Basil Pesto

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Basil Pesto

This recipe for Basil Pesto is a classic and authentic recipe using pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and it only takes 5 mi

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This recipe for Basil Pesto is a classic and authentic recipe using pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and it only takes 5 minutes to make! It is a great way to use fresh basil! You can freeze it too, to use for quick and flavorful weeknight meals at any time of year.

a jar with pesto, a spoon scooping out a spoonful

We originally shared this recipe for Pesto here on Healthy Seasonal Recipes on July 29th, 2014. I have updated the photos, added a video and more information to share it again today.

Why We Love This Recipe

This recipe for Basil Pesto is a classic recipe using pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese and it only takes 5 minutes to make! It is a great way to use fresh basil and can be frozen to use for quick and flavorful weeknight meals at any time of year.

Pesto gets its name from the word to “grind” or “crush” and it consists basically of ground basil, nuts, cheese, oil and garlic. While technically you can make pesto from any herb, the traditional Pesto alla Genovese is made with Sweet Basil which is what we’re sharing here today.

Here we have kept things streamlined and as simple as can be. {You don’t even need to use a knife to chop the garlic!} This pesto is made in a food processor, and comes together super fast. Customize how thick or thin the consistency is to your preference.

Once you have pureed up a batch, it makes a great addition to a variety of dinners. We love pesto tossed with Zucchini Noodles, added to Asparagus Pizza and to serve with fresh hot pasta and veggies.

While the most classic pairing for pesto is Trofie, we also love it baked on Salmon to top Salmon Nicoise or with Potato salad, deviled eggs… you could even spread it over this cauliflower pizza crust…the list goes on.

We love it thinned and added on simple grilled and roasted veggies too like this roasted turnip recipe or drizzled on grilled asparagus.

Ingredients For This Recipe

ingredients for basil pesto with labels

Garlic

Fresh garlic is a must for this recipe for the absolute best flavor. You only need two cloves per batch. If you love garlic and prefer a stronger garlic flavor you can certainly use more. No need to cut them up. Just press the cloves with the side of your knife and remove the papery skin.

Basil

While it is fun to mix things up and make pesto from spinach or sorrel, it is classically made with sweet basil. For this recipe you’ll need four cups of basil leaves. Remove the leaves from the thicker woodier stems.

If you have very delicate (young) basil the stems can be processed too. Remove any flowering heads and dried out leaves with sun spots from garden basil. Wash and spin it dry.

Dried basil cannot be used in pesto. The flavor is very different than fresh and the texture will be too oily.

Pine Nuts

The classic nut included in pesto is pine nuts, but any variety will work. I often use almonds. Pistachios, walnuts work well too. You can also make this nut-free by using green pumpkin seeds or pepitas.

For additional flavor, toast the pine nuts. Just make sure to cool them before adding them to the food processor.

Olive Oil

Pesto alla Genovese is made with Ligurian olive oil which is a milder olive oil.

If you are in the states and wondering which kind of oil to use, we recommend your usual “cooking” grade olive oil. I like the Kirkland Organic olive oil from Costco for cooking and it is what I would use in this recipe. (It’s highly rated so don’t knock it until you try it.)

We don’t recommend using your top shelf bottle you might have for drizzling over soups (like our minestrone) and finished dishes (like our zucchini ribbon salad). The strong flavors of the pesto will overpower the oils more delicate notes.

Fresh pasta at a food market in Italy
Fresh pasta and pesto for sale in a food market in Florence, Italy

In Northern Italy, where dairy cows abound, several of the shops use butter in their pesto. If you want to try it, melt and cool the butter and add it in place of some of the oil in the recipe below.

Parmesan

You can use either Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino or Asiago. Parm is less salty than some of the other Grana cheese from Italy, so don’t add any salt to your pesto until after you have added the cheese and tasted it. You’ll need 1 cup grated (not shredded) cheese.

How To Make Pesto

While traditional pesto from Genoa is made in a mortar and pestle we’ve used a modern approach and used our food processor to grind the ingredients into a paste.

chop the garlic first, then add in the basil and pine nuts

Step 1: With the lid on and the motor running, drop the peeled cloves of garlic through the feed tube of the food processor. The garlic will chop evenly this way. No need to use a knife!

Step 2: Remove the lid and add in the basil and pine nuts. Grind them until they are finely chopped.

the pesto before and after oil

Step 3: Remove the lid to scrape down the sides (photo #3 above shows what the texture will look like.) Cover and turn the motor on. With the motor running, drizzle the oil into the pesto.

