This easy homemade pesto recipe is my tried and true method to make THE BEST pesto recipe every single time.
How to Make the BEST Pesto Recipe
From dishes like caprese chicken and pesto chicken to pasta salad and pizza, pesto is an easy and stellar way to amp up the flavor in a variety of dishes. I even love mixing pesto in with eggs or macaroni and cheese, this easy pesto recipe is one of the quickest ways to brighten any dish. This pesto is extra easy because I make it in the food processor. But here’s the deal: The secret sauce for the best pesto is all about the proportion of ingredients. Add too much garlic or not enough olive oil and pesto can go from great to gag in a hot minute. But I’ve got you covered. My trial and error is your shortcut to making the best, easy, homemade basil pesto sauce you’ll be loving all year long. Just try it. I know you’ll like it.
What is Pesto Made of?
Classic pesto, or pesto alla Genovese, is a simple, no-cook sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy and is popular on nearly any type of pasta, drizzled on pizza, on crusty bread, or as a topping for your favorite protein.
Each of the ingredients that make up this bright sauce plays a very important part, so choosing the best quality you can find is key to the best-tasting herby sauce.
Here’s what you’ll need for this pesto recipe:
- Pine nuts or another fatty nut
- Grated hard Italian cheese such as Parmesan or pecorino cheese
- Fresh basil leaves
- Kosher salt
- Good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
THE BEST Pesto Recipe Ingredients
Choose fresh leafy basil. My summer garden provides plenty of fresh basil leaves, and that’s why you’ll find me making this sauce all summer long. But I don’t stop there. During the winter months, I buy containers of fresh basil I put in a pot to grow on my kitchen counter for a bit of freshness all winter long.
Should you blanch basil before making pesto? I’ve read tips for blanching the basil before adding it to the mixing process to preserve the vibrant green hue. I tried it but discovered it didn’t matter much in the color department and the basil lost some of its flavor. So I don’t bother with that step.
Toast the pine nuts to deepen their nutty flavor. Place the pine nuts in a dry skillet or frying pan over medium-high, and cook for a few minutes or until you can smell their toasted aroma, shaking the pan or stirring as they cook. Be sure to keep a watchful eye. I’ve burned more nuts than I can count because these babies turn from lightly toasted to burned in just a few seconds. Immediately remove the nuts from the hot pan into a bowl or plate so they don’t continue to toast.
Use fresh and fruity olive oil for the lightest flavor. A light extra virgin olive oil keeps this sauce tasting fresh and light, and when added slowly to the rest of the ingredients provides the perfect emulsion.
Add a hard, dry, Italian cheese to thicken the sauce. Parmesan or pecorino cheese gives this sauce body and a salty bite. I use finely grated or ground Parmesan from my deli counter. And at all costs, avoid the stuff in the green can.
Add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Acid keeps the color bright and adds just a touch of acid to balance out the flavor.
How to Make This Pesto Recipe
I make this pesto recipe in the food processor. Blending this sauce in a food processor makes this recipe extra quick to make. I prefer using the food processor over a blender because the large bladed processor quickly minces the ingredients with just a smidge of cleanup after.
So what about using a mortar and pestle? Sure! Absolutely do if you’re up for the arm workout. But for me, I go the lazy way and just hit the ON button instead.
For bright green pesto, add the basil AFTER processing the nuts and garlic. Similar to chopping basil with a dull knife, overworking the basil in the processor or in a blender will turn it dark where it was cut.
Here’s how to make the best pesto:
- Add the toasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and garlic to the bowl of the food processor and process until finely minced.
- Add the basil leaves and process.
- While the processor is still running, slowly drizzle the olive oil through the chute.
- Season with kosher salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
How to Store Pesto
Eat the pesto straight away or store it in a jar with a tightly fit lid for up to 1 week. If storing for later, add a generous drizzle of olive oil to the top of the pesto. This will form an oily seal so it doesn’t turn dark. Simply stir into the sauce before using.
Can You Freeze Pesto?
Pesto freezes beautifully, and this is a great option to keep in mind if you plan on making lots of pesto sauce this summer. Freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, then transfer it to freezer-safe bags in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you store this easy pesto in larger containers, you’ll have to thaw the pesto out all at once. Just something to keep in mind!
What to Use in Pesto Besides Pine Nuts
While pine nuts are my favorite nut to use in pesto, they’re definitely more expensive than other varieties. There have also been incidents of a condition called pine nut mouth, where some pine nut eaters develop a metallic taste in their mouth that makes everything taste like you’re sucking on a penny. Even worse, it lasts for days and up to 3 weeks. The cause is unknown but if you wish to steer clear of the possibility, there are plenty of other nut options for you to choose from.
Other types of nuts to use in pesto instead of pine nuts:
- Almonds (I like Marcona almonds)
- Sunflower seeds
- Hemp seeds (safe for nut allergies)
Tip: No matter what kind of nut you use, just be sure to toast them. Toasting maximizes the flavor of the nut and adds a great depth of flavor to the pesto.
What to Use in Pesto Besides Basil
While basil is the most traditional pesto ingredient, switching up what is in season or different flavor profiles can be fun to experiment with. Here are a few ideas for what to use instead of basil:
Finely grated Parmesan cheese gives pesto its distinctive salty nutty bite, but it also acts as a thickener too. Use these cheeses in place of Parmesan if you want:
- Pecorino romano
- Grana padano
What to Eat With Pesto
Of course, you can eat pesto with pasta, but why stop there? Pesto is a fab alternative to mayo, mustard, or even sour cream, and tastes so good mixed into mashed potatoes or eggs. Here are a few ideas to sub in for a tastier, herbaceous bite.
- Add pesto to scrambled eggs
- Dollop on a baked potato instead of butter
- Use as a spread instead of mayo for a turkey sandwich
- Make it a savory addition to your morning omelet or slather it on avocado toast
- Mix with tuna for a Mediterranean-style salad on greens
- Plop into a creamy tomato soup with chunks of mozzarella cheese for a slurpy caprese soup
- Toss into white rice for an herbed version way better than what comes from the box
Pesto Recipes You Have to Make
Pesto is one of my favorite flavorings in so many recipes. It’s an all-in-one flavor enhancer with each mixable dollop.
- Pesto Pasta Salad
- 30-Minute Skillet Caprese Chicken Recipe
- Pesto Chicken
- Easy Pesto Pasta
- Pesto and Garlic Shrimp Bruschetta
- Creamy Chicken Penne with Pesto
- Garlicky Avocado Pesto Grilled Cheese
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
THE BEST Pesto Recipe
- ½ cup pine nuts , toasted
- ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese plus more for garnish
- 1 garlic clove , roughly chopped
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves , washed and stemmed and finely packed
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ lemon , juiced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Add roughly chopped garlic, toasted pine nuts and finely grated parmesan cheese to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the fresh basil leaves and pulse until chopped.
- While the processor is running, drizzle the olive oil through the shoot until the mixture is emulsified and smooth. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper, and whiz again.
- Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.
More Easy Italian Recipes You’ll Love
- Vegetarian Crockpot Lasagna Soup
- My Mom’s Homemade Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
- Lighter Penne alla Vodka
- Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore
- Mozzarella and Tomato Caprese Flatbread
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