Fresh Basil Pesto

Classic, simple basil pesto recipe with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Romano or Parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Every year we plant basil and every year the plants do so well that we can’t use it up fast enough. What to do? Basil pesto, of course! Here is a simple recipe. Note that pesto is always made to taste, based on the ingredients at hand. So adjust the ingredients to your taste.

Most pesto recipes call for Parmesan cheese, we often use Romano which has a stronger flavor. Basil pesto recipes often call for pine nuts but you can easily substitute walnuts.

Basil is a powerfully aromatic herb and a little goes a long way. You can mellow the pesto out a bit by subbing half of the basil with fresh baby spinach leaves.

The pesto will more easily stay vibrant green and the flavor of the basil will still come through, though just not as strongly.

Fresh Basil Pesto

If you want to freeze the pesto you make, omit the cheese (it doesn’t freeze well). Line an ice cube tray with plastic wrap, and fill each pocket with the pesto. Freeze and then remove from the ice tray and store in a freezer bag. When you want to use, defrost and add in grated Parmesan or Romano.

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 1 cup

Basil pesto darkens when exposed to air, so to store, cover tightly with plastic wrap making sure the plastic is touching the top of the pesto and not allowing the pesto to have contact with air. The pesto will stay greener longer that way.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (can sub half the basil leaves with baby spinach)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (can sub chopped walnuts)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Special equipment needed: A food processor

Method

1 Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a several times.

Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.

2 While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor.

Stir in some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Toss with pasta for a quick sauce, dollop over baked potatoes, or spread onto crackers or toasted slices of bread.

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Links:

How to Freeze Basil - great tips from Kalyn's Kitchen

Basil Pesto

Showing 4 of 230 Comments

  • HP

    Please DO NOT blanch the basil as someone recommended. At least not without roughly doubling your amount of basil. I just did this and my lovely, fresh, vibrant 2 cups-worth of basil from my plant shrank to a much smaller amount. I didn’t alter the other ingredients’ amounts and now I have something much less green, much more pine nutty and cheesy, and altogether un-pesto-like. I am so angry at myself for blindly following this advice. All the lovely, potent fresh basil fragrance is gone from my pesto, only a hint remains on my hands from picking the leaves earlier today. Learn from my mistake: don’t overthink things and stick to the recipe as posted. I’m now off to the store to buy some more basil to see if this “pesto” can be salvaged.

  • pieshta

    For a brighter pesto that stays green longer, blanch the basil for a few seconds. And if you can spare a few extra minutes, use a mortar and pestle for the best results.

  • Rev Ong

    Hey, Elise. My girlfriend and I are going camping next weekend. Will it stay fresh if we prepare it in the morning and serve for dinner? And what other cheese can I use? Thanks in advance!

  • MJW

    For pasta, how many will this serve?

  • Gin

    Hi

    Besides from Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, can I substitute Sharp Cheddar for this pesto?

    Thank you.

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