How to Make Basil Pesto at home

Total time: 30 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 6 people
By Cookist
Raw pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans or pepitas
⅓ cup
Fresh basil leaves
2 cups packed (about 3 ounces or 2 large bunches)
Parmesan, grated, or Pecorino Romano cheese
¼ cup
Lemon juice
1 tablespoon
Garlic, roughly chopped
2 cloves
Sea salt
½ teaspoon
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup

Pesto and pasta go together perfectly, and there’s nothing better than homemade pesto.

Originally, Italian basil pesto was made by pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle, but if you have a food processor, you can make pesto in a flash. The basil, Parmesan, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice and olive oil marry their flavors perfectly for a taste explosion.

You can use pesto as a pasta topping, eat it with pizza, add it to a sandwich for some extra zing, or you can use it as a dipping sauce.

Basil Pesto Origins

Pesto alla Genovese is an uncooked condiment which dates back to the Roman age and, as described by Virgil, was called "Moretum". During the maritime republic, it became a staple in Ligurian culinary tradition and is now a symbol of Genova. The first real recipe for pesto dates back to the 1800's.
today, a well-known cookbook indicates the qualitative requirements for the real pesto alla Genovese.


To make the pesto vegan or dairy-free, replace the Parmesan with 1 tablespoon of vegan cheese.

If you want to avoid nuts, use pine nuts, pepitas or sunflower seeds. Be aware that pine nuts are technically seeds, but if you’re allergic to nuts, there’s a chance you’ll be allergic to pine nuts, too.

Pesto Variations

Homemade pesto can be prepared without oil. It is very similar to the traditional pesto alla Genovese, but it uses lecithin which also makes it vegan.

If you don’t like pine nuts, use walnuts instead. This won’t compromise the flavor too much, and they will also add a more rustic touch to the pesto. Pesto can also be prepared without garlic if you want to keep your breath fresh after eating it.

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.

What is the best wine to pair with Italian Pesto?

Pesto alla Genovese can be paired to Vermentino, a dry wine with a delicate aroma, a crushed rocky minerality, saltiness and a persistent flavor.

What type of pasta is best to serve with pesto?

Homemade pesto is used as a condiment for various main dishes such as potato gnocchi, spaghetti, or even lasagna made with pesto instead of ragu sauce. If you want to prepare a traditional Ligurian main dish, serve the pesto with trenette or trofie pasta with potatoes and string beans.

How to use Basil Pesto for pasta

Before you drain your pasta, place a liquid measuring cup in the sink. Then, pour about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water into the measuring cup before you drain off the rest of the water.

Once off the heat, toss the pasta, pesto and small splashes of pasta cooking water together until you’re satisfied with the consistency (I use roughly ⅓ cup reserved pasta cooking water for ½ pound of spaghetti).

How to store Homemade Pesto

Homemade pesto can be stored in a air-tight container for up to a week to keep it from turning black.

If you are not planning on using the pesto right after it has been prepared, you can store it in jars sealed by using water bath canning or in the freezer for a month.


Toast the nuts or seeds for extra flavor, but this step is optional if you’re pushed for time. In a medium skillet, toast the nuts/seeds over medium heat, stirring frequently (don’t let them burn), until nice and fragrant, around 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour them into a bowl and leave until cool.

To make the pesto, combine the basil, cooled nuts/seeds, Parmesan, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender.

With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Continue processing until the mixture is well blended but still has some texture, pausing to scrape down the sides as necessary.

Taste, and adjust if necessary. Add a pinch of salt if it tastes too bitter, or add more Parmesan if you’d like a creamier/cheesier pesto.

If desired, you can thin out the pesto with more olive oil, but I find this amount gives a nice consistency for using on pasta.

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