Learn how to make classic Basil Pesto Sauce!
This delicious, homemade sauce is ready in minutes, and it's so good that you'll never resort to store bought again! Use it on pasta, pizza, and so much more.
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Can we talk Pesto? When it comes to sauces, it might just be my fave!
This versatile sauce tastes amazing on pretty much anything and everything, from pasta (of course) to pizza and so much more.
If you are looking for an easy, foolproof Pesto Sauce recipe, then this is it. This easy recipe is full of bright, bold basil-garlic flavors that you're going to love, and it couldn't be simpler to make.
You only need five minutes and six ingredients for this easy recipe, so let's get started!
What is Pesto?
Pesto is a classic Italian sauce that's made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and salt. The recipe has origins in Genoa, which is the capital of Liguria, Italy ... which is why you may see it referred to as Pesto alla Genovese.
It was traditionally made in a mortar and pestle, by these days, a food processor does the trick much faster.
If you've ever purchased this sauce and found it to be lackluster, then you have to try this amazing Basil Pesto Sauce! It's so much fresher, brighter, and bolder tasting than anything you'll find on a shelf. The store-bought stuff just can't compare to this homemade basil sauce.
And I think you'll be surprised by just how simple it is to make, too. You only need a few basic ingredients and about five minutes to prepare it. It really couldn't be easier!
Keep reading for a step-by-step tutorial, tips for modifying the basic recipe, and ideas for using it.
The ingredients for this classic sauce are very straightforward and can be found at almost any grocery store:
- Pine Nuts
- Fresh Garlic
- Fresh Basil
- Parmesan Cheese
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt (I prefer to use Kosher Salt.)
It's important to use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find. In such a simple recipe, you will definitely be able to taste the difference.
You'll Also Need
To make this classic Italian sauce, you will also need a food processor to blend the ingredients together. Or, if you want to go old school, a mortar and pestle.
How to Make Pesto Sauce
You won't believe how simple this sauce is to make! You'll find a detailed, printable recipe at the end of this article, but here's a quick overview:
- Mince garlic and pine nuts in food processor. For best results, pulse the ingredients together. There should be a little texture .... you don't want a paste.
- Add basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and a little salt to your food processor.
- Blend ingredients together until smooth. Stop the the processor a few times to scrape down the sides as you go, and don't worry if there are some small pieces in there ... it won't be 100% homogenous. You can also leave the sauce a little chunkier if you prefer.
- Season pesto to taste and be generous. This is a bold tasting sauce, and salt makes the flavors pop.
And that's it ... your homemade Pesto is ready to use. Doesn't it look delicious? If you're anything like me, you may find yourself eating it by the spoonful ... yum!
This is a pretty basic sauce, but it's easy to take it from good to great with these simple tips!
- You can toast the nuts ahead of time (or not). This adds a little extra flavor to the sauce, but I find that it's mild when using pine nuts. You might notice it more if you substitute walnuts or another nut.
- Fresh basil is finicky, and heat, cold, and moisture are all its enemies. Inspect it carefully at the grocery store, and avoid purchasing basil that's wilted, damp, or turning brown. If you can't use it right away, store it at room temperature (not in the refrigerator) away from any hot (or cold) spots. You could also put a small piece of paper towel in the bottom and top of the container to absorb excess moisture, or remove it from the package and place it in a small jar of water.
- Experiment with the basic recipe by substituting different nuts, cheese, and herbs. You'll find lots of fun ideas below!
- You can also adjust the ingredients to your taste. Not a huge garlic fan? Add less. Prefer a thinner sauce? Use more olive oil. Have tons of basil on hand? Double the recipe. You get the idea!
- Salt your pesto generously, especially if you're pairing it with something bland, like pasta. I prefer to use kosher salt ... it really makes a difference if you're used to table salt!
