Learn how to make pesto with this classic fresh basil pesto recipe (plus 6 variations) – using only 5 ingredients, blend together in a food processor then spoon in bright, fresh flavors into your favorite dishes. Quick and easy to make you can add pesto to pasta, sandwiches, drizzle over tomatoes, and use it as a marinade for chicken -- so many possibilities.
I actually first shared this pesto recipe in the Grilled Pesto Chicken Cobb Salad recipe last summer. While I have experimented with dozens of different variations of greens, herbs, nuts and seasonings – I always come back to the classic basil pesto sauce. It’s a simple combination of fresh basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil that never disappoints.
Not only is pesto super easy and quick to make, it freezes beautifully for a future use. And of course, it can be served a million different delicious ways.
If you happen to have pots of basil that are ready to be harvested, grab your food processor or blender and let’s make a quick batch.
Let’s quickly review the ingredients and tools you will need to make a basic pesto sauce.
- Pine Nuts. Nuts give the pesto structure and delicious nutty flavor. While pine nuts are the most commonly used nut in an authentic pesto recipe, you can swap them for walnuts, almonds, or pistachios.
- Fresh Whole Garlic Cloves. Please use fresh garlic clove and not the jarred fresh garlic to achieve the best garlicky flavor possible. No need to mince, your blender or food processor will do that for you.
- Basil. When you have a lot of basil, pesto is one of the best ways to use it! Tomeasure basil, just discard the thicker stems and lightly pack the leaves down into a measuring cup.
- Salt. Using kosher salt will increase the concentration of the greens and herbs. One of the biggest mistakes people make with homemade pesto is not seasoning it enough, so be sure to taste and add more salt if needed.
- Olive Oil. The oil helps give the pesto the perfect consistency and adds richness. I recommend using a good-quality oil for the best flavor. California Olive Ranch Global Blend Medium Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a reliable olive oil.
- Parmesan. The addictive cheesy, salty addition completes this pesto. Freshly grate your parmesan for maximum flavor.
Want to keep this nut free? Swap the pine nuts for sunflower seeds, pepitas or omit nuts altogether and make the classic French cousin of pesto known as Pistou – basil, garlic and olive oil. Simple and packs just as much flavor as pesto with nuts.
Note: See recipe card below for ingredient measurements.
A food processor is needed to make this recipe or any pesto variation.
- Food Processor – This is the food processor I use and recommend. I also like to have a small chopper and grinder that is perfect for smaller recipes like this one - plus it is a great value..
- Small skillet. A small skillet makes toasting nuts a breeze.
- Storage jars. Great for storing leftover pesto in the refrigerator and even freezing.
How to make pesto
Basil pesto is so good over warm pasta, but can also be added to potatoes, spread on a sandwich, used as a pizza sauce or as a marinade for chicken.
It’s easiest to make using a food processor.
Toast the nuts. Keep a close eye on them to avoid burning.
Pulse. Place the basil, garlic, salt, pine nuts, parmesan and some of the oil in the food processor. Pulse until it is nicely blended, adding gradually the remaining oil in a stream until you get the consistency you want.
Blend ingredients together. Process until smooth. If your pesto is too thick, thin it out with a few tablespoons of extra olive oil.
Taste and Season. Give the sauce a taste (dip a veggie stick or piece of bread in), and season with extra salt and pepper to taste. You may also want to add extra Parmesan or bail if you want more of those flavors. Enjoy!
Tip: If you’re storing in the refrigerator rather than using it immediately, mix in the juice of one lemon and drizzle some olive oil on the top so that the pesto retains its bright green color.
The variations you can make are infinite. Here are a few to consider!
- Swap in different greens and herbs: Try using mint, spinach, parsley and cilantro in place of basil or mix with basil.
- Swap in different nuts: Pine nuts are a bit pricey, so consider walnuts, pecans, almonds, pepitas, or really any other favorite nut. I really like using pistachios, but they are just as pricey as pine nuts.
