Vibrant Basil Pesto is sunny, scrumptious summer, in spoonable form. Use this easy, quick recipe for pasta and sandwiches, drizzle it over tomatoes, spread it on pizza, and more. Anything pesto touches becomes brighter, fresher, and all the more delicious.
Why You’ll Love This Perfect Pesto
- Easy and Worth It. This easy pesto recipe is only a handful of ingredients, and tastes phenomenally fresh. Pesto is worth making from scratch. While you can find some decent store-bought pestos, nothing compares to the fresh, pure taste of homemade pesto from your own kitchen.
- Good on Everything. You can add pesto to a lot. From Pesto Pasta, to Pesto Chicken Skewers, to spreading it sandwiches like a BLT, pesto is a magic sauce.
- Less Oil. My main gripe about most basil pesto recipes is that they are too oily. I want my pesto to cling to noodles, stand up as a spread on sandwiches, and be more about the herbs than the oil. I make my pesto on the thicker side (higher ratio of basil and nuts to oil). If you prefer your pesto, looser, add more olive oil.
- Flexible. Classic basil pesto is made of basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and good-quality olive oil. This pesto, however, can go with the flow. You can switch up the nuts (I often use walnuts or almonds), change the basil (try cilantro and arugula like in this Avocado Pesto), and even omit the cheese.
How to Make Sweet Basil Pesto
- Pine Nuts. Nuts give the pesto structure and delicious nutty flavor. While pine nuts are the most commonly used nut in an authentic pesto recipe, you can swap them for walnuts, almonds, or pistachios.
- Garlic. For that scrumptious garlicky goodness.
- Basil. When you have a lot of basil, pesto is the penultimate way to use it! Basil exudes freshness with a hint of sweetness, and it’s what makes pesto taste so good. It also is partly responsible for the pesto’s green hue.
- Spinach. Adds an extra touch of freshness, boosts the green color, and packs in nutrition. You can use greens like spinach, kale, or arugula in your pesto.
- Salt + Pepper. A simple combination that helps add flavor to the pesto.
- Olive Oil. The oil helps give the pesto the perfect consistency and adds richness.
- Parmesan. The addictive cheesy, salty addition that completes this pesto.
- Toast the Nuts. Don’t let them burn!
- Pulse. Blend the nuts and garlic.
- Add the Remaining Ingredients. Almost there!
- Puree. Pouring in oil while the processor runs.
- Add the Parmesan. Process a little longer until smooth. ENJOY!
Use the ratios in this basil pesto sauce to create a tasty mix of different pestos. Here are a few ways to change it up.
- Greens. Add a few handfuls of other greens, such as arugula, kale, spinach, chard, or beet greens.
- Herbs. Substitute all or part of the basil for mint, parsley, or cilantro.
- Nuts. You can make great basil pesto with walnuts, pistachios, almonds, or a mix. For basil pesto without nuts, use pumpkin seeds.
- Parmesan. For a vegan pesto, swap the Parmesan for nutritional yeast or a dairy-free Parmesan cheese. Or use a different Italian hard cheese, such as pecorino romano.
- Creamy. Try the Creamy Basil Pesto with Greek Yogurt from The Well Plated Cookbook.
- Fun Additions. Try tossing in sun-dried tomatoes (tomato basil pesto would be delish) or roasted red peppers.
- To Store. Air is the enemy of pesto! To store, place pesto in the refrigerator in as small a container as possible, and press a piece of plastic over the top so air doesn’t touch the pesto. Instead of plastic, you can also drizzle a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil on top. Homemade basil pesto lasts for up to 5 days. If your leftover pesto loses any flavor, you can perk it back up with a little bit of lemon juice.
- To Freeze. Freeze pesto in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the fridge before using. You can also freeze small portions in an ice cube tray; be sure it’s in an airtight freezer bag.
Meal Prep Tip
You can make pesto ahead of time. Prepare the pesto as directed, then transfer it to an airtight container for up to 5 days.
This is a small batch basil pesto recipe (it makes 4 servings), but you can also make a big batch, freeze the leftovers, and thaw them as needed.
How to Use Basil Pesto
What you eat basil pesto with is up to you, but some of our favorites are listed below:
- Pasta. As Chicken Pesto Pasta proves, pasta and pesto were meant to be! Basil pesto goes with zucchini noodles too (like Zucchini Pasta).
