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This basil pesto recipe is a flavor-packed classic Italian sauce starring basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese!

Basil Pesto Recipe
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Got a load of fresh basil? Then run, don’t walk, to make a batch of this basil pesto recipe! It’s savory, garlicky, creamy, peppery, and you can slather a smear on anything. Is there anything better? Use it to take pasta from plain to magnificent, or throw it on a pesto pizza for maximum flavor. If you’re never made basil pesto at home: now is the time!

What’s in this basil pesto recipe?

Basil pesto is a sauce that originates in Italy (the city of Genoa, more specifically). The word pesto comes from an Italian word that means “pounded” or “crushed”. A pesto can refer to any type of sauce that is crushed, but pesto alla genovese, the version of pesto from Genoa, is the most popular version. The traditional ingredients in basil pesto are fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and salt.

Pesto ingredient notes

Pine nuts are traditional in basil pesto, but they can be pretty expensive here in the US. In this pesto recipe, you can use cashews or walnuts as a substitute. We’ve tested and both turn out fabulously! You can use any type of nut you prefer. Our favorite is pine nuts because they make for the best classic flavor. But the cashew version is delicious, and we always have cashews around.

Another feature we added to our basil pesto recipe is a squeeze of lemon juice! It helps to brighten the flavors and takes this sauce to a while new level.

Basil Pesto

How to make this pesto recipe

Basil pesto is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle to grind the ingredients together, but modern recipes typically use a blender or food processor. You’ll simply blend up all ingredients, then add the olive oil until the sauce becomes creamy.

Here’s how to make basil pesto:

  • Toast the nuts for a few minutes in a dry skillet, stirring constantly, until fragrant.
  • Place the nuts, Parmesan cheese, and garlic in a food processor and blend until finely chopped.
  • Add fresh basil leaves, lemon juice and salt. Start the food processor and add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add a bit more olive oil to bring to the desired consistency, if necessary.

Pesto variations

There are many ways to change up pesto! Here are a few variations on basil pesto for you:

Basil pesto sauce

How to freeze pesto

Here’s an important note! The best way to store homemade pesto, if you’re not going to eat it all at once, is to freeze it. Here’s how to freeze basil pesto:

  • Pour the pesto into an ice cube tray and pop in the freezer.
  • Once frozen, remove the cubes and place them in a freezer safe sealed container.
  • When you’re ready to eat, you can pop out small servings of pesto. Place them in a container and allow to come to room temperature on the counter or in the refrigerator.

Growing and storing basil

Ever grown basil? Basil is easy to grow at home: it’s very hardy as long as you place it in full sun! Basil adds an aromatic flavor to such a wide variety of recipes. If you’re looking to grow your own basil plant, go to this step-by-step guide, How to Grow Basil.

When you harvest branches of your basil plant and bring them inside, they’ll wilt after about an hour unless you follow this trick! Place a little water in the bottom of a large ball jar, then place the stems inside, cut side down. Add the top and it will stay fresh for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator! (See How to Store Basil for more.)

Basil Pesto Recipe

Ways to use pesto

Once you’ve made your basil pesto: what to do with it? There are thousands of recipes for how to use basil pesto online and in cookbooks. To help you sort through the clutter, here are our best recipes with pesto:

This basil pesto recipe is…

Vegetarian and gluten free. For vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free, use Vegan Pesto.

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Basil Pesto Recipe

Basil Pesto Recipe


5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

4.9 from 8 reviews

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: Heaping 1 cup (about 18 tablespoons) 1x

Description

This basil pesto recipe is a flavor-packed classic Italian sauce starring basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese!


Ingredients

Scale
  • ½ cup raw unsalted pine nuts, cashews, or walnuts*
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus additional as needed

Instructions

  1. In a small dry skillet, toast the nuts over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the nuts to a bowl and allow them to cool slightly. (This step is optional, but brings out a more robust flavor in the nuts.)
  2. In food processor**, combine the nuts, cheese, and peeled garlic. Process until finely ground, 20 to 30 seconds.
  3. Add the basil, lemon juice and kosher salt. Turn on the food processor and gradually pour in the olive oil. Once combined, turn off the food processor. Blend in a bit more olive oil if desired, to achieve a looser texture. Stores for about 1 week in the refrigerator and several months frozen.

Notes

*Pine nuts are traditional, but can be expensive. We’ve tested both cashews and walnuts and they have great flavor. Since we often have these stocked in our pantry, we use these variations more often than pine nuts. 

**You also can do the same method using a mortar and pestle, adding the basil leaves gradually and crushing them against the sides of the mortar. 

  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Blended
  • Cuisine: Italian

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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15 Comments

  1. Annie Ferreira says:

    Made your pesto recipe with my Sweet basil from my veggie garden. MMmmm nammy, thank you. Will have it with my Pasta dish tonight.






  2. j me says:

    i find that walnuts have too strong a flavor in pesto for my taste. i like to use brazil nuts in my pesto. they are closer to the flavor and buttery texture of pine nuts than other nuts. they are affordable and always available at our health food store. one year i had leftover macademia nuts and they had an even more buttery texture. as another commenter stated, Yum!

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