Basil Pesto Recipe
Once you know how easy it is to make homemade pesto, you won’t want to go back to store-bought. This Pesto Recipe makes delicious basil pesto, perfect for tossing with pasta and more!
It always amazes me how just a few simple ingredients can come together to make something exceptionally more delicious than any one of the components on its own. Pesto is a perfect example. Yes, it’s true that fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil are all individually something special. But pulse them together in your food processor and they are transformed into a creamy, flavorful sauce that’s too good to resist.
This basil pesto recipe requires only 5 ingredients, plus salt and pepper. It comes together in just 10 minutes, making it a staple for easy meals. Use it as a sauce for pasta or pizza, a sandwich spread, or a topping for grilled chicken or fish.
What is Pesto?
Pesto is a vibrant green sauce made with fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic and olive oil. Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy and the name pesto comes from the Italian word “pestare,” which means “to pound or crush,” since the ingredients were traditionally pounded together using a mortar and pestle.
Pesto Recipe Ingredients
There are many variations of pesto, including those that use other greens such as arugula, spinach or kale and other nuts such as almonds or walnuts. This is a classic pesto recipe, made with basil and toasted pine nuts. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Fresh Basil: You’ll need about 3 cups of loosely packed fresh basil leaves.
- Pine Nuts: Lightly toasting the pine nuts in a skillet helps to develop their nutty flavor.
- Parmesan Cheese: Freshly grated from a block of Parmesan will give you the best flavor, but I’ve also used fresh pre-grated Parmesan from the grocery store with good results.
- Garlic: One small clove is enough to infuse the pesto with fresh garlic flavor. If you really love garlic, you can add two small cloves. Since the garlic isn’t cooked, a little goes a long way.
- Salt and Pepper: Season to taste.
- Olive Oil: Use a good quality olive oil, since its flavor will impact the taste of the pesto.
How to Make Pesto
Making pesto from scratch is so simple! Here’s an overview of the recipe steps. Find the full recipe with ingredient amounts and instructions in the recipe card below.
- First, toast the pine nuts. Place them in a small skillet on the stove over medium-low heat. Toast until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. This will only take a few minutes. Then remove the pine nuts from the hot pan and let them cool.
- Combine the basil, Parmesan, toasted pine nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped.
- Finally, with the food processor running, pour the olive oil in a steady stream through the feed tube. Process until the oil is incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Then serve and enjoy!
Pesto Recipe Variations
- Other greens: Instead of basil, try spinach pesto, arugula pesto or kale pesto. Or use fresh herbs other than basil, such as parsley or a combination of parsley and cilantro or mint. You can even make pesto with green peas!
- Switch up the nuts: Pine nuts are most often used to make classic pesto, but they can be pricey. You can substitute other nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans or pistachios if desired.
- Try a different cheese: Instead of the usual Parmesan, try another hard Italian cheese such as Romano.
- Make it nut-free: Broccoli Pesto is my favorite nut-free version.
My favorite way to serve pesto is to toss it with pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine or penne. But don’t limit yourself to pesto pasta! You can also spread pesto over chicken breasts or thighs before baking or grilling, or simply serve it as a sauce with Grilled Chicken or Grilled Salmon. Toss it with zucchini noodles, like in this Kale Pesto Zucchini Noodles and Salmon recipe. Or try one of these delicious ideas:
- Pizza: Pesto makes an amazing sauce for pizza. Try this Spinach Pesto Pizza recipe.
- Pasta Salad: Pesto Pasta Salad is one of our favorite summer side dishes!
- Sandwich Spread: Use it as a spread for Turkey Burgers or sandwiches.
- Vegetables: Pesto makes a delicious topping for Grilled Vegetables or Roasted Vegetables.
Or just serve it with some crusty bread for dipping!
- Refrigerator: To keep pesto fresher for longer in the fridge, put it in a small airtight container and then pour a thin layer of oil over the top of the pesto. The olive oil acts as a barrier to protect the pesto from the air, so that it keeps its bright green color for longer. Pesto will last for about 5 days stored this way in the refrigerator.
- Freezer: My favorite way to freeze pesto is to portion the sauce out into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and transfer to a zip-top plastic bag or other storage container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. This way, you have small portions of pesto, ready for using in your favorite recipes. If you don’t want to use an ice cube tray, you can freeze pesto in a small airtight container.
More Easy Sauce Recipes
If you love this pesto recipe, try one of these homemade sauce recipes next!
There’s something magical about cheesy, nutty, garlicky pesto! Let me know in the comments how you like to serve it.
Basil Pesto Recipe
- 3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 ounces
- 1 small clove garlic, 2 small cloves if you really love garlic
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup olive oil
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil leaves, pine nuts, grated Parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper. Pulse until finely chopped.
- With the food processor running, slowly pour the olive oil in a steady stream through the feed tube. Process until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Recipe makes about 1 cup of basil pesto.