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.
What is Pesto Made Of?
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.
How Do You Use 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
How Do You Make Pesto From Scratch?
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!
How Long Does Homemade Pesto Last?
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.
The fresher the basil the better, and basil is in season and abundant in the summer. For more great summer recipes, check these out.
Can I Freeze Pesto?
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.
How Can I Tell if Pesto Has Gone Bad?
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.
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
To get started, gather and prepare your basil, garlic, parmesan, olive oil, salt, & pepper.
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.
Lightly toast your pine nuts in a hot pan or on a baking sheet. See the instructions above for how to toast them in an oven or on the stove.
Put the prepared basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper into the food processor. Run the food processor, slowly adding in the olive oil as the processor is running.
Transfer the pesto to a bowl (photo 1). Finely grate the 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!
Best Recipes that Use Basil Pesto
- Portabella Mushroom & Pesto Egg-In-A-Hole
- Easy Homemade Gnocchi with Basil Pesto (or with homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi)
- Fig, Pesto, & Arugula Pizza
- Super Green Pesto Pasta Salad
- Avocado Egg on Toast
Or try a broccoli rabe variation on 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
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup parmesan grated
- 1/4 tsp 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 1/4 tsp 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.