I love homemade pesto because it's versatile and tastes incredible on everything from pizza, pasta, poached eggs, caprese salad, and even avocado toast. You can bake it into bread, or mix it into hummus... I could go on forever with delicious ways to use pesto! And making it from scratch is extra satisfying, aromatic, and much more delicious.
Why You Should Make this Recipe
Pesto is incredibly versatile. It is great on pasta and pizza as we all know, but it's also something you can make into delicious dressings and serve as a condiment.
Nothing beats a traditional pine nut pesto, because the nuttiness of the pine nuts pair perfectly with the aromatic garlic and basil.
If you have a basil plant that is producing more than you can handle, this recipe is one you will never tire of. Make it over and over again and add it to all your favorites: avocado toast, Savory Miso Oatmeal, hummus, and more.
Ingredients You Need
pine nuts - also known as pignolias, but you can substitute with walnuts or cashews for a slightly different flavor.
basil - this recipe uses fresh basil. You cannot substitute dried basil in this recipe. Trim the stems off your fresh basil leaves. Quarter or roughly chop the garlic cloves, because if you put the cloves whole in the food processor, they will not fully break down.
olive oil - use a high quality olive oil because the flavor it brings is a large part of the pesto. Using a low-quality flavorless olive oil will yield a less flavorful pesto.
garlic - I use a ton of garlic in my pesto, but feel free to scale back if that is your preference.
How to Toast Pine Nuts
There are several ways to toast pine nuts. My two favorites are on the stove or in the oven:
Stove Top Method
Spread the pine nuts in a fry pan in a single layer. Cook over medium-low heat until golden brown and fragrant. Toss them around in the pan frequently to avoid burning.
Spread the pine nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-10 minutes at 375F until golden brown and fragrant. It helps to shake the pan every couple minutes to avoid burning. Immediately transfer to another dish to stop the cooking.
Step by Step Homemade Basil Pesto
Put the prepared 4 oz. basil, 4 cloves rough chopped garlic, ½ cup toasted pine nuts and ¼ teaspoon of pepper into the food processor. Run the food processor, slowly adding in ½ cup of olive oil as the processor is running.
Transfer the basil pesto to a bowl (photo 1). Finely grate ½ cup of parmesan cheese into the bowl (photo 2). Mix until the parmesan is fully incorporated (photo 3).
Finally, season with salt and pepper to taste. Your pesto is ready to be used however you like!
Pesto is made from a few classic ingredients: garlic, basil leaves, pine nuts, salt, hard grated cheese like parmesan or pecorino, all mixed with olive oil which provides the fat content and the thick consistency. This traditional green pesto is actually called "pesto alla genovese". Even though there are many types and flavors of pesto, most people commonly think of the green kind as the main type of pesto.
You can be really creative in your use of pesto. While most people think of it as a pasta sauce, it can be used in an unlimited number of ways. Some of my favorite ways to use pesto include:
As a pizza sauce base
With homemade gnocchi
A dip for veggies
A spread on flatbread
Added to salads as a dressing
Baked into your bread dough
Spread on meat or chicken (after cooking)
Mixed with cream cheese for a bagel topping
Added to risotto or orzo dishes
Blended with hummus
The key to making pesto at home is that it is easiest with a food processor or blender. This makes it so much faster to grind the ingredients into the characteristic thick paste instead of using a knife. With this tool, the whole process is very easy and doesn't take long. The basil and garlic need a little bit of preparation, but then the food processor does all the hard work!
Pesto is best when consumed fresh, as soon as you've made it. If you do want to keep some for later, it's best to refrigerate it and then eat your pesto within two or three days. It does oxidize and lose some of its punch, so the sooner the better.
Pesto is perfectly good to freeze. If you've made a lot of pesto, it's a good idea to freeze it in small portions so that you can remove and defrost small amounts as and when needed. The easiest way to do this is to use an ice cube tray. Pack each tray with some of the pesto mixture, and freeze so that you have little pesto cubes. Then. remove the frozen cubes and store in an airtight container/bag in your freezer, and defrost as needed.
In general, if the pesto has significantly changed color and is no longer bright green but a darker shade or has gone brown, it's not good to eat. Scrape off the top layer and you might find freshness underneath. Also smell the pesto - if it smells bad or musty, then it is past it's time.
Best Recipes that Use Basil Pesto
Or try a broccoli rabe variation on basil pesto with this broccoli rabe ravioli with broccoli rabe pesto.
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Garlic Basil Pesto
- 4 oz. fresh basil Stems removed
- 4 cloves garlic Rough chopped
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup parmesan grated
- ¼ teaspoon pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- Trim the stems off the basil.
- Quarter or roughly chop the garlic (if you put it in the food processor whole they will not break down)
- Toast pine nuts.
- Put the basil, garlic, and pine nuts and ¼ teaspoon pepper in the food processor.
- With the food processor on, slowly add the olive oil.
- Finely grate the parmesan into a medium sized bowl. The parmesan is salty so we don't add salt until the end.
- Add the contents of the food processor to the parmesan.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
This post was originally published in January of 2017, but was republished with new photos, step by step instructions, tips, and recipe ideas May of 2020.