How To Make Pesto

Basil pesto is a zillion times better when it’s fresh. Delicious on pasta, pizza, chicken, fish and in countless other recipes.

basil pesto, garlic, lemon, olive oil

For years, I couldn’t work up the guts to try to make a homemade basil pesto. I’m not sure why it intimidated me, but it totally did. But once I made fresh basil pesto at home for the first time, I could not believe I waited so long.

This basil pesto recipe is nutty, refreshing, zesty, luxurious, a little bit creamy, a lotta bit versatile. A squeeze of citrus and a sprinkling of parmesan or pecorino romano are delightful in this recipe, but it is super flexible. This recipe is far from finicky.

You remove the cheese if you’re dairy-free, for example, or add in all kinds of flavorings that you love. You can even swap basil for another herb or go halfsies, if you really want. I love the classic pine nut (with a healthy amount of char), but I have used so many different kinds of nuts and all led to a delicious and unique pesto.

The best part, though, is that you throw some stuff in a food processor or blender and press a button. THAT’S. IT. You can make it as smooth or as chunky as you want. The possibilities are innumerable.

It stores well in the fridge, though some change in color is to be expected, and you can dump pesto on anything. There’s pesto pasta with roasted veggies. Sandwiches. Crostinis. Breakfast scrambles. Salmon. Caprese salad. Macadamia nut pesto. Mint pesto. Cashew Pesto. All. Pesto. All. The. Time.

This recipe is part of my Summer Basics series featuring simple, easy recipes for staples of al fresco dining. Learn more here.

Basil Pesto Ingredients

basil pesto, garlic, lemon
  • Basil
  • Pine nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Parmesan or pecorino romano
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Tips

Toasting the pine nuts is optional, and a lot of people skip this step. You can if you’re pinched for time. But if you can spare the time, do it. The incredible, more complex flavor that results is soooOOOOoooooo worth the five minutes!

pine nuts for basil pesto

If you are one of those people who differentiates between “good” olive oil and “cooking” olive oil, now might be the time to break out the good stuff. Quality olive oil really shines in this recipe, since there are relatively few ingredients.

A note to the reader looking to store leftovers in the fridge: Pesto will never be as green as it is on the day you prepare it. It starts to brown over time. I was told once by a helpful (or nosy, you decide) shopper who saw me grabbing a pile of basil at the farmers market that adding Vitamin C tablets into the mix slows this process down. I haven’t tried it, but others vouch for it.

It might not look as pretty as it did the first day, but it will still taste fine. I would try to eat it within 5 days of preparing it.

How To Make Pesto Your Own Way

basil pesto, garlic, lemon, olive oil

Herbs: You can make pesto out of so many herbs other than basil, like parsley, mint or oregano. Maybe even throw in some chives or dill. I LOVE to do a pesto with a 2:1 or 1:1 basil to mint ratio for topping crostinis and white fish. The mint gives it a really nice, light, extra fresh flavor that’s especially fun in the springtime.

Nuts: I will often use toasted macadamia nuts, because they are my JAM. But honestly, macadamia nuts and pine nuts can be kinda pricey at the store. If you’re ballin’ on a budget, walnut pesto is also incredible. Cashew pesto is ultra-creamy too.

Vegan: Pesto is often a vegan recipe and cheese can be easily ommitted.

Kick up the heat: Add some red pepper flakes if you’d like to add some spice. I love the heat, but it’s my preference to add red pepper flakes into the final dish instead. I find this gives you a bit more control over the flavor, it’s delicious either way.

Instructions

Toast pine nuts until golden brown, stirring occasionally to ensure one side of the nut doesn’t burn much more than the other. Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend.

basil pesto ingredients

Note that a blender will produce a smoother, creamier result while a processor will give you some extra texture. My personal preference is extra chunky, just-combined pesto. I love that rustic texture!

Was that insanely easy or was that insanely easy? Why ever buy basil pesto from the store again?! I just can’t get enough of this stuff, and I hope you have a blast making it too!

basil pesto, garlic, lemon
basil pesto, garlic, lemon, olive oil

Easy Homemade Basil Pesto

Creamy, nutty and fresh. Delicious on pasta, pizza, chicken, fish and in any number of recipes.
Prep Time 15 mins
Course Side Dish
Servings 1 cup (scant)

Equipment

  • food processor or blender

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups fresh basil or another herb of your choosing
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or another nut of your choosing
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2-1 lemon juice, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. Pecorino Romano or parmesan skip if vegan
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Toast nuts in pan on medium high with some salt. Stir fairly often to avoid burning on one side. Toast until golden brown and remove from heat to avoid burning.
  • Add all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Process until consistency is smooth. Add one tbsp. of water or olive oil if the mixture is too thick or not blending smoothly.

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5 thoughts on “How To Make Pesto”

  • Your recipe calls for “1/2-1 lemon juice, to taste” but doesn’t include the measure. Is it 1 tbsp, 1 tsp, 1 whole lemon, etc.?

    • Hi Renee! That’s the juice of half of a lemon or a whole lemon, depending on your taste preferences and how much citrus you like. If you’re using bottled lemon juice, I would recommend stirring in a little bit at a time until you reach a flavor balance that feels good to you. I tend to lean toward more citrus/acidity when I’m cooking, but if you don’t then you might want to start with a little less. It’s not an exact science and you should be able to tweak as you go/if needed with good results!

  • I made it on Friday, as a stess buster after a long and tiring week. I made it while my wife and daughter were watching TV. Exactly followed your recipe. It tasted so so good. They wouldn’t stop raving about it. Thank you so much !

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