This recipe for Basil Pesto comes together in minutes for a fresh and flavorful pesto sauce that tastes so much better than storebought.
When it comes to a condiment that packs in a ton of flavor, pesto reigns supreme.
Made with just a handful of ingredients, pesto is cheesy, herby, salty, bright, and fresh. It couldn't be easier to make, yet this recipe for basil pesto will elevate everything from pasta, to pizza, to appetizers.
I just love whenever you can make something fast, with minimal ingredients, that has multiple uses--especially when it happens to be as flavorful as this basil pesto!
What You Need to Make Pesto
Because pesto is made with only a few ingredients, it is best to pay attention to the quality of ingredients, as they will greatly influence the overall flavor of your pesto sauce.
- Basil: Use sweet basil, not Thai basil when making pesto sauce at home. Sweet basil has a fresh flavor, with mild hints of pepper, mint, and anise, while Thai basil is much more pungent in flavor and can quickly overwhelm the other ingredients in pesto. Sweet basil is the easiest to find in grocery stores and many of you may even be lucky to have it growing in your garden.
- Pine Nuts: Pine nuts are classic in traditional pesto recipes. They have a mild, nutty, buttery flavor, and are the perfect base for a rich pesto. That said, pine nuts can be pricey, so I have included substitutions below.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic, not jarred minced garlic is best when making pesto. You can also adjust the number of fresh garlic cloves based on how garlicky you like your pesto.
- Parmesan Cheese: Use good quality parmesan or pecorino romano cheese when making pesto. It is best to freshly grate the cheese yourself or purchase grated parmesan from the refrigerated deli section. This is not the time to use a canister of parmesan cheese.
- Olive Oil: Use a good quality extra-virgin olive oil. I do not recommend substituting any other oil in its place.
- Food Processor: For making the pesto, a food processor fitted with an s-blade is best.
How to Make Pesto
Step One: Toast the Nuts
Toasting your pine nuts will help them release their natural oils and enhance their nutty, buttery flavors. It only takes a couple of minutes and makes a huge impact on the final product.
- Place the pine nuts in a dry skillet.
- Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, tossing frequently, just until the nuts begin to turn golden brown and your nose begins to smell them. This will only take a few minutes.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool slightly.
- Place the cooled nuts into a food processor, fitted with an s-blade, along with the garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
- Pulse until the nuts and garlic are finely chopped.
- Add the parmesan cheese to the food processor.
- Remove the stems from the basil leaves and add them to the food processor.
- Pulse the ingredients together until well combined.
- With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil through the opening in the lid and let the food processor run until everything is well combined.
- At this point, give the pesto a taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed Feel free to add additional olive oil to thin the pesto if desired as well.
Once the pesto has been prepared, transfer it to a jar that can be fitted with an airtight lid. I recommend drizzling pesto with a thin layer of olive oil which will help to keep the pesto's vibrant green color intact. Homemade pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
If you are not planning to use your pesto within 7 days, I highly recommend freezing some to keep on hand. My favorite way to freeze pesto is to use an ice cube tray, as then you can simply thaw only as many cubes as needed.
To Freeze the Pesto
- Spoon the prepared pesto into ice cube trays.
- Place the ice cube trays into the freezer until the pesto is frozen solid. Typically this takes 3-4 hours.
- Remove the frozen basil pesto cubes from the trays and place them in a plastic freezer bag.
- Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Thaw the cubes of pesto as needed, keeping in mind that each cube is equivalent to about 1 tablespoon of pesto.
Variations on Homemade Pesto
- Nuts: Instead of pine nuts, use cashews for a similar flavor profile. Walnuts or pistachios are also delicious options.
- Nut-Free Pesto: Use raw pepitas and toast as you would the pine nuts before preparing the pesto.
- Herbs: Basil is classic in pesto, but parsley and cilantro are also delicious bases for pesto that lend a completely different flavor profile. I also really like to use arugula in place of the basil myself.
- Dairy-Free Pesto: Simply omit the parmesan cheese or use nutritional yeast in place of the parmesan.
- Oil-Free Pesto: Classic Pesto is made with a lot of oil. However, I have had success using 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth paired with 1 ripe avocado for a creamy, smooth, rich pesto. I have also used ¼ cup of aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas) with success as well.
- Add Flavor: Feel free to add in additional garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, a pinch of red pepper flakes, or roasted red peppers for a nice boost of flavor.
My Favorite Uses for Pesto
The uses for Pesto are endless! Below are a few of my favorites.
- Toss 8 ounces of cooked pasta with ¼ cup of the pasta cooking liquid and ¼ cup of the prepared pesto for a quick and easy dinner.
- Spread chicken with pesto sauce and cheese and bake for a fast and flavorful Pesto Chicken recipe.
- Use pesto to spread on toast or as a dip for freshly baked Italian bread.
- Serve with Antipasto Skewers for a party appetizer everyone will love!
- Add a teaspoon or two of prepared pesto to scrambled eggs before cooking--insanely delicious!
- Spread pizza dough with a thin layer of the prepared pesto instead of pizza sauce for a flavorful spin on pizza night.
- Use pesto to bump up the flavor in a sandwich. I personally love spreading pesto on thickly sliced bread and topping it with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella and then grilling. It is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches.
- Pesto is also great as a marinade. Toss chicken or shrimp with a bit of pesto and let marinade for 2-3 hours and then cook or grill as desired. So fast and flavorful!
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If you tried this recipe for Basil Pesto, I would love for you to leave a comment and review below.
Homemade Basil Pesto
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice about 1 large lemon
- 1 small garlic clove
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups basil leaves
- ¼-1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil more for a smoother pesto
- Place the pine nuts in a dry skillet. Toast them over medium-low heat, tossing frequently, just until the nuts begin to toast and you smell them. This will only take 3-5 minutes. Remove the nuts from the heat and let cool slightly.
- Place the cooled nuts into a food processor, fitted with an s-blade. Add in the garlic, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and pulse until everything is chopped well.
- Add the parmesan and basil and pulse until combined.
- With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until combined. For a smoother pesto, add more olive oil.
- Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve as desired.
- To store pesto, transfer the pesto to a small glass jar and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil to cover the top of the pesto (this will keep the pesto a vibrant green), cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.