Basil Pesto

5 from 3 votes
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Have you been looking for the perfect basil pesto recipe? Look no further! This recipe combines fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and garlic for a mouth-watering sauce perfect for pasta, sandwiches, and even a veggie dip.

Delicious basil pesto sauce in a white bowl.

Recipe Science

  • Blending fresh basil with garlic, nuts, and olive oil creates an emulsion that ensures a smooth, cohesive texture and prevents separation.
  • The olive oil in pesto acts as a preservative, protecting the basil’s vibrant green color from oxidation.
  • Adding Parmesan cheese introduces umami and salt, enhancing the overall flavor profile and balancing the freshness of the basil and the richness of the nuts and oil.

Why It Works

This recipe is a tasty spin-off of my homemade pesto sauce. It’s much better than store-bought pesto, and it’s easy to make. All you need are five ingredients added to a food processor, and it’s ready in less than 5 minutes!

I’ll show you a simple bruising technique to enhance the flavor of the leaves. You’ll immediately smell the characteristic aroma, making the pesto taste even better. Make a batch to add to pasta, pizzas, sandwiches, seafood, chicken, and more!

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients needed to make this basil pesto recipe.
  • Basil: Use packed fresh basil leaves. You’ll need a generous amount, about two bunches.
  • Garlic: A fresh clove of garlic adds pungency. Add up to 3 cloves for a stronger taste.
  • Nuts: Pines nuts are a classic addition to create a creamy texture. You can toast them for a roasted flavor if desired. Walnuts or cashews are a good substitute.
  • Oil: Use high-quality extra-virgin olive oil to make a paste-like consistency.
  • Seasoning: Keep it simple with salt and pepper to enhance the taste of the herb sauce.
  • Cheese: Use grated parmesan cheese. Alternatively, use other hard-grating aged cheeses like Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana Reggiano.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

Now that you have the base recipe for pesto basil sauce try customizing it with these delicious variations:

  • Nuts: Switch up the pine nuts with walnuts, cashews, almonds, peanuts, or pistachios. Toasting the nuts warms their natural fat, making the sauce more flavorful.
  • Cheese: Salty, aged, dry grating cheese like Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, or Parmigiano Reggiano adds the best taste to the pesto.
  • Herbs and Greens: Try adding some parsley, mint, tarragon, oregano, or cilantro for a stronger herbaceous note. Swap some of the basil for spinach or arugula.
  • Citrus: Add lime or lemon juice and zest for a tangy flavor.
  • Oil: Use avocado oil or grapeseed oil for a more neutral taste. Add walnut oil or truffle oil for a more aromatic pesto.
  • Spicy: Make the pesto hot with red chili flakes, chipotle chili powder, cayenne, or chili paste like Sriracha.

How to Make Basil Pesto

Basil leaves submerged in a large bowl of water.

Step 1: Wash and Dry

Always wash basil leaves as they may harbor dirt and debris. It’s important to clean them well, especially since the pesto is eaten raw. Submerge them in a bowl of cold water, then dry them in a salad spinner. Pluck the leaves off the stem before processing. The stem can have a bitter taste.

Green leaves inside a mortar and being bruised with a pestle.

Step 2: Bruise the Leaves

The classic method to make homemade pesto is to use a mortar and pestle. However, modern tools like a food processor or blender make preparation quick and easy. I like to still use both methods to maximize the taste of the basil leaves in the sauce.

Before processing, lightly pound the leaves to release their aroma and enhance the flavor. Don’t overdo it! The leaves should still have a vibrant green color. If overly bruised, they will turn black. The goal is to release some of the peppery clove-like smell. They can also be placed in a large plastic bag and bruised with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer.

Basil, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor.

Step 3: Add the Ingredients

With this recipe for basil pesto, add the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to the food processor.

Pouring oil into the tube of a food processor.

Step 4: Add the Oil

Pulse a few times to break up the leaves and garlic clove. With the processor running on low, drizzle in the olive oil. In just about 10 seconds, a paste will form.

