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How to Make the Best Homemade Pesto

Homemade pesto is so easy to make and tastes fresher than the purchased kind. This aromatic herb paste is traditionally made with only a handful of simple ingredients: fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. So how do you make the best pesto? Let's take a look.

Pesto Ingredients in Food Process

Photo by Meredith

How to Make Basil Pesto

Making basil pesto is a simple procedure. You'll start with a few simple pesto ingredients: a few cups of packed fresh basil, 3 or 4 peeled cloves of garlic, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, and pine nuts. There's not much prep work involved. You'll simple blend together the basil, nuts, garlic, and cheese in a food processor. And then slowly pour in the olive oil while mixing. Adding salt and pepper at the end to taste. Essentially, that's all there is to it.

Try These Recipes for Homemade Pesto:

Pesto in dish and spread on toast

Pesto in dish and spread on toast | Photo by Meredith

VIDEO: Pesto Genovese

See how to make authentic Italian basil pesto. "This recipe is straight from Italy," says MadameDanielaMoscaToba, "and you won't find a better one! This calls for a spoonful of pecorino cheese, but you could also use all Parmesan in a pinch. To store, put the pesto in a jar, cover with olive oil, top with a lid, and put in the fridge."

How to Make Pesto without a Food Processor

If you don't have a food processor or blender, you can still make delicious homemade pesto by hand, using a mortar and pestle. This is true traditional pesto -- after all, folks were making pesto for centuries before the electric food processor.

Why make pesto with a mortar and pestle? Chef John explains: "The intensity of the flavors is beyond compare. Hand making the pesto develops an addictive spiciness. You can taste each ingredient, and yet when smashed together, new and wonderful flavors are released."

VIDEO: Proper Pesto

Chef John makes mortar and pestle pesto because it produces a more flavorful, more fragrant, more gorgeous pesto. If you're eating the pesto with pasta, Chef John recommends adding some raw pesto to the bottom of a warm pasta bowl, along with a splash of olive oil, and then tossing the pesto with hot pasta and maybe a little starchy pasta water. This method helps preserve the pesto's freshness and vibrancy. See how Chef John makes pesto:


Quick FAQs for Making Pesto:

How can I keep pesto from turning brown?

  • Fresh basil is very delicate, and will turn brown if it gets very hot or if it's exposed to air for long periods of time. Many cooks use a little fresh spinach as well as basil in their pesto -- fresh spinach helps pesto maintain its brilliant green color.
  • You can also keep pesto looking fresh and green by covering the top with a thin layer of olive oil or with a sheet of plastic wrap directly on its surface; this will keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. (If your pesto darkens in color, it will still taste good. Only discard it if it has been stored improperly.

When should I add pesto to recipes?

  • When mixing pesto with pasta, potatoes, or risotto, stir it in at the last minute, just before serving.

How can I make pesto without basil?

How do I make pesto without pine nuts?

  • Pine nuts can be pricey. Luckily, there are many pesto recipes that call for other, cheaper nuts (or combinations of nuts), including walnuts and almonds.

How can I make pesto without cheese (vegan pesto)?

  • You can make vegan pesto by substituting nutritional yeast in place of the cheese. Another way to make dairy-free pesto is to use Parmesan-flavored soy topping. Otherwise, you'll prepare your vegan pesto just like you would any other pesto.

How should I store pesto?

  • Store pesto in jars or airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week. Another way to store pesto is in the freezer (for about 6 months). To freeze pesto in manageable portion sizes, freeze it in an ice cube tray, and then transfer the cubes to a heavy duty plastic freezer bag. (Reserve an ice cube tray for this purpose, as it might discolor and flavor your plastic tray.) Thaw frozen pesto in the refrigerator or in the microwave on medium power just until room temperature.

What to Do with Pesto

Pesto is most commonly used as a pasta sauce. It has very concentrated flavor, so just a little will do.

Serve the pasta as is, or top it with chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and toasted pine nuts. Add sautéed vegetables and leftover cooked chicken or ham if you like.

Chicken Linguine with Pesto Sauce

Chicken Linguine with Pesto Sauce | Photo by Meredith

There are plenty of place for pesto. Try it:


Pesto pizza | Photo by Meredith

How to make super-quick pesto pasta. Reserve a cupful of the pasta cooking water when you drain the pasta. Return the drained pasta to the hot pan, and add a tablespoonful or so of pesto, adding your reserved pasta water a little bit at a time until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. The starch in the water will help to thicken the sauce and allow it to coat the penne or linguine (or whatever shape you choose).

More Top-Rated Recipes Using Pesto:

Check out our collection of Pesto Recipes.


Carl Hanson

About Carl Hanson

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