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.
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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!
- 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.
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.
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, enhancing the flavor.
Don’t overdo it! The leaves should still have a vibrant green color. It will turn black if overly bruised. 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.
How to make basil pesto
With this recipe for basil pesto, add the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to the food processor. 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.
Add in ½ cup of parmesan cheese, and mix for 5 seconds to incorporate. The basil pesto is ready to use. This is one of my favorite quick and easy condiments. It’s so versatile to use!
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.
- Toss with your favorite type of pasta like linguine, cavatappi, penne, or rotini
- Use as a sauce for sauteed shrimp
- Use as a sauce for a meat lovers pizza
- Serve with crostini
- Top on garlic bread or focaccia
- Use a spread for sandwiches
Frequently asked questions
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.
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.
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.
Basil Pesto Sauce
- 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
- 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 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.
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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