Classic, homemade pesto can’t be beat, so ditch the store-bought stuff and whip up a batch right in your kitchen. All you need is a few simple ingredients and you’ll be making this flavorful, basil-packed summer staple in no time. (And by “no time”, I mean 5 minutes or less!)
If there was ever a better way to use up a big bushel of basil, I don’t know one. And that’s not for lack of trying to come up with something. I’ve got two giant basil plants outside, creeping ever closer to the house and monopolizing all of my garden space, and there’s nothing I can think of to beat ’em back besides my twelfth batch of pesto this summer.
You might say that they’re destined for pestoin’. Or not.
So before these plants go all “Feed Me, Seymour” on me, I’m breaking out the food processor again to finally share how I make pesto with you!
WHAT IS PESTO?
If you’ve never had pesto, you should know first of all that you’ve been missing out. Secondly, you should know that it’s a bit hard to put into words for such a simple dish– probably because it’s so versatile. It’s a condiment that can be used as a sauce, spread, or dip, though it’s probably most commonly served with pasta.
Technically, pesto can come in many varieties, made with a whole bunch of different ingredients, but the most popular (and OG version!) is a green, herbal, garlicky, magical kind called Pesto Alla Genovese. Pesto Alla Genovese — which is the version I make with this recipe — consists of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan or pecorino cheese, salt and pepper, and olive oil, all blended together into a glorious, bright green concoction.
Pesto Alla Genovese got its name because it originated in Genoa, Italy. The word “pesto” is the past tense of the Genoese verb “pestare,” which means “to crush,” which makes a lot of sense when you realize that all of the ingredients are traditionally crushed together with a mortar and pestle!
By the way, if you happen to have a mortar and pestle on hand, feel free to break ’em out for this basil pesto recipe! I like to go the lazy– er, I mean efficient– way and use a food processor, but you have options!
I’m a firm believer that the best pesto ingredients are the traditional ones, but the second best pesto ingredients are the ingredients you have. If the recipe isn’t doable for you exactly as written, that’s okay, we’re all about versatility here. While it won’t be completely authentic Pesto Alla Genovese, it will still be delicious, and that’s what matters most.
Here are some potential substitutions that might interest you:
- Swap out the basil leaves for other leafy greens. Spinach, kale, or even cilantro (in a Mexican-inspired version) make for great potential alternatives to the basil.
- Ditch the pine nuts. Pine nuts are pricey, so some people prefer to switch ’em out for cheaper alternatives. Walnuts are a personal favorite of mine, as are pistachios (like in this Mint-Pistachio Pesto Pilaf). And if you’re looking for a totally nut-free pesto recipe, consider sunflower seeds instead! While pine nuts are technically seeds and not nuts, it’s generally advised that you avoid them as well if you’ve got a tree nut allergy.
- Go dairy-free. Parmesan cheese is a very important part of pesto, lending its distinct salty and aged flavor, but you can still have a tasty recipe without it, believe it or not. Either leave it out entirely and up the amount of pine nuts, garlic, and salt to make up for it, or simply sub in a few tablespoons of vegan-friendly nutritional yeast.
- Get crazy with some add-ins. You’ve got the basic formula of herbs + nuts + garlic + cheese + oil down pat, right? But what’s to say you can’t get a little funky with your pesto recipe? Mixing in peppers (like chipotles in adobo!), lemon juice, or sun-dried tomatoes can add a little extra excitement to your sauce.
HOW LONG DOES HOMEMADE PESTO LAST IN THE FRIDGE?
You can store homemade pesto in jars or airtight containers and keep them in the fridge for about a week before they go bad.
If you’re not going to eat all of that pesto in one week (or if you just like to have some on hand at all times!) you can also freeze your pesto for up to 6 months! I like to freeze mine in ice cube trays so I can thaw a bit at a time whenever I want.
MORE SAUCES TO LOVE
- Mojo Verde (Canarian Green Mojo Sauce)
- 5-Minute Garlicky Tahini Sauce
- Dreamy, Creamy Avocado Cilantro Sauce
HOW TO MAKE PESTO VIDEO
- 2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil leaves, parmesan cheese, garlic and pine nuts. Process until very finely minced.
- With the food processor still running, slowly stream in the olive oil and continue to process until well-combined to your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and stir once more to combine.