Vibrant Basil Pesto is sunny, scrumptious summer, in spoonable form. Use it 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.
Classic basil pesto is a green sauce made from basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and good quality olive oil.
It tastes herby, nutty, a little grassy, and exceptionally fresh.
Pesto is also flexible.
While basil and pine nuts are traditional, they are only one version:
- Use other nuts instead of pine nuts (like the walnuts in the Creamy Basil Pesto from The Well Plated Cookbook).
- Change the basil for other herbs or greens (like the cilantro and arugula in this Avocado Pesto).
- Even the cheese is flexible. Need a vegan pesto? Just leave it out or add nutritional yeast.
Pesto’s glory is its simplicity.
It’s only a handful of ingredients, and it adds liveliness to anything to which you add it…
…and as you’ll see, you can add pesto to a lot.
How to Make Sweet Basil Pesto
Pesto is a food that it is truly worth making from scratch.
While you can find some decent store-bought pestos, nothing compares to the taste of homemade pesto fresh from your own kitchen.
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 as desired.
- Pine Nuts. Nuts give the pesto structure and delicious nutty flavor. While pine nuts are the most commonly used nut, you can swap them for walnuts, almonds, or pistachios.
- Garlic. For that scrumptious garlicky goodness.
- Basil. The star of the show! Basil exudes freshness with a hint of sweetness. 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. See the “Pesto Variations” box below for substitution ideas.
- Toast the nuts.
- Blend the nuts and garlic in a food processor using the pulse feature.
- Add the basil, spinach, salt, and pepper.
- While the processor is running, pour in the oil.
- Add the Parmesan. Process a little longer until smooth. ENJOY!
Tips for the Best Pesto
- 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 expecially 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.
- 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. It will stay fresh 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.
How to Use Basil Pesto
- Pasta. As classic Pesto Pasta and this Chicken Pesto Pasta proves, pasta and pesto were meant to be!
- 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. For a simple, satisfying way to enjoy pesto, 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. Top your favorite seafood with this yummy pesto! We love it on Pesto Salmon, 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. For the ultimate crowd-pleasing appetizer! Try my Pesto Pinwheels.
Use the ratios in this basil pesto 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 use a different Italian hard cheese, such as pecorino.
- Creamy. Try the Creamy Basil Pesto with Greek Yogurt from The Well Plated Cookbook.
- Fun Additions. Add sun-dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Food Processor. 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.
Homemade basil pesto sauce, you keep life fresh!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can make pesto ahead of time. Prepare the pesto as directed, then transfer it to an airtight container for up to 5 days. You can also make a big batch, freeze the leftovers, and thaw them as needed.
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. It also uses less oil than other pesto 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.
- 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.
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