How to make Basil Pesto

Homemade Basil Pesto is a summertime treat! This simple 6-ingredient condiment, made with tons of fresh basil and other fresh ingredients, is perfect for pastas, pizzas and more!

Love to make recipes with fresh pesto? Don’t skip Chicken Pesto Pasta and Tuna Pesto Crostini!

A jar of homemade basil pesto on marble

This homemade pesto recipe was originally published March 17, 2014. The writing and images were updated and republished in May 2021.

‘Tis the season for fresh herbs and herb gardens… and if you’ve ever had an herb garden before, you might be familiar with basil plants that grow quickly and wildly.

Ours always does, and before I developed this recipe, I was always wondering what I should do with all that basil.

Homemade basil pesto is simple, fragrant and flavorful. It’s easy to make at home if you’ve got the ingredients on hand, and since there are just six ingredients needed, chances are you might have them.

Why I love this recipe:

This is a simple recipe, and it’s not fancy… but it’s incredibly delicious, wonderfully fragrant and pairs well with pasta, pizza, sandwiches and most anything else you can think of.

Back when I was a long distance runner, I was drawn to this pesto recipe on top of pasta. Why? The good fats that reside in the olive oil and all the other fresh ingredients pulled into the recipe made it not only a delicious dish, but a food that made me feel pretty good.

The same still holds true today, and last summer, we spent an inordinate amount of time using this pesto recipe as the base of a pesto chicken pizza, which is out of this world.

This pesto, while pretty basic, is one of those dishes I know, love and enjoy all summer long.

Other summery recipes to try ASAP: Summer Quinoa Salad | Grilled Steak Flatbread Pizza Recipe | Chicken Spinach Salad with Apples and Strawberries | Ricotta Crostini with Grilled Peaches | Easy Lemon Bars

Need warm weather recipe inspiration? Head on over to my Summer Recipe Index for some ideas.

Fresh basil leaves next to oil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan in bowls

What you need to make homemade pesto

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In addition to these tools, you might be wondering what is basil pesto made of?

Let’s talk about the ingredients needed for homemade pesto:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Garlic cloves
  • Toasted pine nuts
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pesto recipe variations:

  • Nut variations: Pine nuts are expensive. Any other toasted nut, like a walnut, pecan, almond pepita (pumpkin seed), etc., should work in its place.
  • Green variations: You can make pesto with spinach, kale, parsley and other leafy greens. Swap out the fresh basil for the same amount of green. (You can find inspiration from my Spinach Pistachio Pesto recipe.)
  • Cheese variations: Parmesan is my favorite, but pecorino also works beautifully. If you’re vegan, feel free to skip the cheese and add a little nutritional yeast.
  • Add acidity: For a little extra brightness, add 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice to your pesto.
Collage showing how to make basil pesto in a food processor

How to make Basil Pesto

To toast the pine nuts, place them on a baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 5-7 minutes, or until the exterior of the nuts are slightly browned. Keep an eye on them, as they will burn very easily if you do not. Let them cool before you mix your pesto or they will wilt the basil and melt the cheese.

Next, prep the rest of the ingredients.

  • Pluck the basil leaves from their stems
  • Chop the garlic
  • Shred the cheese.

Make the pesto. Add the basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts and the parmesan cheese to your food processor. Pour in about half of the olive oil and pulse until the ingredients are chopped and the mixture is beginning to come together.

Pour in the rest of the oil, and pulse until smooth. Take a taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the pesto to a jar or a bowl, then enjoy immediately.

A bunch of fresh basil leaves

Frequently Asked Questions

What is pesto?

Traditional Italian pesto, known as pesto alla genovese, is made with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil, garlic and salt. It’s a basil sauce that’s perfect for pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and more.

What is basil pesto good for?

Honestly, most anything. We’ve taken to adding it as a base to pizza in place of pizza sauce and love it with noodles. It works with zucchini (and other veggie) noodles, as well, and is great for spreading on sandwiches and crostini, too.

Is basil and pesto the same thing?

Not quite. You need basil to make pesto. Basil is an herb while pesto is a combination of basil (or other leafy greens) with oil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic and salt.

Should I wash basil for pesto?

Yes. Always wash your basil before using it. Pat them dry with a paper towel or a kitchen towel before blending.

What can I do with all this basil?

Pesto is a brilliant way to use up a bunch of basil!

