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Homemade Basil Pesto

This homemade pesto recipe instantly elevates anything it touches from pasta to chicken, fish, sandwiches, vegetables, eggs, salads, etc.   It’s deliciously cheesy, garlicky and herbaceous brimming with peppery basil, salty Parmesan, nutty pine nuts, zingy garlic and rich olive oil.  Best of all, this pesto recipe is easy to make in a food processor in less than 10 minutes, is a brilliant freezer standby and heads above any processed jars. Keep the pesto recipe classic or I’ve included all sorts of variations including cashews, almonds, walnuts, arugula, spinach, kale etc. Let's pesto!
Course Condiment
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 8 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 12 servings (1 1 /2 cups)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (use 1/2 cup if not freshly grated)
  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted pine nuts (the best substitute is cashews)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

ADD LATER

Instructions

  • Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (without any oil). Add pine nuts and toast until golden in spots. Immediately remove from the skillet so they don’t continue to cook.
  • Add all the pesto ingredients except the olive oil to a food processor (basil through pepper).
  • Pulse until finely chopped.
  • With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until it is completely combined. Start with 1/2 cup and if you prefer a thinner/smoother pesto, add additional oil. Season with more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice to taste.

Video

Notes

  • Basil:  Use the freshest basil possible.  If it's been sitting in your fridge for a week, the pesto can turn brown and won't taste as fabulous. 
  • Parmesan cheese:  For the best pesto recipe, use real, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano right off of the block and not any powdered or pre-shredded cheeses.  Parmigiano-Reggiano is Parmesan produced in Italy and has been aged for at least two years.  In the U.S. you can still find tasty “Parmesan,” but it is not regulated, and typically only aged 10 months so it’s not as flavorful/complex.
  • More or less cheese: The amount of cheese is personal preference and may also vary depending on how you are serving the pesto sauce.  You want more Parmesan for serving with pasta and less with fish.  The potency of Parmesan can also vary, so be flexible.
  • Don’t over-process the olive oil or your pesto sauce will taste bitter. Extra virgin olive oil is super sensitive to mechanical agitation – as in a blender or a food processor.  Meaning, if you over-process the oil, its polyphenols can break away from the fatty acids causing oxidation which will make the pesto taste bitter.  If you’re worried about this, you may stir the olive oil in by hand or even use canola oil.
  • Let the flavors meld. Homemade pesto sauce is best if allowed to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving, preferable 2 hours, to let the flavors meld.
  • Adjust the basil pesto recipe to your taste. If you’re not sure how garlicky, cheese or tangy you would like your basil pesto, start with less of the ingredients and gradually add more to taste.  Take care, however, not to add whole ingredients to the already chopped sauce with olive oil or it can become over-processed/bitter. Instead, chop the ingredients then stir them in by hand.
  • Ways to use pesto (see full list in post): Pesto Chicken Bake, Bruschetta Chicken, Creamy Pesto Pasta, Pesto Pasta Salad, Creamy Parmesan Pesto Chicken Skillet, Sheet Pan Parmesan Chicken and Vegetables, Roasted Potatoes with Bacon and Parmesan, Crockpot Mashed Potatoes,-Lemon Garlic Shrimp Fettuccine, TikTok Feta Pasta.

Pesto Variations

Pesto is exquisite in its infinite versatility.  Once you’ve made the classic basil pesto recipe, try changing it up! You can create an entirely different pesto recipe by using different leafy greens, nuts, seeds, veggies, etc.  I’ve included specific recipes in the post, but here are some ideas to make your own:
  • Use a different basil:  Try a different variety of basil such as large leaf Italian basil, lemon basil, mint basil, Greek basil, etc. Each will affect the taste of the recipe in an exciting new way.
  • Swap in different greens: Swap some or all of the basil for other greens such as parsley, cilantro, mint, arugula, kale, spinach, etc., or play with a combination.
  • Add herbs: In addition to basil, flavor the pesto with marjoram, mint, thyme or oregano.
  • Swap in other cheese:  Swap some of the Parmesan Reggiano for sharper, saltier, tangier, more pungent Pecorino Romano. You can even use Cotija cheese in combination with cilantro and pepitas.
  • Swap in other nuts: Swap the pine nuts for almonds, walnuts, pecans cashews, or pistachios.
  • Make it nut free: Swap the pine nuts for pumpkin seeds, pepitas, hemp seeds, etc.
  • Punch up the flavor:  Add anything to your pesto such as sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, jalapenos, red pepper flakes, anchovies, capers, olives, artichoke hearts, etc.  
  • Add some heat: I’m a big fan of adding a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  • Make vegan pesto: Substitute the cheese with a non-dairy cheese or add 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is nutty and cheesy.

Storage

Store in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed directly against the surface of the pesto (to help prevent browning) in the fridge for up to 5 days, but is freshest/best/most flavorful if used within the first 3 days. The oil will separate to the top after it has been sitting, so just give the pesto a stir once ready to use.

TO FREEZE

  • Option 1: Transfer pesto sauce to a freezer size bag and freeze flat or divide between multiple freezer bags in measured quantities. To use, thaw in the refrigerator or countertop or simply break off chunks of pesto to use whenever you need it.
  • Option 2:  Freeze pesto in an ice cube tray for smaller servings then transfer cubes to an airtight container after frozen solid. Let thaw in the refrigerator before using or add frozen directly to sauces, etc.