How to Make Pesto (2024)


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How to Make Pesto (1)

It’s hot outside, so let’s to talk about basil pesto! Have you made it yet? Pesto is one of my absolute favorite, ultra-flavorful sauces.

Great pesto tastes fresh, herbal, nutty, garlicky and luxurious, all at once. Today, I’m sharing my favorite pesto recipe and my best pesto tips.

How to Make Pesto (2)

Homemade pesto is infinitely more tasty than store-bought varieties. While pesto always seems fancy and gourmet, homemade pesto is very easy to make in your food processor or blender.

Pesto originated in Liguria, Italy, where pesto is made in a mortar and pestle. (In fact, “pestâ” means “to pound.”) I don’t have the patience to crush basil by hand, one handful at a time. So, I recommend using your food processor.

Watch How to Make Pesto

Uses for Classic Basil Pesto

You can serve pesto on:

How to Make Pesto (3)

Basil Pesto Ingredients

Traditional pesto alla genoveseis made simply with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, salt and olive oil. I often change up the nuts and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Read on to learn why!

Fresh Basil

Pesto is the perfect use for your summer garden basil surplus. Don’t have a garden? My favorite sources for affordable fresh basil are the farmers’ market, Trader Joe’s, or those little basil plants (“living basil” or potted) from grocery stores.

Kenji from Serious Eats says you can use frozen basil leaves. If you ever have extra basil leaves—rinse, dry, and put them in a freezer bag for future pesto!

Pine Nuts or Other Nuts/Seeds

Pine nuts are the traditional choice (did you know they’re actually pine cone seeds?). Pine nuts are tender, buttery and high in fat, so they yield smoother, silkier pesto.

On the downside, pine nuts are prohibitively expensive. I save money by using raw almonds, walnuts, pecans or pepitas instead. Almonds are the most neutral option, so I used them for the pesto you see here. They’re all delicious in their own way, though.

I typically toast the nuts first to really bring out their flavor and add an extra-savory edge to the pesto.


Parmesan is salty and creamy, and tones down the anise flavor of the basil. You can use Pecorino Romano for a more prominent cheesy flavor. Technically, Parmesans usually are not vegetarian (they contain animal rennet), but Whole Foods and BelGioioso offer vegetarian varieties.

If you’re vegan or dairy free, you can use a smaller amount of nutritional yeast instead (see recipe note). Sometimes, if I’m in the mood for extra-bold pesto, I just leave it out altogether or sprinkle vegan Parmesan cheese on my finished dish, to taste.


Garlic is a traditional component that livens up the pesto with aromatics and makes it taste a whole lot more interesting. Don’t skip it.

Lemon Juice

I always add a bit of lemon juice to my pesto to brighten up the flavor without adding more salt. It’s optional, but I think you’ll like it!


Salt amps up all the other flavors and reduces the bitterness of the basil.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest quality and comes from the first pressing of the olives. My favorite brands are California Olive Ranch and Trader Joe’s Kalamata olive oil.

How to Make Pesto (4)


Basil Pesto

  • Author: Cookie and Kate
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Food processor
  • Cuisine: Italian

5 Stars4 Stars3 Stars2 Stars1 Star

4.9 from 106 reviews

Homemade basil pesto is so easy to make! Learn how to make basil pesto with this recipe, plus learn how to properly toss it with pasta, and freeze leftovers. Recipe yields 1 cup pesto, which is enough to toss with about 12 ounces of pasta.



  • ⅓ cup raw pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans or pepitas
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (about 3 ounces or 2 large bunches)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil


  1. (Optional) Toast the nuts or seeds for extra flavor: In a medium skillet, toast the nuts/seeds over medium heat, stirring frequently (don’t let them burn!), until nice and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour them into a bowl to cool for a few minutes.
  2. To make the pesto, combine the basil, cooled nuts/seeds, Parmesan, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Continue processing until the mixture is well blended but still has some texture, pausing to scrape down the sides as necessary.
  3. Taste, and adjust if necessary. Add a pinch of salt if the basil tastes too bitter or the pesto needs more zing. Add more Parmesan if you’d like a creamier/cheesier pesto. If desired, you can thin out the pesto with more olive oil. (Consider, however, that if you’re serving the pesto on pasta, you can thin it with small splashes of reserved pasta cooking water to bring it all together. See notes for details.)
  4. Store leftover pesto in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 1 week. You can also freeze pesto—my favorite way is in an ice cube try. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag, then you can thaw only as much as you need later.


Make it dairy free/vegan: Replace the Parmesan with 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast.

Make it nut free: Use pine nuts, pepitas or sunflower seeds. (Pine nuts are technically seeds, but if you’re allergic to nuts, there’s a chance you’ll be allergic to pine nuts, too.)

Parmesan note: Most Parmesans are not technically vegetarian (they contain animal rennet), but Whole Foods 365 and BelGioioso brands offervegetarian Parmesan cheese.

