When the garden is overflowing with fresh basil, it’s time to make pesto! Pesto is an Italian sauce or spread made with fresh basil, nuts, garlic, and olive oil.
Homemade Pesto is Basil’s True Purpose in Life
If you grow your own basil, you’ve probably experienced this series of events:
- Plant basil. Keep an impatient eye on it, watching for the teeniest glimpse of green poking through the soil.
- Get excited about basil growth. Wait (again, impatiently) for leaves to grow.
- Pluck your first few basil leaves and use them to garnish Sun Dried Tomato Chicken Pasta. Feel like a gardening goddess.
- Forget about the basil for a few days, then return to find it transformed into an unwieldy plant the size of a small child.
- Cut a lot of basil.
- Make a lot of pesto.
- Repeat weekly for eternity (or at least until the end of summer).
Despite growing basil for the last decade or so of my life, I’m never quite prepared for the speed at which it goes from tiny fledgling plant to overzealous herb with a hint of sass.
Luckily, homemade pesto is always there to rescue me from my basil overwhelm. It’s the best way to use up a bundle of basil and preserve its fresh, fragrant sweetness for the long winter months. There’s nothing better than pulling some pesto out of the freezer and getting a whiff of that cheesy, garlicky, herby goodness on a cold winter day!
Today, I’m sharing my go to recipe for classic pesto, as well as some variations you can try!
Ingredients in Basil Pesto
Traditional pesto is composed of just 6 simple ingredients. It’s likely you already have several of them on hand (or in your garden!). Here’s what you’ll need:
- Fresh basil, and lots of it
- Parmesan cheese- I recommend using actual Parmigiano Reggiano, preferably fresh grated.
- Pine nuts- Find these in the deli section of most grocery stores.
- Olive oil
How to Make Pesto
My preferred method for making pesto is in a food processor, but a blender will also work.
To make it, combine the basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and garlic in the food processor along with most (but not all) of the olive oil.
Blend everything up together, scraping the sides a few times. If it’s very thick and paste-like,, drizzle in a bit more olive oil. Add enough oil so the mixture blends easily together, but is not super liquidy.
Taste, add a little Kosher salt as needed, and your pesto is ready!
Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s talk about all the ways you can make this recipe your own.
- While pine nuts are traditional, pesto can be made with almost any kind of nut. Pistachios, walnuts, and pecans are especially good (and cheaper!) than pine nuts.
- TIP: Give your pesto extra toasty flavor by roasting your nuts in the oven or on the stove top before adding them to the food processor.
- Other hard, aged cheeses can be used in place of the Parmesan. Try making pesto with Asiago, Pecorino Romano, or manchego!
- Basil is, of course, the most prominent flavor of pesto, but pesto can also be made with other herbs and greens! Try subbing parsley, cilantro, or arugula for the greens.
- Get really wild and add some sun dried tomatoes and balsamic to the mix. This Sun Dried Tomato Basil Pesto is a favorite!
Storing + Freezing Pesto
While fresh pesto keeps well in the fridge for 7-10 days, I often can’t consume as much pesto as my basil plant insists that I make.
I love to freeze any leftovers to enjoy whenever the craving hits. The easiest way I’ve found to freeze pesto is to spoon it into a freezer safe zip-lock bag and spread into a thin (1/4 inch) layer. Lay it flat on a baking tray, squeeze out all the air, and seal.
Allow the bag to freeze lying flat on the baking tray, then once it’s frozen store for up to 6 months.
When you’re ready to use it, simply break off whatever size hunk you’re in need of.
Frozen pesto can be popped directly into sautes or soups (like this Pesto Chicken Soup!), or you can thaw it in the fridge overnight and use for Caprese Paninis, Air Fryer Grilled Cheese, or Shrimp Pesto Fettuccine.
- 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (or other nuts of your choice)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Combine the basil, Parmesan, nuts, and garlic in a food processor or blender. Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Blend together until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.
- If the mixture is very thick and paste-like, continue to drizzle in a little more oil until the mixture blends easily. Taste, and season with Kosher salt as needed.
- Pesto can be used right away or stored in the fridge in a sealed container for up to 1 week. Freeze leftover pesto in a thin layer in a freezer safe bag, layed flat on a baking sheet. Frozen pesto will keep up to 6 months.
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Nutrition Information:Serving Size: 2 Tablespoons
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 130