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.
Ingredients for Pesto Sauce
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.
Video! How to Make Pesto
How to Make Homemade Basil Pesto
How to Freeze Pesto
If you want to freeze the pesto, omit the cheese (it doesn't freeze well). Line an ice cube tray with plastic wrap, and fill each cube with the pesto sauce. Freeze and then remove from the ice tray and store in a freezer safe, zip-top bag. When you want to use it, defrost and add the grated Parmesan or Romano.
What Is Pesto?
Originally from Genoa, Italy, pesto traces its name to the Italian word "pestare," which means "to crush or pound." For hundreds of years, pesto was made by pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle. It dates back from Roman times when Genoans would crush walnuts with herbs and garlic.
The most popular variety of pesto now is made by "crushing" basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and some hard cheese in a food processor or blender. It's fun to use a mortar and pestle, but the modern way is much easier.
The Best Basil to Use for Pesto
Did you know there are 60 different varieties of basil? Luckily, most stores only sell one or two kinds, making it easy to choose. Thai basil is really the only kind that's too pungent for this recipe. When buying fresh basil, look for vibrant green leaves with no sports or wilting.
Dried basil is fine for flavoring sauces, soups, and other dishes. But its flavor is very different from fresh basil. You need fresh basil leaves to make pesto.
How to Store Basil
If your basil has stalks, trim the stalks and place in a glass of water in the refrigerator. Change the water daily and your basil will keep for a week. Be sure not to wash the leave until you're ready use them.
Pesto Sauce Is Not Just for Pasta
From sides to appetizers, pesto is a versatile sauce that is easily enjoyed in or on many different dishes, not just pasta. Try it with these recipes!
More Pesto Recipes to Try
Fresh Basil Pesto
Basil pesto darkens when exposed to air. 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 sauce will stay greener longer that way.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (can sub half the basil leaves with baby spinach)
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (can sub chopped walnuts)
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
Pulse the basil and pine nuts:
Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times.
Add the garlic and cheese:
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.
Slowly pour in the olive oil:
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.
Season the pesto sauce:
Add 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.