A jar of homemade basil pesto on marble

Tips and tricks to the best Basil Pesto

  • Don’t skimp on the fresh basil. This recipe is nowhere near as bright or vibrant if you don’t have enough basil, so ensure you’ve got enough on hand before mixing this up.
  • Swap out the ingredients for your tastebuds. I’ve listed out swaps in the recipe card and in this post above. Feel free to get creative with it and make this pesto with ingredients you’ve got and love.
  • How to store: Transfer from the food processor to a jar or a food storage container, and keep it in the fridge for up to a week. Make sure that your container is airtight, as the sauce can oxidize, causing the basil to brown.
  • How to freeze: transfer it to an air-tight container and drizzle additional olive oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months, and let thaw in the refrigerator before using.

Dishes to make using this pesto recipe

  • Pesto Pasta: Boil 1 lb. of noodles (any type!) until al dente, then drain and transfer the pasta into the bowl with the pesto. Combine, then serve warm. You can also follow this recipe for Chicken Pesto Pasta.
  • Pesto Sun-Dried Tomato Pinwheels: The perfect party appetizer or a fun hand-held dinner option!
  • Swirl it into alfredo sauce.
  • Use it as a pizza base. Instead of using tomato sauce, smear homemade pesto onto a Homemade Pizza Dough round. Top with cheese and your favorite toppings. (We’re partial to roasted chicken.)

A jar of homemade basil pesto on marble
Yield: 4 servings

Basil Pesto

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Homemade Basil Pesto is a summertime treat! This simple 6-ingredient condiment, made with tons of fresh basil, is perfect for pastas, pizzas and more!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. To toast the pine nuts, place them on a baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 5-7 minutes, or until the exterior of the nuts are slightly browned. Keep an eye on them, as they will burn very easily if you do not. Let them cool before you mix your pesto or they will wilt the basil and melt the cheese.
  2. If you haven't yet, prep the rest of the ingredients. This means pluck the basil leaves from their stems, chop the garlic and shred the cheese.
  3. Add the basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts and the parmesan cheese to your food processor.
  4. Pour in about half of the olive oil. Pulse until the ingredients are chopped and the mixture is beginning to come together.
  5. Pour in the rest of the oil, and pulse until smooth. Take a taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Transfer the pesto to a jar or a bowl, then enjoy immediately.

Notes

Adapted from The Food Network

To freeze the pesto, transfer it to an air-tight container and drizzle additional olive oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months, and let thaw in the refrigerator before using.

To make pesto pasta, boil 1 lb. of noodles (any type!) until al dente, then drain and transfer the pasta into the bowl with the pesto. Combine, then serve warm. You can also follow this recipe for Chicken Pesto Pasta.

Pesto variations:

  • If you like citrus, add 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice to your pesto for brightness.
  • No parmesan cheese? Use pecorino instead.
  • If you don't like pine nuts, replace them with another toasted nut, like a walnut or a pecan.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4 servings

Serving Size:

1 serving

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 454Total Fat: 47gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 37gCholesterol: 11mgSodium: 301mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 6g

Nutrition facts are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.

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10 Comments

  1. I love basil pesto on pasta. Easy to make and I love it when I can make my own with my basil I grow. Yummy!! Pinning!!

    1. Yes! So glad you’re a fan, too, and that you make it with the basil you grow! I need to get my garden in order because the weather’s finally right over here for it!

    1. HA! I feel you, girl… which is why I hardly ever make pasta anymore… and when I eat too much, I feel awful. I’ve recently switched to GF pasta, which seems to make a difference in me feeling good after, and I’m still working on the not eating the whole box thing. 😉

  2. I have always loved pesto but haven’t made it in awhile. I might try this with quinoa pasta. It would be a great meal before a morning run. Saturday a 12 mile run replaced beer drinking but I passed a St Patty’s Day festival and a lot of house parties. It was fun! (except for all of the muscle twitches after)

    1. Kathy, you’ve gotta make some pesto sometime soon, especially since basil is growing like crazy these days! (Woo, summertime!) I did something similar the day after my St. Patty’s Day, running-wise, so I feel you! Glad you had fun.

  3. I absolutely love basil pesto but it drives me mad that the gorgeously bright, vibrant green turns blackish-brown when it hits hot pasta or pizza! Grrr. Oh well, I guess I can’t fight nature 🙂 That said, your dishes look absolutely stunning, particularly that pesto-smothered penne. Yum! Definitely the most delicious spread for Italian foods. Love it!

    1. I absolutely agree with you, Laura! We’ve gotta find a way to combat this… or just turn a blind eye. 😉 And yes, pesto is definitely one of my favorite spreads from Italy. It’s just SO good. Mmm.

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