recipe

Pesto: the best-ever recipe for the all-purpose classic Italian sauce

Total time: 15 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 8 people
By Cookist
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Ingredients
fresh basil leaves, packed
2 cups
parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup
Pine nuts
1/3 cup
Garlic, minced
3 to 4 cloves
salt and pepper to taste

Make the most of your homegrown herb garden by making basil pesto. This simple Italian recipe is an excellent way to use a fresh crop of basil. Pesto is a wonderful, versatile sauce you can use as a pasta dressing, sandwich spread, pizza sauce, or even marinade.

With its mouthwatering herby, garlicky flavor and bright green color, pesto livens up just about any savory dish. If you have loads of fresh basil on hand, plus some garlic, parmesan, pine nuts, and olive oil in your kitchen, you can whip up a quick batch of homemade pesto in no time. It's a great make-ahead recipe you can freeze and use any time of year! You won't buy the store-bought pesto anymore.

What is Pesto?

Also known as pesto alla Genovese (Genoa-style pesto), pesto is an iconic Italian sauce that is beloved worldwide. Its origins are in Genoa, in Italy's Liguria region. The name comes from the Italian word pestare which means “to crush,” a reference to the fact the sauce was traditionally made with a mortar and pestle.

Pesto is known for its beautiful bright green color and irresistible herby basil and garlic flavor. The basic version of the recipe only calls for five ingredients, plus salt and pepper for seasoning.

Pesto Sauce Ingredients

Fresh basil gives pesto its characteristic bright green color.

Pine nuts add nuttiness, while parmesan cheese gives the sauce a wonderful savory character.

Garlic adds a sharpness to the sauce.

Olive oil turns the other ingredients from a paste into a sauce and adds a roundness to the sauce.

You'll also need a dash of salt and pepper to season it.

These are just the basics, of course – pesto is easy to customize, and there are loads of fantastic additions you can mix in.

How to Make Pesto

To make authentic pesto, you'll need a mortar and pestle. Start by grinding the garlic and salt into a paste in your mortar. Add the basil bit by bit, grinding with the pestle until it merges with the garlic paste. Grind the pine nuts into the basil mixture. Pound a small handful of cheese into the paste. Repeat until you've incorporated all the cheese.

Pour in the olive oil one tablespoon at a time, grinding until the paste becomes a sauce. Season with salt and pepper, then use your pesto in pasta, as a dip, or delicious spread.

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Can You Make Pesto Sauce in a Food Processor?

Not everyone has a mortar and pestle in the kitchen, but many folks have a food processor. Making homemade pesto in a food processor is super easy and convenient. It only takes about 15 minutes, including prep.

To make basil pesto in a food processor, start by adding pine nuts and basil to the bowl of your food processor. Blitz several times to combine. Put the parmesan and garlic in with the basil mixture. Pulse to combine, scraping down the sides as needed. Continue pulsing the mixture while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Gradually adding in the olive oil is essential for allowing it to emulsify, ensuring the pesto doesn't separate. Add salt and pepper to the pesto. Now it's ready to use!

Tips for Homemade Pesto

Pour the olive oil into the pesto slowly. The key is to emulsify the oil and ensure the various components of the sauce come together and stay together.

For an even healthier sauce, use 50/50 basil and baby spinach.

While basil is the classic herb for pesto, you can make pesto with parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, and mint. Any leafy herb works.

Not a fan of pine nuts? Use walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or sunflower seeds instead.

You can use pecorino romano, asiago, or manchego instead of parmesan.

Jazz up your pesto by adding a squeeze of lemon juice, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, or roasted garlic.

How do you keep Homemade Pesto from turning dark?

To keep the pesto from turning dark, it is important to keep it covered. Once the pesto is ready, cover it with olive oil and a sheet of plastic wrap. It is important to keep it away from heat (if you are using a blender to prepare the pesto, blend it for few seconds at a time). In fact, pesto tends to darken because of heat and oxidation.

How to Serve Pesto

There are endless ways to use homemade pesto. Classic ways to use pesto are as a pizza sauce, in pasta, or as a sandwich spread. It makes a fabulous dip and can be used to add a bright herby flavor to soups, stews, and mashed root vegetables. You can even toss roast potatoes and roast vegetables with pesto.

It's a fantastic marinade for meat, chicken, and fish, or you can simply spread it on crackers to savor its delicious flavor.

How to Store Basil Pesto

Keep your pesto in an airtight container in the fridge. The sauce will stay fresh for 7 to 10 days.

How to Freeze Pesto

Transfer your pesto to an airtight container and freeze it for up to one year. To freeze smaller batches of pesto to use on the fly, pour the pesto into a clean ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop out the pesto cubes and keep them in a freezer-safe bag. They'll last up to six months.

More Pesto Recipes You'll Like

Instructions

Making Pesto with Mortar and Pestle

Put the salt and garlic in the mortar.

Grind it with the pestle until it becomes a paste.

Add a small amount of basil and grind to a paste.

Continue adding the basil in small amounts until all of it has been ground.

Grind in the pine nuts.

Grind in a small handful of cheese. Repeat until all the cheese has been added.

Add in the olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time, grinding until the paste becomes a sauce.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy!

Making Pesto Sauce in a Food Processor

To make basil pesto in a food processor, add basil to the bowl of your food processor.

Add parmesan cheese and garlic.

Add in the pine nuts.

Blitz several times to combine, scraping down the sides. While you pulse the mixture, gradually pour in the olive oil in order to emulsify. Pour it slowly, this will prevent the pesto mixture from separating. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve and enjoy!

Notes

To make the best-tasting pesto, grate the parmesan cheese yourself.

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