Fresh Basil Pesto

Homemade pesto is one of the best ways to enjoy a bounty of fresh basil. This basil pesto recipe uses pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan or Romano cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. Make it in just 15 minutes!

Basil Pesto Sauce
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.

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

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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.

Fresh basil pesto in a bowl with a sprig of basil in the background
Elise Bauer

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

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Fresh Basil Pesto

Prep Time 15 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Servings 4 servings
Yield 1 cup

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. Pulse the basil and pine nuts:

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

    basil-pesto-method-1
    Elise Bauer
    basil-pesto-method-2
    Elise Bauer
  2. 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.

    basil-pesto-method-3
    Elise Bauer
    basil-pesto-method-4
    Elise Bauer
  3. 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.

    basil-pesto-method-5
    Elise Bauer
    basil-pesto-method-6
    Elise Bauer
  4. 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.

Basil Pesto
Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
372 Calories
38g Fat
4g Carbs
6g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 372
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 38g 49%
Saturated Fat 6g 31%
Cholesterol 11mg 4%
Sodium 359mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 4g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 3mg 15%
Calcium 134mg 10%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 135mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.