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! I love this versatile sauce 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. It's 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 pesto sauce perfection, so let's get started!
About the Recipe
If you've ever purchased this popular 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.
If you've put off making this yummy sauce at home, thinking it might be fussy or tricky, then you'll be surprised by just how simple it is to make. 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. Make sure to choose a milder olive oil (most supermarket varieties should be fine) ... anything that's too spicy will overpower the sauce.
How to Make Pesto Sauce
Ready to begin? You won't believe how simple this sauce is to make!
Start by adding the garlic and pine nuts to your food processor. I toasted my pine nuts ahead of time, but that is optional.
Pulse the garlic and nuts until they are finely chopped, then scrape down the sides of your processor.
Note: 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.
Next you are going to add the basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and a little salt to the food processor.
Blend these ingredients together until you have a smooth paste. There should still be some small pieces in there ... it won't be 100% homogenous.
Tip: Fresh basil is finicky, and heat, cold, and moisture are all its enemies. If you purchase basil and are unable to use it right away, store it at room temperature (not in the refrigerator). I also like to place small pieces of paper towel in the bottom and top of the container. The paper towels will absorb any excess moisture and help your basil last longer.
Taste your Pesto, then season it with additional salt, if necessary. Be generous. This is a bold tasting sauce, and salt makes the flavors pop.
I prefer to use kosher salt in all my cooking. The taste is superior to regular table salt. I used about a teaspoon here.
And that's it ... your homemade Pesto Sauce is ready to use.
Doesn't it look delicious? It's so good that sometimes I like to eat it by the spoonful ... yum!
Basil has a tendency to oxidize and turn brown, so this sauce is best fresh. However, if you're not planning to use it right away, store it in an airtight container in your refrigerator. You can also cover the top with a little olive oil to prevent oxidizing, too.
Pesto can also be frozen. 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, etc.
- 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 use 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 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 It
There are so many 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 perfect pasta! You can also spread it on sandwiches, mix it with veggies, use it as a pizza sauce, and so much more.
Read this How to Use Pesto guide for tons of tips and over 30 recipes to inspire you!
Then, you'll want to make these recipes next ... each one features a different kind of pesto!
- Pesto, Feta, and Veggie Pizza
- Roasted Veggie Bowl
- Southwest Pasta Salad
- Kale Pesto Pasta
- Green Pizza with Pesto
- Hummus Sandwich with Pesto and Veggies
- Grape, Feta, and Pesto Pizza
- Kale Pesto Pizza
- Cilantro Pesto Pasta
Make sure to check out all of my Sauce and Condiment Recipes, too! They're the perfect way to shake up a boring dinner.
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.
What is Pesto Sauce made of?
Pesto is a classic Italian sauce that's made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.
What does Pesto taste like?
This rich, bold sauce is made with simple ingredients, and while eating it, you should be able to taste them. The predominant taste is 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.
Do you serve Pesto Sauce hot or cold?
For most dishes, Pesto should be used at room temperature ... no need to heat it (that would turn the green basil brown anyway). When adding it Pasta, you do not heat 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.
What is the best pasta for Pesto?
This versatile sauce 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.
Should you refrigerate Pesto?
Store leftover Pesto 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.
How long will Pesto keep?
Homemade Pesto will last 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!
What is your favorite way to enjoy pesto sauce?