How to toss pesto with pasta: Before you drain your pasta, place a liquid measuring cup in the sink. Then, pour about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water into the measuring cup before you drain off the rest of the water. That pasta cooking water is pure gold—it contains starches that create a creamy emulsion and help attach the sauce to the pasta. Off the heat, toss pasta, pesto and small splashes of pasta cooking water together until you’re satisfied with the consistency (I used roughly ⅓ cup reserved pasta cooking water for ½ pound of spaghetti).

▸ Nutrition Information

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice. See our full nutrition disclosure here.

Did you make this recipe?

Please let me know how it turned out for you! Leave a comment below and share a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #cookieandkate.

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How to Make Pesto (2024)


What is pesto sauce made of? ›

Pesto, or pesto alla genovese, is a basil-based sauce that originated in Genoa, the capital of Liguria, Italy. Traditional pesto is made with basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan (or another type of hard Italian cheese, such as Pecorino).

What is the recipe formula for pesto? ›

The basic ratio is 1:2:2:8 (1 part nuts, 2 parts oil, 2 parts grating cheese, 8 parts leaves or herbs), plus garlic, lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Is it worth making your own pesto? ›

Homemade basil pesto is a wonderfully versatile and tasty sauce/spread made from a handful of flavorful ingredients. It comes together in minutes and tastes worlds better than store-bought because it's so fresh.

What are the common ingredients of pesto? ›

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, but there are many varieties of pesto like sun dried tomato pesto or kale pesto. It's fun to use a mortar and pestle, but the modern way is much easier.

Is pesto unhealthy or healthy? ›

Because its ingredients include olive oil, nuts, and cheese, pesto can be high in calories and fat. However, the fat is primarily unsaturated and may have heart health benefits. Pesto is also full of antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage.

What pasta is best for pesto? ›

Pesto Sauce

This fresh and fragrant pasta sauce is served uncooked, so choose a pasta shape that won't overwhelm it. Similar to oil-based sauces, pesto is served best with longer cuts of pasta, like the corkscrew shape of Fusilli. Pesto works best with Bucatini, Capellini, thinner Spaghettini, and Fettuccine.

Why is homemade pesto bitter? ›

The most common reason for pesto tasting bitter is that the olive oil is past its best and has started to turn rancid. If the pesto has been made in a food processor or blender, there's also the possibility that it has turned bitter from the crude, sheering action of the blades.

How long will homemade pesto last? ›

How Long Does Pesto Last? This easy basil pesto sauce will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator if stored in an airtight container.

What can I use instead of pine nuts in pesto? ›

Almonds would be my choice, they have a delicate flavor. Unsalted cashews work well also. Macadamia and brazil nuts are also really good, though not necessarily cheaper than pine nuts. I prefer pecans to walnuts, since they are somewhat sweeter.

What are the disadvantages of pesto? ›

Pesto is also high in saturated fat, further increasing the risk of heart disease. People are being encouraged to make their own using a simple and easy recipe, which can be stored in the fridge for up to seven days.

Why does homemade pesto go bad? ›

Because it's an oil-based sauce, it will spoil and go rancid after a while if exposed to air. So if you see it start get exposed to air, you can top the jar with some high quality olive oil to cut off contact with air. Good news is that store-bought pesto will come with instructions on the label.

Is it OK to eat pesto everyday? ›

You might not want to douse everything you eat with pesto, but you wouldn't want to do that with any food. Variety and moderation are important. Pesto can be a healthier replacement for cream-based sauces since it's made with olive oil and nuts.

Do you use basil stems in pesto? ›

THE BOTTOM LINE: While we don't recommend using the thicker stems from a bunch of basil, it's perfectly fine to make the most of your basil bunch and put the younger, more tender stems to use. 1. Don't process thick stems in pesto.

Why is pesto so expensive? ›

Its scarcity, plus the fact that the plants are picked roots, soil, and all to ensure that only juvenile leaves make it into pesto, makes it extraordinarily expensive and something that only premium, artisan pesto makers can justify using.

How long does pesto last in the fridge? ›

Pesto will last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. If you've stored it in the freezer, it will last for 6 months. When you're ready to use frozen pesto, thaw it overnight in the fridge or place the container of pesto in a bowl of warm water for a quicker thawing time.

Is pesto healthier than pasta sauce? ›

The Bottom Line. Pesto is higher in calories than some sauces but it's also made with super-healthy ingredients, like basil, olive oil and nuts. I find it's a great way to add more flavor to pasta dishes and even vegetables and proteins.

What does pesto taste like? ›

What does pesto taste like? Traditional pesto is a thick, green sauce that tastes bright and herby from the basil, and salty and rich from the cheeses and pine nuts. It should be garlicky, with pleasant grassiness from good quality olive oil.

Is pesto healthier than tomato? ›

As you would expect, pesto's wider variety of ingredients means it does slightly better in the vitamin and mineral stakes. Pesto outsmarts tomato sauce in many of these, but the pasta sauce still provides a sizeable chunk of your recommended daily targets.

What is so special about pesto? ›

Properly made pesto tastes fresh and zingy and balanced, not muddy. Each flavor component is identifiable—the fragrant basil, the pungent garlic, the buttery olive oil and sweet pine nuts, the tangy cheeses—and yet none dominates. Basil is the star, for sure, but its perfume works in balance with the other ingredients.

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