Homemade Traditional Pesto is a great way to enjoy a bounty of fresh summer basil. It’s easy to make, and takes just a few minutes with classic honest ingredients, and it freezes really well, so it’s a great way to enjoy summer.
This bright, herb filled basil pesto recipe makes pretty much everything taste better. More than just a sauce for pasta, pesto is a truly versatile condiment, and always welcome tossed with roasted green beans, over roasted potatoes, or use as the sauce on pizza.
I first posted this recipe in 2010, and I’ve loved it ever since! It’s a great recipe but it needed a facelift with new pictures, information, and details in the recipe. So it’s been updated for a better user experience!
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Please let me know if you have any questions about this recipe. I read all the comments myself and I try to help as soon as I can. I have readers from all levels of comfort and experience in the kitchen on my site, and I’ve tried to answer some of your questions already in the post. But if I’ve missed anything, please feel free to leave a comment and ask.
What is pesto made of?
Classic Pesto is made with lots of fresh basil, garlic pine nuts, Parmesan or Romano cheese, and good quality olive oil – it’s a perfect sauce! Super fresh, super flavorful.
That’s it. Just simple, fresh, and quite amazing.
If you don’t grow basil (and it’s really easy to grow it, even in a pot on your windowsill), head over to your Farmer’s Market– it’s in season and really fragrant right now.
And make sure that you get good quality ingredients here, because there isn’t anything masking their flavor. It’s the ingredients that make this sauce shine!
Get good Parmesan, not that dry stuff in a can (what is that anyway?).
And, good quality olive oil.
What Is Pesto?
The name “pesto” can be traced back to the Italian word “pestare,” which means “to crush or pound”, and can be traced back to Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Italy.
Traditionally, Italians made pesto by pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle.
Is this basil pesto recipe authentic?
It’s nice traditional recipe, as most pesto recipes are fairly basic, but I’m not usually one who really cares about if a recipe is authentic or not. Does it taste really good? And is it easy to make? When the answer to both of these is yes, I’m in. And this pesto is really tasty and easy to make.
Want to make it even more authentic? Use a mortar and pestle to crush the basil, then add in the cheeses, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and crush until a paste is formed, finally mixing in the olive oil.
But that’s a lot of work, and I much prefer the food processor to make this delicious sauce.
You can also use Romano cheese and/or grana Padano cheese for a nice authentic flavor.
How to Store Basil
For best quality, store fresh basil in a cool place (50-55 F) do not refrigerate.
I like to store fresh cut basil just like it was a fresh flower arrangement, on the counter in a vase or mason jar filled with water. The basil you see here in the picture, I’ve trimmed the stalks and bound them together with a tie tie and placed in the mason jar with water.
Change the water regularly, and it’ll last a long time on your counter like this. In fact, it might even sprout roots!
Be sure not to wash the leaves until you’re ready use them.
Also, you might see living basil plants at the grocery store, definitely grab one of those to keep some basil handy on your kitchen counter. I almost always have one of those around. Place the root end in a mason jar or cup and keep the water fresh.
How to serve pesto
Pesto is regularly served on pasta, and you’ll definitely want to check out my Creamy Pesto Shrimp Pasta, and don’t forget to salt the pasta cooking water. Similar to pasta, pesto is fantastic on gnocchi!
It’s also great served on top of pizzas, or to dip bread in. For pizza it can be used in place of the red sauce, or as an addition to the pizza after it comes out of the oven.
When I make this pesto for a pizza topping (like to add it before the pizza is baked), I like to add a little less oil to the recipe. I find that 1/3 cup is just about right for pizza topping.
Pesto is great as a spread on sandwiches like on my Pesto Avocado Grilled Cheese.
Use pesto as a garnish for soup like in my Slow Cooker Pesto Potato Soup.
Switch up the ingredients
I like to think of pesto as a blank canvas for experimenting too.
You can absolutely experiment with other herbs in pesto. Try something different, like cilantro, marjoram, fresh oregano, spinach, sage, or parsley instead of basil. (mint anyone?) Or, try a combination of fresh herbs.
Or try switching up the nuts with almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts.
Make creamy pesto with cream cheese or a splash of cream added to the mixture.
Try par boiling the garlic for about 60 seconds to take bite off of the garlic too.
Is pesto healthy?
You’ve heard that pesto is high in calories because of all that oil? Well, keep in mind that these are all good fats, and natural foods. But, if you want to cut the calories a bit, trade half of the oil for water (the pasta cooking water will work very well).
Pinon nuts vs. pine nuts
Pine nuts, also sometimes called piñón nuts, pinons, pignolias, or pignoli, are all the edible seeds of pines. But are they all the same? No, not quite the same, though they could be used interchangeably in this recipe.
The word “pinon” is derived from the Spanish expression for pine nut, however, pinon nuts grow only on pinon trees. And the pinon nut has a milder flavor than the pine nut. Want to read more on the pine nut, check out this article.
I thought this was an interesting bit of knowledge that the pine nut bag provided, “Pine nuts cannot be grown under modern commercial conditions. The small scrubby trees grow on mountainsides at elevations of 5000-7000 feet. All operations are done by hand. The trees grow slowly and do not bear until 25 years old. At age 75 there is enough for commercial harvesting.”
I guess that’s why they’re so expensive.
How to make pesto
Rinse off the basil leaves in a small colander, like this one from Amazon.
Gather up all your ingredients so you’re ready. It comes together really quickly. And, isn’t it nice how fresh and whole these ingredients are?
Pop the ingredients except the oil in the food processor.
Process the ingredients in the food processor. Then drizzle in the oil through the feed tube.
How to Store Pesto
Use pesto immediately after making, or store it in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to one week. I love to use mason jars to store pesto, and always write on the lid what’s inside the jar.
Also, you can press plastic wrap directly onto the top of the pesto to prevent discoloration.
How to Freeze Pesto
Pesto may be frozen up to 2 months. It’s a great way to save that summer basil that may be taking over your garden right now.
If you want to freeze the pesto, fill an ice cube tray with the sauce.
Freeze, and then remove the frozen cubes from the tray and store in a freezer safe, zip-top bag. When you want to use it, defrost in the fridge, or simply pop an ice cube into something like a soup where it’ll melt right in.
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Traditional Basil Pesto Sauce Recipe
Traditional Pesto Sauce
- 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
- ½ cup olive oil or more if needed
- Salt and pepper
- Process the first four ingredients (basil through cheese) in a food processor to a rough paste. With the machine running, slowly pour the olive oil through the tube. If the sauce seems dry (it should be a thick paste) add a little more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pesto may be frozen up to 2 months.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations, and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary based on brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes, and more.