Step 4: The pesto will look loose at this point (photo #4 above shows the texture before the cheese.) Add the cheese and process again. Then taste the pesto and add the salt if desired and process again.

a bowl of pasta with pesto from overhead and a jar of pesto

Expert Tips And FAQs


How Long Will It Keep?

While traditionalists will tell you to use the pesto immediately, we have tested storing the pesto in the fridge and find that it is still delicious for several days. Keep it in a jar and try to avoid air pockets as you pack it into the jar. The top surface will discolor, but this is harmless.

Can Pesto Be Frozen?

Portion pesto into straight sided (wide mouth) canning jars. Leave about 3/4-inch at the top to allow for it to expand as it freezes. Screw the lid on tight and freeze on a flat surface. Keep frozen until ready to use.

What is the best basil to use for pesto?

We always grow a few varieties of basil in our garden and most are great when made into pesto. If you are planning on planting basil specifically for making pesto, we recommend using the classic Genovese Basil! Most grocery stores only carry sweet varieties and they will work perfectly.
Exceptions: The flavors of Thai basil (which has a lime and coconut scent to it) or Holy Basil wich is bitter do not pair well with the ingredients in pesto so we do not recommend them. While they would taste okay opal basil or purple basil will make your pesto look unpleasant. We have tried lemon basil in pesto and it adds a distinctly lemony flavor which can be good in some simple applications (like on plain pasta) but is not for everyone so proceed with caution with lemon basil.

How do you make pesto without cheese?

You can make this dairy free and vegan by skipping the Parmesan. Note that the cheese in this recipe helps to thicken the pesto. You can leave it out, but you will need to use less oil. Start with 1/2 cup oil, and check the texture. Add more to thin if desired. Add the salt and adjust the seasoning as necessary to compensate for the lack of salty cheese.

How do you make this nut-free?

You can skip the nuts all together but you will need to use less oil. Start with 1/2 cup oil and check the texture. Add more to thin if desired. You can also use 1/2 cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitas) instead of the pine nuts without adjusting the recipe otherwise.

Can you use a blender instead of a food processor?

Most blenders will work just fine. You will have to chop the garlic by hand first instead of using the food processor as mentioned in step 1. Then key is to use the “pulse” function when chopping the basil and pine nuts in step 2. You will want to continue pulsing as you drizzle in the oil until it starts moving freely around the blending jar. Then continue running the motor as you add in the remaining oil. Add the cheese and salt as directed.

Can you make this with a mortar and pestle?

Yes you can. You will need to cut the recipe in half because it is too much to fit into most mortars. We recommend chopping the garlic first in step 1. Then chop the basil to make it less fluffy. Add the basil by the handful as you crush it into the pine nuts and garlic.

Thanks so much for reading. If you are new here you may want to sign up for my free weekly email newsletter or follow me on instagram. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It is very appreciated. Happy Cooking! ~Katie

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Description

This recipe for Basil Pesto is a classic and authentic recipe using pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and it only takes 5 minutes to make! It is a great way to use fresh basil and can be frozen to use for quick and flavorful weeknight meals at any time of year.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves  garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 4 cups packed cleaned sweet basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Instructions

  1. Fit food processor with steel blade attachment. Close lid and turn on motor. Drop garlic through feed tube of food processor and allow to process until finely chopped.
  2. Open lid, add basil and pine nuts. Process until finely chopped.
  3. Drizzle oil through feed tube with motor running.
  4. Scrape down sides, add Parmesan, and process until rough paste forms, scraping sides as necessary to process mixture evenly. Taste and add salt to taste.

Notes

To Freeze

Portion pesto into straight sided (wide mouth) canning jars. Leave about 3/4-inch at the top to allow for it to expand as it freezes. Screw the lid on tight and freeze on a flat surface. Keep frozen until ready to use.

To Thaw

Pesto can be defrosted in the refrigerator 24 hours before using. Or you can set the jar in a bowl of warm tap water. Refresh the water every 10 minutes and allow it to thaw. To thaw in the microwave use 50 % power, and stir often as it comes to temperature very quickly due to the high oil content. For best flavor do not allow it to bubble.


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
  • Calories: 154
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fat: 17 g
  • Saturated Fat: 3 g
  • Carbohydrates: 1 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 2 g

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