My basil pesto recipe is classic, fool proof, and mouthwateringly delicious. I show you how to make authentic pesto Genovese at home, step by step.
when life gives you basil…make pesto!
This is it, the definitive basil pesto recipe. Store bought pesto is not even close in flavor, so if you’re still buying yours at Trader Joe’s or wherever you shop, cease and desist! My pesto recipe is easy and it will change the way you cook and eat forever. I’ll show you how to make it, step by easy step, and share all my tips and tricks. Trust me, you can’t afford not to memorize this!!
Basil seems to go crazy at the end of summer, and if you’ve got any growing in the ground or in containers, you’ll know that it’s use it or lose it right now. I make batches of pesto at the close of summer so I can enjoy that vivid flavor all year long. I’ll share my tips for freezing your pesto in this post so you never have to be without it.
ingredients for my homemade basil pesto recipe
Pesto, along with chimichurri sauce and green goddess dressing, is one of the three green sauces you need to know how to make…here’s what you’ll need:
- fresh basil
- if you can find living basil (in the ground or in a pot) that’s best. Trader Joe’s sells potted basil all year long.
- olive oil
- I use extra virgin olive oil for my pesto, but you may want to consider a milder olive oil if you’re sensitive to bitter flavors. Extra virgin oil makes a somewhat ‘spicy’ pesto with slight bitterness. Some like that, some don’t. There is some speculation that processing olive oil brings out bitterness, so it makes sense to start with a milder product.
- Parmesan cheese
- Parm is pretty much the gold standard, but you can substitute any hard aged cheese in pesto ~ try Romano, Manchego, or Asiago cheese.
- pine nuts
- pine nuts are expensive, but you can substitute walnuts or almonds. For extra flavor toast your pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat, stirring almost constantly, until they turn golden.
- use this to taste. Raw garlic is pungent, so I use just 2 cloves. Roast your garlic if you prefer a milder flavor, you can learn how to roast garlic in this post.
- lemon juice
- don’t skip this, it gives the pesto a nice acidity and keeps it from turning brown.
how to make classic pesto Genovese
1. gather fresh basil
Grab it from your garden, your farmers market, or your supermarket. Pick off all the leaves from the stems. Tender stems are usable, but discard the main stalks, Discard any blemished leaves or flowering bits. Rinse and drain on a clean kitchen towel.
2. add the basil to a food processor
For this pesto recipe I use a full size 14 cup Cuisinart food processor fitted with the metal blade. It’s a workhorse in my kitchen and definitely the one machine I recommend you invest in. Your basil will fill the machine, but no worries, it will break down as you process it.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients
That would be Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
My technique goes like this: pulse 20 times. Scrape down the sides. Pulse 20 more times, scrape the sides again. Process for about 5 seconds. Scrape. Taste to adjust any of the seasonings. Process for a final 5-10 seconds.
5. Transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate
Keep your homemade pesto tightly covered and it should stay bright green and fresh for up to a week, sometimes more.
basil pesto FAQS and TIPS
- How do I prevent my pesto from turning brown?
- I add the juice of a lemon to my pesto and I’ve never had it turn brown, so be sure to use fresh lemon juice. Some like to top their pesto with a layer of olive oil before storing. The idea is that the oil protects the surface from oxygen which can ‘oxidize’ and discolor the pesto. Sometimes the surface of pesto can turn dark, but you can just stir it in before serving.
- Do I need to blanch my basil?
- No, I never do that. Some folks say it’s a good way to keep the pesto from turning brown, but I think blanching fresh basil is a sacrilege! Pesto is a vibrant raw sauce and cooking basil, even for a minute, destroys that incredible fresh flavor.
- How long will pesto last?
- pesto is highly perishable and I would use it within the week.
- Can you freeze pesto?
- Yes, my pesto recipe freezes beautifully. Some like to fill an ice cube tray and then, once frozen solid, pop out the cubes into a zip lock freezer bag.
- Why does my pesto taste bitter?
- both basil and olive oil have bitter elements to their flavor so, to some degree, pesto will have a slight bitter edge, it’s one of the things I love about it. If yours is excessively bitter it could be your olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil tends to be more bitter, so use a milder option like pure or light olive oil for your pesto. Walnuts are also bitter, so don’t use them, opt for traditional pine nuts. If your pesto turns out too bitter for you, stir in a small amount of sugar to balance it out.
- Can I make pesto without nuts?
- Absolutely, just leave them out.
- Is pesto vegan?
- pesto contains cheese, so it is not vegan, but you can make a vegan pesto by substituting nutritional yeast for the Parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast has a umami flavor similar to Parm!
- Is pesto healthy?
- Pesto is an incredibly healthy sauce and part of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet. Pesto is packed with healthy fats and antioxidants which are known to help prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- To make a smaller batch of pesto
- Make any size batch you like, there’s no need to get mathematical about the ingredients, you can eyeball them and taste as you go. I would use a small food processor for small batches so everything gets well blended.
what to do with pesto
PASTA: toss freshly cooked pasta with pesto for a quick meal. this pesto recipe makes a great dressing for pasta salad, too.
DIPPING SAUCE: pesto makes the world’s easiest appetizer, just pair with fresh crusty bread for dipping. I like to thin it down with more olive oil for a thinner consistency.
MARINADE: I use it to marinate mozzarella for salads.
MIX IT INTO HUMMUS: for a nice vibrant change I make basil hummus.
SANDWICH SPREAD: I love to mix pesto with mayonnaise for the best tomato sandwiches!
alternative pesto recipes
Lemony Artichoke Pesto Recipe ~ we love this yummy pesto alternative, it’s great on toasted bread, and also on pasta.
Chive and Parsley Pesto ~ lovely and green, but with a completely different flavor profile.
Pasta with Sun Dried Tomato and Almond Pesto ~ this unusual pesto is actually authentic Italian, it’s delicious!
Whole Grain Pasta with Pistachio Pesto ~ you can do this with any nut you love.
Steak Fajita Skewers with Cilantro Pesto ~ this vivid pesto recipe proves that basil’s not the only herb on the block.
Arugula Pesto Sauce ~ we love to use this one as a dipping sauce.
Spicy Basil Pesto ~ one of my favorites, just add a little (or a lot!) of jalapeño pepper for a nice kick.
Basil Pesto Recipe
- food processor I use this 14 cup Cuisinart Processor
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and drained on a clean kitchen towel
- 2/3 cup olive oil (see notes below)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts, about 2 ounces, toasted or not
- 1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Put the basil into your food processor fitted with the metal blade, pushing it down to fit, if necessary.
- Add the rest of the ingredients on top. Pulse the machine 20 times. Then scrape down the sides.
- Pulse the machine 20 more times, and scrape again.
- Run the machine for about 5 seconds. Scrape again. Give it a taste to make any adjustments to the ingredients.
- Run for a final 5-10 seconds, at most. The pesto should be perfect.
- Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until needed.