Homemade pesto is, in our opinion, the only way to go. It is so quick and easy to make and delicious. And it is even better if you grow your own basil in the summer. Ours grows so quickly we actually need to make pesto often so we can use up all the basil from our plants! There are many variations to traditional basil pesto, but the original is an absolute favorite and a classic. We know you will love this Quick and Delicious Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe!
Pesto originated in Genoa (Pesto alla Genovese) on the west coast of Italy. Although basil pesto probably was not prevalent until the 1800s, versions of crushed garlic, pine nuts and other ingredients go back to the Middle Ages and even Ancient Roman times.
Pesto can be translated (roughly) to “pound,” which is how it was traditionally made using a mortar and pestle.
A variety of hard grated cheeses have been used in pesto over the decades, and most likely as a result of what was available. We use Parmigiano Reggiano, but including different cheeses will create an equally tasty pesto.
This Quick and Easy Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe is easily incorporated into this Creamy Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops or this Goat Cheese Pesto and Asparagus Pizza. Or enjoy it as a condiment on Italian Sausage Pepper and Pesto Subs!
The basic ingredients used in classic Basil Pesto include fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt and lemon juice. This version of basil pesto is based on the traditional Pesto alla Genovese, although the exact ratios vary slightly across the many versions of this recipe.
- Basil leaves: Fresh sweet basil leaves (Genovese basil or Italian basil) is necessary for this recipe.
- Pine nuts
- Fresh garlic clove
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Use a high-quality EVOO for this recipe for best results.
- Parmesan: Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is what you want here.
- Kosher salt: We use Diamond Crystal brand, if using Morton use slightly less as it is more dense, and therefore will end up making this dish saltier. If you have a favorite sea salt, that can also be used and is actually more traditional.
- Lemon juice - Not always used in classic pesto, but we certainly appreciate what it does for the flavor
See recipe card for quantities.
Basil pesto is so simple to make with the use of a food processor or blender. Modern pesto can still be made using a mortar and pestle, but having a food processor really is convenient.
A blender can also be used, but the texture becomes too smooth for us, so we prefer a food processor. It really comes together quickly and is quite simple to make.
Combine all ingredients for classic basil pesto in a food processor.
Process until smooth.
Remove to a jar, add a bit of oil to the top and store in the fridge. Use within 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Enjoy as an appetizer with crusty bread, with pasta, on pizza and more!
Hint: If you prefer a smoother texture, use a blender to make the pesto. We prefer our pesto to have a bit more texture, so we make it using a food processor.
What to Make with Basil Pesto
Pesto can be used with any protein as a condiment (see Italian Sausage Pepper and Pesto Subs) or as a spread or dip and is a delicious topping for bruschetta. Additionally, pesto is delicious over just about any vegetable, such as artichokes, beans, peas, and potatoes.
Although not traditional, as pesto is not cooked, it can be used on pizzas, replacing tomato sauce, like our Goat Cheese Pesto and Asparagus Pizza.
We love combining it with a basic cream sauce to pair with seafood or chicken pasta dishes like this Creamy Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops.
There are tons of different ways to make pesto, but here are a few common substitutions:
- Pine Nuts - if you have a tree nut allergy, you can switch out the pine nuts for pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or sunflower seeds instead.
- Parmesan - Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano, or even a combination of these make great substitutions for Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Make it Vegan - For a vegan option, substitute the Parmesan for a store-bought vegan version of this cheese, or omit the cheese altogether.
Pesto is the perfect sauce to experiment with to create a unique flavor profile. There are many variations of pesto throughout Italy, although none are as famous as Genovese Pesto.
Here are a few ways you can switch up the ingredients in this recipe:
- Use Different Nuts - switch up the pine nuts with pistachios, walnuts, almonds, cashews or different seeds like pumpkin or sunflower
- Change the Greens/Herbs - use a combination of greens like arugula or spinach, or different herbs like cilantro, parsley, marjoram or mint to give the pesto a unique flavor.
- Add avocado - adding avocado to pesto will give it a creamier texture, plus all the added health benefits! See this avocado pesto on our website!
In Sicily, a red pesto, or "pesto rosso," incorporates tomatoes and almonds.
In the far south of Italy there is a version that uses pepper and roasted peppers giving it a distinct flavor. Using walnuts in place of pine nuts is not uncommon in certain places in Italy and Europe. Check out our Roasted Red Pepper Pesto for a variation of southern Italian red pepper pesto.
A Mexican-style pesto can be made with cilantro instead of basil and pepitas instead of pine nuts.
A variation in Southern France is made without cheese or nuts. This variation has a saucier consistency and is called pistou.
Modern pesto can still be made using a mortar and pestle, but having a food processor really is convenient and easier.
You can also use a blender, but the texture becomes a bit too smooth for our preference, so we typically use a food processor. It really comes together quickly and is quite simple to make.
Store pesto in the fridge in a glass jar or air-tight container with a thin layer of good quality extra virgin olive oil on the top. This will prevent discoloration of your pesto and preserve the flavor. The pesto will keep for a week.
You can freeze pesto without major sacrifice to flavor or texture. If you want to freeze pesto, use ice cube trays so you have smaller amounts for easy use. Once frozen, pop them out of the trays and keep frozen in a zip top bag (removing as much air as possible). Thaw and use within 6 months.
You want to use your favorite and best quality extra virgin olive oil in this recipe. The flavor will play an important role in the pesto. Since this pesto is quite simple and not cooked, the quality of all of the ingredients is important.
If you have garlic that is extremely strong, or you don’t want a sharp garlicky flavor in general, cut your garlic clove in half and boil it for 30 seconds to a minute before using.
A resounding YES! Basil pesto is one of the simplest sauces to make at home and the fresh flavor is far superior to any store-bought jarred version. Homemade pesto simply tastes better!
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
These are our favorite drinks to enjoy with this Quick and Delicious Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe:
We hope you enjoy this Quick and Delicious Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe! If you give this recipe a try, let us know how it turned out in the comments below. If you loved this recipe, please give it a 5 star rating and share your final dish on Instagram and tag us @cooking_with_wine!
Quick and Delicious Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe
- 1 Food processor (or blender)
- 1 Small frying pan (to toast the pine nuts)
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 large garlic clove halved
- 2 ½ cups fresh basil leaves - tightly packed
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- In a dry pan, toast the pine nuts until they just begin to get some color on them (2-3 minutes). Remove and let cool.
- Add all ingredients to a food processor. Begin processing for about 10 seconds. Use a spatula to scrape the sides of the food processor as needed. Continue to process until there is a uniform consistency.
- Transfer the pesto to an air-tight glass container with a small amount of olive oil layered on top of the pesto to prevent the pesto from browning from contact with the air.
- Thoroughly wash your produce before using.
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods.
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove.
- Never leave cooking food unattended.