Parmesan cheese added to a food processor to make pesto.

Step 5: Add the Cheese

Add in ½ cup of parmesan cheese, and mix for 5 seconds to incorporate.

Spoon holding up basil pesto.

The basil pesto is ready to use. It’s one of my favorite quick and easy condiments—so versatile!

Slice of bread dipped in pesto sauce.

Step 6: Ready to Serve

Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl and use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for use later.

Serving Suggestions

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make the pesto recipe without garlic?

Garlic can be removed from the recipe. However, it won’t have as much dimension. To tame the spicy sulfurous notes of raw garlic, toast the unpeeled cloves in a pan until browned. Use roasted garlic to add a sweeter taste.

How should I store the leftover pesto?

Remove as much air as possible from the storage container. Either place in a bag with the air removed, then in a container. Alternatively, make sure to cover the surface with plastic wrap when in a container with headspace. Over time, oxygen will cause the basil leaves to turn dark in color. Reducing exposure prolongs the freshness.

Can I freeze the pesto for later use?

Add the pesto to a freezer bag with the air removed. To portion it out, add it to an ice cube tray. Freeze and then transfer to a plastic bag or container. It’s great to add pesto with pasta to make a quick sauce.

Can I use dried basil instead of fresh basil leaves?

It’s best to use fresh basil leaves to make pesto sauce. The flavor is more delicate, and you need the fibers and volume from the leaves to make the paste. Dried basil leaves are concentrated in a peppery, oregano-like flavor. It’s three times as potent in flavor, which can make the pesto too strong. However, you could use spinach leaves as the base, then add dried basil to incorporate its characteristic flavor. Start with 1 tablespoon of basil to 2 cups of spinach, increasing to taste.

More Sauce Recipes

If you tried this Basil Pesto recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

Basil Pesto

Indulge in the freshest flavors of summer with my mouthwatering basil pesto recipe. Bursting with vibrant basil leaves, fragrant garlic, and rich Parmesan, this sauce is the perfect way to elevate any pasta dish or spread it on a crusty baguette.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time15 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

  • 2 cups basil leaves, packed
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Instructions 

  • Wash and Dry – Submerge the basil leaves in a bowl of cold water. Transfer to a salad spinner to dry. Alternatively, gently shake off the excess water and pat dry with a paper towel. Remove the leaves from the stem.
  • Bruise the Leaves (Optional) – Place the basil in a mortar and use the pestle to gently bruise the leaves until fragrant. Alternatively, place leaves in an open resealable plastic bag and use a rolling pin or meat cleaver to bruise.
  • Add the Ingredients – In a food processor or blender, add the basil leaves, garlic clove, pine nuts, salt, and pepper.
  • Make the Pesto – Cover and process by pulsing five times to help break down the basil and garlic. While running on low speed, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Process until smooth with some smaller pieces, about 10 seconds from start to finish.
  • Add the Cheese – Add the parmesan cheese and process on low speed for 5 seconds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • To Serve – Transfer to a bowl and use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About ½ cup
  • Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
  • Storing: Refrigerate in an airtight container, using plastic wrap to cover the surface with no air space. Good for up to 5 days. Freeze for up to 6 months.
  • Cheese Substitution: Use Pecorino Romano cheese.
  • Nut Substitution: Use walnuts or cashews.
  • Using for Pasta: Mix in 3 to 4 tablespoons of the hot pasta water to thin out the sauce.
  • Make it Vegan or Dairy-Free: Remove the cheese or use vegan cheese.
  • Make it Whole30 or Paleo: Remove the cheese and use sea salt.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 103kcal (5%)Carbohydrates 1gProtein 2g (4%)Fat 11g (17%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Polyunsaturated Fat 2gMonounsaturated Fat 6gCholesterol 3mg (1%)Sodium 201mg (8%)Potassium 51mg (1%)Fiber 0.3g (1%)Sugar 0.2gVitamin A 345IU (7%)Vitamin C 1mg (1%)Calcium 40mg (4%)Iron 0.5mg (3%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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