have all been smashed together in a mortar and pestle until they form a sort of paste.
The etymology of pesto comes from the Italian word that means "to pound," referring to the method used to produce it. My handy recipe for this homemade pesto sauce can be whizzed up in a food processor or blender, making it a quick and simple project.
Modern pestos can vary pretty widely and may use a variety of different herbs, greens and nuts. This simple homemade pesto recipe is pretty true to the classic, though I do add a touch of lemon juice to keep things nice and bright.
About This Basil Pesto Sauce
If you have never tried making your own pesto sauce, you should! This simple condiment is:
- easy to make
- super flavorful
- homemade - always better than store bought
- easily customizable
As an added bonus, this classic Italian sauce requires only handful of ingredients and a few minutes to make.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but this is the best basil pesto recipe I have ever tried. It's perfect for pasta, pizza, grilled meats and veggies, sandwiches, and so much more.
Once you taste the difference between this homemade pesto and the little jars you buy at the store, I can basically guarantee you'll never go back. So let's get started, shall we?
To make pesto from scratch, you only need a few simple ingredients. Here's everything required for my recipe:
- Fresh Basil - as the primary ingredient of pesto, you're going to want to make sure to pick the freshest, greenest leaves around. Save the dried stuff for other applications. Also, I don't recommend reaching for Thai basil here; the taste is too sharp.
- Pine Nuts - while they are among the most expensive "nuts" per pound, they are the traditional nut for making pesto. They have a lovely mild and buttery flavor that is truly delightful. Toasting the pine nuts is always my preference for intense nutty flavor. If you don't have access to pine nuts, feel free to swap in just about any other nut you can think of. Walnuts, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts would all work. You can also opt to use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds if you are nut free.
- Olive Oil - If possible, I recommend using high quality cold pressed olive oil for the best flavor. Otherwise, extra virgin olive oil is a fine choice.
- Garlic - One of the best things about pesto is how bright and fresh it tastes! Be sure to opt for fresh cloves for this recipe.
- Parmesan - All my vegetarian friends, please take note: most parmesan cheese is made with animal rennet. If you are vegetarian, be sure to opt for a hard, salty cheese to take place of the parmesan. Pecorino Romano is another traditional substitute.
- Lemon Juice - While this is not part of the classic basil pesto recipe, I find a bit of acid gives this Italian condiment a little extra brightness that is irresistible. Again, fresh is best here. If you don't have lemon on hand, you can either omit it or swap in a little bit of red wine vinegar.
How to Make Pesto
Place the toasted pine nuts (or walnuts), garlic, basil, salt, pepper and lemon juice in to a bowl of immersion blender chopper or food processor.
Pulse a few times to make a coarse mixture.
Now, add grated parmesan & olive oil and pulse everything again until the mixture is well blended but still has some texture. Alternately, feel free to keep pulsing until you get the consistency that you like.
Check for seasoning and adjust if desired. You may add more cheese if you prefer a sharper parmesan flavor.
Use your pesto right away to make your favorite dishes like pizza, sandwiches, pasta or salads. Enjoy!
NOTE: You can also pour a thin layer of oil to cover the surface of the basil and wrap with a piece of plastic touching the top of the pesto to refrigerate until ready to use. Stores well for up to 2 weeks.
FAQs + Storage
Way back whenever pesto first originated, the world didn't have access to all the vegetables and herbs all year round like we do now. If basil isn't your thing or if you don't have any available, a traditional swap would be parsley or marjoram.
You can also opt to use spinach, kale or peppery greens like arugula or watercress for a less traditional (but still delicious) pesto.
In all honesty, you can substitute just about any nut that you like. Pine nuts are the traditional choice, but I also love making this recipe with walnuts. Other options include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds or pepitas.
The biggest enemy of your pesto is actually air. When the pulverized basil comes into contact with air, it'll begin to oxidize, turning the herb an unappetizing dark brown color.
To prevent this, keep the air away! I recommend pressing a piece of plastic wrap down to physically touch the entire surface of the pesto before refrigerating. You can also pour some olive oil over the top, covering the entire surface area of the pesto. Store for up to two weeks.
YES! I recommend that you freeze it into ice cubes so you can pop out just the right amount at a time. Frozen pesto should last for up to three months.
Sure! Simply use vegan parmesan or go for 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast to make vegan pesto.
With 19 grams of fat and just 2 grams of carbs per serving, you should be able to incorporate pesto into your keto lifestyle without much trouble.
Yep! I recommend using sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. A completely nut and seed free version of this sauce can also be made, though it would then technically be a French "pistou."
Making your own homemade basil pesto sauce is just about as easy as can be. That said, here are a few tips just to make sure the process goes seamlessly:
- Use the freshest, best quality ingredients you can find. The basil should be healthy and bright green. Avoid any bunches that are particularly wilted or have brown tips. Also, rinse and pat dry the basil well before use.
- Toast pine nuts (or other nuts/seeds) for the best flavor.
- Use fresh garlic and fresh lemon juice for the best flavor.
- Avoid using Thai basil for making pesto. The flavor is more strong and pungent than Italian basil, and I find it doesn't work particularly well for this recipe.
- I recommend using a food processor or an immersion blender/chopper for the best results. Also, leave a little bit of texture! Pesto is best when the ingredients are still a little coarse.
Once you make a batch of this basil pesto, I have a feeling you're going to want to put it on everything. I don't blame you! Here are a few ways I like to use this magical sauce:
- As a sauce on pizza or pasta
- Mixed with mayo for sandwiches
- As a marinade ingredient or sauce for fish or meat
- As a dipping sauce for bread or crudités
- Mixed into scrambled eggs for "green eggs," or...
- As the oil for your fried eggs
- Dolloped in the center of your hummus
- Spread atop crostini or bruschetta
This list is in no way comprehensive; basil pesto makes just about EVERYTHING better! (And no judgement if you just eat it by the spoonful, either. I've 100% done that and I'm happy that I did.)
More yummy recipes:
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Basil Pesto Recipe
- ⅓ cup Toasted Pine Nuts or Walnuts
- 3 cloves Garlic (I have sliced them)
- 2 cups Fresh Basil
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- ¼ teaspoon Freshly Cracked Pepper
- ½ tablespoon Lemon Juice
- ⅓ cup Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino (grated)
- ⅓ cup Olive Oil (you can add 1-2 tablespoons more)
- Place the toasted pine nuts (or walnuts), garlic, basil, salt, pepper and lemon juice in to a bowl of immersion blender chopper or food processor. Pulse few times to make a coarse mixture.
- Now, add grated parmesan, olive oil and pulse everything again until the mixture is well blended but still with some texture (or pulse few more times for smoother pesto if you like).
- Check for seasoning and adjust if desired. You may add more cheese for sharp flavors.
- Use it right away to make your favorite dishes or pour a thin layer of oil and cover with a plastic wrap touching the top of the pesto and refrigerate until ready to use. Stores well up to 2 weeks.
- No basil? A traditional swap would be parsley or marjoram. You can also opt to use spinach, kale or peppery greens like arugula/watercress for a less traditional (but still delicious) pesto. Rinse and pat dry the herbs or greens well before use.
- To store: I recommend pressing a piece of plastic wrap down to physically touch the entire surface of the pesto before refrigerating. You can also pour some olive oil over the top, covering the entire surface area of the pesto. Store for up to a week.
- To freeze: I recommend freezing into ice cubes so you can pull out the pesto as you need it. Pesto cubes can be frozen for up to 3 months.