- Omit the cheese: If you would like to opt for a vegan pesto, substitute 3 -5 tablespoons (to taste) nutritional yeast in place of the Parmesan.
- Add some heat: Try adding a few pinches of crunched red pepper flakes it an extra kick.
Below is a chart that you can use as a guide for which ingredients blend well together. If you want to print the variations chart, fill out the form below the chart and you'll get a printable PDF version straight in your inbox!
There are endless ways to use pesto. Some of my favorite dishes to include a dollap (or two) of pesto are:
- Pasta or gnocchi sauce
- Dipper for bread or fresh vegetables
- As a Pizza Sauce
- Soup garnish
- Drizzled over tomatoes or roasted vegetables.
- Marinade or Sauce for Meat. Some of my favorite recipes are Chicken Pesto Salad, Grilled Pesto Chicken Cobb Salad and Baked Pesto Chicken.
How to refrigerate: To refrigerate, store in a sealed container like a mason jar for up to 3 days. Also to prevent browning add lemon juice and to help is last a bit longer, feel free to pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto to cover its surface. If you continue to top off with olive oil it keep the pesto fresh for a few weeks in the refrigerator.
How to freeze: Pesto freezes beautifully! You can freeze it in any freezer container that seals well like a mason jar. My favorite method is freezing is to measure out 2-tablespoons and place on parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet. Place in the freezer for about 20 minutes, long enough so it will hold its shape, once frozen, seal the perfectly portioned pesto servings in a sealable plastic bag. Store in freezer for future use.
This recipe is pretty straightforward, but here are just a few tips to keep in mind when making it at home:
- It’s easiest to make using a food processor.
- Be patient when toasting the nuts, if you crank up the heat they will burn quickly.
- Mix in lemon juice and drizzle some olive oil on the top if storing in the refrigerator rather than using it immediately this helps retain its green color.
Common questions about making pesto
You’ve got questions... I’ve got answers! If you have a question about this recipe that isn’t answered below, feel free to leave it in the comments, and I’ll jump in there to help you out.
One simple ingredient will keep your pesto from browning – Add lemon juice. For a full batch, I add the juice of 1 lemon!
Store in a sealed container like a mason jar. It will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator if you continue to cover the top with olive oil to keep the herbs fresh. You can also choose to freeze the jar. A great freezing tip is to place tablespoons of pesto on a parchment lined baking sheet, place in the freezer for 5 – 10 minutes and then move to a resealable freezer bag and store in the freezer.
1. Cashew nuts. Raw, unsalted cashew nuts are the best substitute for pine nuts.
2. Macadamia nuts. Unsalted macadamia nuts are another great option.
3. Unsalted pistachios.
5. Pecan nuts.
8. Sunflower seeds.
9. Simply omit the nuts
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Looking for other homemade ingredient recipes like this? Try these:
These are a few of my favorite uses for Homemade pesto. Just add a dollop or two to any of the following recipes:
How to make pesto (variations + tips)
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- 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 garlic cloves peeled or more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts or any other nut you like
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup olive oil plus more for a thinner pesto
- Toast the nuts: place the nuts in a small, dry skillet. Toast over low heat, shaking the pan often, until fragrant and toasted, about 4 minutes for pine nuts and 6 to 8 minutes for walnuts. Keep an eye on the skillet, once the nuts start to toast they will toast fast and burn quickly.
- Place basil, garlic, salt, nuts, cheese and about half of the oil in a food processor. Pulse until it’s nicely blended. Pause the food processor and scrape down the sides, then pulse again until the mixture is smooth. Add additional oil in a stream until you have the consistency you want. If you prefer a thinner pesto, add in more oil.
- Taste and Season. Give the sauce a taste (dip a veggie stick or piece of bread in), and season with extra salt and pepper to taste. Add extra Parmesan, basil or garlic if you want more of those flavors. Serve immediately. Or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
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Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.