- Pizza. Whether you add pesto to an English Muffin Pizza or Burrata Pizza, you can’t go wrong.
- Sandwiches. Take your favorite sandwiches to the next level with pesto. Try it on a Portobello Mushroom Burger, Grilled Chicken Sandwich, or an Air Fryer Grilled Cheese.
- Bread. Bread is the best to dip in basil pesto. For a simple, satisfying way to enjoy pesto, you could also spread it on a slice of No Knead Focaccia.
- Eggs. Try this Pesto Quiche, or add some pesto to this Crustless Quiche.
- Meat. Pesto is delicious on everything from Grilled Pesto Chicken Skewers to Air Fryer Chicken Breast to Stuffed Pork Chops.
- Seafood. Pesto tastes excellent on seafood. We love it on Pesto Salmon, with Grilled Shrimp Seasoning, or Grilled Cod.
- Vegetables. Use it for Pesto Potato Salad or simply add it to any of your favorite Oven Roasted Vegetables.
- Appetizers. Pesto is good for appetizers too! For the ultimate crowd-pleasing appetizer, try my Pesto Pinwheels.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Food Processor. This recipe is for how to make basil pesto in the food processor, so that’s what I recommend. The food processor I own and love!
- Small Skillet. A small skillet is great for toasting nuts.
- Storage Jars. These cute little airtight storage jars are ideal for leftover pesto.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Use Good Quality Olive Oil. Since the oil isn’t heated and pesto is so few ingredients, the quality of the oil is critical. Keep a bottle of nice olive oil on hand for recipes like pesto and salad dressings, then use a less-expensive oil for high-temperature roasting and sautéing.
- Avoid the Green Can of “Parmesan”. As with the oil, the quality of the cheese is vital. Do not use the green can. Either grate your own Parm from a block (this is especially easy in the food processor) or purchase freshly grated cheese from your grocery store refrigerator case.
- Keep It Airtight. Air steals the freshness of pesto as soon as you make it. Whatever pesto you do not use right away, transfer it to an airtight jar and cover it with plastic wrap so no air touches the surface.
- Vary It Up. The beauty of pesto is its flexibility. Use whichever herbs and greens are freshest or that you have in your garden for the best pesto sauce (see some alternative pesto recipes in the “Recipe Variations” section above).
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts or ¼ cup walnuts
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves no stems
- 2 cups spinach chopped kale, or arugula,
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil use more for a smoother, looser pesto
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
- Toast the nuts: place the nuts in a small, dry skillet. Toast over low heat, shaking the pan often, until fragrant and toasted, about 4 minutes for pine nuts and 6 to 8 minutes for walnuts. BE PATIENT. As soon as you crank up the heat, nuts love to burn.
- Place the pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Blend for 10 long pulses.
- Add the basil, spinach, salt, and pepper.
- With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the feed tube. Puree until smooth, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Scrape down the side of the food processor bowl as needed.
- Add the Parmesan and puree until blended, about 30 seconds more, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. Add additional oil if you'd like the pesto thinner. Use right away or store for later use (see tip below).
- TO STORE: Air is the enemy of pesto! To store, place pesto in the refrigerator in as small a container as possible, and press a piece of plastic over the top so air doesn’t touch the pesto. Instead of plastic, you can also drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on top. It will stay fresh for up to 5 days.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze pesto in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
Join today and start saving your favorite recipes
Create an account to easily save your favorite recipes and access FREE meal plans.Sign Me Up
Frequently Asked Questions
Honestly, no. Fresh herbs are critical for great-tasting pesto. If you don’t have basil, try a different herb such as cilantro, mint, parsley, or a mix.
This homemade pesto recipe is healthy when enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. It’s packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, magnesium, iron, vitamins, calcium, protein, and more. This healthy basil pesto recipe also uses less oil than other recipes.
I have only tested this recipe in a food processor. If you have a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix, you can experiment, but it might be more challenging to get the garlic and the nuts to grind evenly. For the ultimate challenge and original Genoa, Italy experience, you can make it with a mortar and pestle.
While you can freeze fresh basil and thaw it for pesto, I prefer to go ahead and make the pesto while the basil is fresh. Then, you can freeze the pesto itself with great results. If you’d like to freeze the whole basil leaves, however, I recommend freezing them in an ice cube tray submerged in either water or olive oil (this will keep the leaves greener for an extended amount of time). Let them thaw completely before adding them to the pesto.