Classic Pesto Recipe
This basil pesto recipe comes together in 5 minutes for a fresh and flavorful summer sauce. Made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil, this classic Italian condiment is the only recipe you need! Perfect for pizzas, pasta, sandwiches, and more, you will want to serve this pesto with everything!
If you’ve taken the plunge and planted a garden this year, whether in the ground, in raised beds, or in containers, I suspect that basil is one of the things you decided to grow. And why not?! It’s incredibly easy to grow, smells amazing, and will reward you with massive yields of those large, earthy leaves.
I’m happy to pile basil on top of fresh mozzarella and garden tomatoes and call it a day, but if you have a true bounty of basil, you’ll need to gift it to all of your friends and neighbors or start whipping up batches of pesto. It is incredibly easy to make, super versatile, and is a wonderful candidate for freezing.
What is It?
This fresh sauce made from basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and a salty hard cheese might possibly be the oldest Italian sauce. You may also see it called Pesto alla Genovese after the town of Genoa, where it originated.
Traditionally, pesto was made by grinding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle then mixing in the olive oil. This is how pesto received its name because in Italian the word pesto means pounded. Thankfully, you can now easily whip up a batch of pesto without manually pounding the ingredients thanks to the convenience of a food processor or blender.
Pick the BEST Ingredients
Since this pesto recipe is made with a shortlist of raw ingredients, picking the best quality of each helps ensure the final pesto packs in the flavor. Here are my tips for selecting the best ingredients for your homemade pesto:
- Basil! – The fresher, the better. Be sure to rinse the leaves and if they are spotty or have lots of veins, toss them.
- Nuts – Pine nuts are traditional here. A package is a bit pricy but they store in the freezer and will last you all pesto season.
- Garlic – Really catapults the flavor; use fresh garlic here and save the jarred stuff for quick cooking.
- Olive Oil – Arguably as important as the basil, you want to select a good quality extra virgin olive oil with a mild flavor.
- Cheese – Adds a salty nutty finish to the pesto, I typically use parmesan.
- Salt and Pepper – Extra flavor.
Some of the ingredients can easily be swapped for something you might already have on hand. Here are a few common variations for the different ingredients in fresh pesto.
- Pine Nuts: Whether you don’t like the flavor, can’t find them at the store, or are looking for ways to switch it up, you can also use walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pecans.
- Nut-free: If you want a nut-free option you can swap the pine nuts for sunflower seeds.
- Parmesan: Use another hard salty cheese in place of parmesan such as Pecorino Romaro, Asiago, or aged manchego.
- Cheese-free: Swap the cheese for nutritional yeast. You’ll get that same salty nutty flavor without the side effects of dairy.
Quick & Easy Step-By-Step Directions
Making pesto in a food processor or blender is quick and easy! Gather of all your ingredients and let’s get started on this simple pesto recipe.
- Pulse: In a food processor or blender, pulse together fresh basil, pine nuts, and garlic about 5 to 7 times until finely chopped.
- Add the olive oil: Stream in olive oil while the machine is running, then scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times to blend.
- Pulse in the cheese: Add the cheese and pulse to incorporate.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste (I find it doesn’t need a TON more salt, but I do love a healthy dose of cracked black pepper.
That’s all there is to it! Only five minutes and you have crazy fresh pesto with that gorgeous plant you’ve been tending to since getting it in the ground. If that doesn’t feel like a massive dose of satisfaction, I don’t know what does.
My favorite way to use this pesto recipe is my portobello pesto pizza (which I had to recreate years ago after eating something similar at Church Brew Works here in Pittsburgh, although regrettably, it doesn’t seem to still be on the menu!). Some other ways to enjoy your fresh pesto include:
- Pesto Chicken Salad
- Open-faced veggie sandwiches
- Coating a fresh bowl of gnocchi
- Slathered on a slice of warm Italian bread
- Drizzled over a Caprese salad
Storing, Shelf-Life, and Freezing Pesto
- Storing: Keep refrigerated in an airtight container.
- Shelf-Life: It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week in a covered container or you can freeze it for up to 6 months.
- Freezing: If you’re really in over your head in basil production, be sure to freeze that pesto to get you through the winter! The best method for freezing is to pour the sauce into ice cube trays and freeze. The transfer the pesto cubes to a freezer-safe ziplock or container and use them as needed.
Fresh Summer Recipes to Make Next
- Tomato Mozzarella Tart
- Creamy Tomato-Basil Soup
- Tortellini in Parmesan Cream Sauce with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Spinach
- Sun-Dried Tomato Dip
Savor all the flavors of summer with this fresh and easy pesto recipe. Made with 5 simple ingredients and ready in 5 minutes you will be making this classic Italian recipe all summer long!
If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️
- 2 cups (48 g) fresh basil leaves
- ⅓ cup (39 g) pine nuts
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup (108 ml) olive oil
- ½ cup (50 g) Parmesan cheese
- In a food processor or blender, pulse together the basil, pine nuts and garlic 5 to 7 times, until finely chopped.
- With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape down the sides of the machine and add the cheese. Pulse a few more times to blend.
- Serve immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- You can substitute chopped walnuts for the pine nuts.
- Romano cheese can be substituted for Parmesan.
- To freeze, spoon the pesto into an ice cube tray and place in the freezer until completely frozen. Remove from the tray and place the cubes in a ziploc freezer bag, and freeze for up to 2 months. You can add to a cooked recipe from frozen, or thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Photography by Ari Laing