- Pesto is traditionally made using mortar and pestle. To use one, take your time to ensure the ingredients are blended evenly. Add the basil in batches, and stir in the olive oil last. Make sure to use a large mortar and pestle with enough room for all the ingredients.
Basil has a tendency to oxidize and turn brown, so this sauce is best fresh. However, if you can't use it right away, store it in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Covering the top with a thin layer of olive oil also helps prevent oxidation.
Pesto can also be frozen. Store it in a small container, or transfer it to a zip top bag, then squeeze out the excess air and freeze flat. If you have a small amount, freeze it in an ice cube tray, then transfer the cubes to an airtight container once frozen.
One thing I absolutely love about this recipe is that it's sooo versatile. You can easily make it vegan, dairy free, use other nuts, etc. Here are some ideas to try:
- Vegan / Dairy Free: To make this recipe vegan, simply skip the cheese ... it will still taste amazing. You could also replace the Parmesan with a little nutritional yeast for extra depth of flavor.
- Other Nuts: Feel free to replace the pine nuts with other nuts. Walnuts are often used in pesto, but you can experiment with cashews, pistachios, pecans, even macadamia nuts.
- Nut Free: Are you allergic to nuts, or did you forget to pick them up at the store? It's fine to leave them out of the recipe. You could also replace the nuts with seeds, such as pepitas or sunflower seeds, too.
- Pecorino: Feel free to replace the Parmesan with Pecorino cheese, or use a mixture of Pecorino and Parmesan.
- Herbs: Pesto can be made with many different herbs and even greens like spinach, so feel free to experiment! For inspiration, check out my Cilantro Pesto, Rosemary Pesto, and Kale Pesto recipes, or this Hummus Sandwich which has a mixed herb pesto, or this Green Pizza which has a basil-spinach pesto.
How to Use
There are so many creative ways to use homemade Pesto! It doesn't get more classic (or easier to make) than Pesto Pasta, and my recipe has easy trick for making it perfect!
You can also use it to make Pesto Gnocchi, spread it on sandwiches (it's delish on this Hummus Sandwich), mix it with veggies, use it as a pizza sauce (try it on this Pesto, Feta, and Veggie Pizza, this easy Grilled Pizza, or this unique Grape, Feta, and Pesto Pizza), mix it with mayo (like in this Halloumi Sandwich), and so much more.
More recipes for pesto lovers ... all using different variations of the classic recipe:
- Green Pizza with Pesto
- Southwest Pasta Salad
- Roasted Veggie Bowl
- Kale Pesto Pasta
- Kale Pizza
- Cilantro Pesto Pasta
- Pumpkin Pesto Pizza
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Before we get to the recipe, here are some frequently asked questions (and answers) about this classic sauce ... let me know if you have others in the comments.
Pesto is a classic Italian sauce that's made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.
Pesto tastes like basil with a bit of bite from the garlic. Parmesan cheese and olive add depth and richness, and the pine nuts add a delicious nutty undertone.
For most dishes, Pesto should not be heated, which can cause it to brown. When adding it Pasta, you do not cook it first. The hot pasta warms it up. You can add Pesto to cooked foods, like pizza, just be aware that it won't retain its bright green color. This sauce can also be enjoyed cold, such as in pasta salads or mixed in salads.
Pesto is a versatile sauce that works with almost any pasta shape. Keep things simple and serve it with spaghetti or linguine, or pair it with a shaped-pasta such as fusilli. It's also delicious with stuffed pasta, such as tortellini.
Pesto should be stored in the refrigerator. To keep the basil from oxidizing (turning brown), cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil and store in an airtight container.
Homemade Pesto will keep for about three days in the refrigerator, although it's best to eat it sooner rather than later. You can also freeze Pesto in a small container, and it will keep for about three months in the freezer.
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 4 cups basil leaves
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- Place garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
- Add basil, Parmesan, olive oil, and a little salt to garlic mixture. Process until almost smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Taste, then season with additional salt, if needed.
- Use pesto immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy!