The Best Basic Pesto

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This is my go-to pesto recipe — and it’s delicious on just about everything, from pasta to sandwiches to salads.

One of my favorite things about summer cooking is stepping out my back door to pick fresh herbs from my little potted herb and flower garden. It always amazes me how the tiny seedlings I impatiently wait for to sprout in May grow into more herbs than I can possibly use up in August. Right now, my basil plant is overflowing, which means it’s time to make pesto!

Pesto, or pesto alla genovese, is a vibrant, garlicky green sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. It is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, but thankfully most modern versions call for using a food processor. Pesto is a versatile sauce that can be used on just about everything, from pastas to sandwiches to salads. It freezes well, too.

potted herb garden

What You’ll Need To Make Pesto

Traditional pesto is made with garlic, pine nuts, salt, basil leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and extra-virgin olive oil. It’s important to use top-quality ingredients, as the flavors really shine through. 

ingredients for pesto

For the cheese, be sure to use the real-deal imported Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy; domestic Parmesan pales in comparison. You can always tell if it’s authentic by looking at the rind, which is embossed with the name over and over. If the cheese is already grated, it should be labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” not “Parmesan.”

For the nuts, I use walnuts instead of the more traditional pine nuts for a few reasons. First, I always seem to have walnuts in the house (pine nuts can be very pricey!). Second, in recent years an increasing number of people, including me, have fallen prey to a bizarre problem with pine nuts called Pine Mouth Syndrome — a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth that develops a day or two after eating pine nuts. It can last for weeks and make eating or drinking anything very unpleasant. (You can use pecans or almonds, too.)

How To Make Pesto

walnuts and garlic in food processor

To begin, combine the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

coarsely chopped walnuts and garlic

Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper.

adding basil, salt, and pepper to food processor

Process until finely chopped.

finely chopped basil in food processor

Then, with the food processor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.

olive oil blended into pesto

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

adding the cheese

Process again until smooth. That’s your sauce!

blended finished pesto sauce

How To Store & Freeze Pesto

Use the sauce immediately or store it in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (this seals out the air and prevents the sauce from oxidizing, which would turn it an ugly brown color). It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

Pesto can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 6 months. I suggest dividing it into the compartments of an ice cube tray and freezing. Once frozen, remove the  cubes from the tray and put in a sealable plastic bag or airtight container. You can add the defrosted cubes to soups, pasta dishes, eggs, sandwiches, and potatoes.

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The Best Basic Pesto

This is my go-to pesto recipe — and it’s delicious on just about everything, from pasta to sandwiches to salads.

Servings: Makes about 1-1/4 cups (about 10 servings)
Total Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups gently packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini or Colavita
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Instructions

  1. Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until coarsely chopped, about 10 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper and process until mixture resembles a paste, about 1 minute. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly blended. Add the Parmesan and process a minute more. Use pesto immediately or store in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (this seals out the air and prevents the pesto from oxidizing, which would turn it an ugly brown color). It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
  2. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: Pesto can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 6 months. You can also divide your prepared pesto into the compartments of an ice cube tray and freeze. Once it’s frozen, remove the pesto cubes from the tray and put in a sealable plastic bag or airtight container. You can add the defrosted pesto cubes to soups, pasta dishes, eggs, sandwiches, and potatoes.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Serving size: 2 Tbsp.
  • Calories: 159
  • Fat: 17 g
  • Saturated fat: 3 g
  • Carbohydrates: 1 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Sodium: 161 mg
  • Cholesterol: 4 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

See more recipes:

Reviews & Comments

  • Used 3 cloves of garlic as I like mine with a bit more garlic. Yum!

    • — Annie Manitta on January 4, 2021
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  • Made this in Scotland! Had taken Basil with me and managed to get another plant. Didn’t have a Magimix or processor but managed with a pestle and mortar. It has become a firm favourite and, have shared it with friends. It keeps in the fridge for a long time. I’m going to freeze half today. Thank you! Now my pasta favourite. Used it in dressing too.

    • — Anne on November 6, 2020
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  • Fantastic recipe! I didn’t have much basil on hand and so I halved it (and had to fudge the amount of parmesan, too), and it was still delicious. So quick and easy, thank you!

    • — Christie Chisholm on October 30, 2020
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  • Loved it! Easy to follow directions, small enough units, & turned out excellent.

    • — Jill Owens on October 29, 2020
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  • After visiting Liguria, Italy (home of REAL pesto) I have searched to find something I could make at home that tasted the same. BOOM! Here it is. Thank you, Jenn, for this amazing and oh-so-simple recipe. It doesn’t take 5 minutes to make this mouth-watering and healthy addition to pasta, sauces, and my favorite: add it to the mayo on your BLT for a classy step up… yum.

    I usually make enough for one meal and put the left-overs in an ice cube tray and freeze it… I’ve found numerous truly great recipes on your site, and I appreciate you!

    • — Julie on September 29, 2020
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  • After years of delaying too long, I was so proud to finally remember to harvest the basil before the cold weather starts. But, I forgot to check the pantry and ended up a bit short on olive oil and Parmesan in the triple batch of pesto with walnuts. No worries! It is delicious with a wonderful texture and consistency. As for the comments about bitterness, sometimes raw garlic can be bitter. I also had two varieties of basil and one was definitely more bitter all summer than the other. That one literally did not make the cut for this recipe. Oh, and I can’t remember the last time we had an ice cube tray, so I used the mini cupcake pan and mini donut pans to freeze the batches. Perfect size!

    • — Fran on September 26, 2020
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  • This is a simple but excellent pesto recipe. Thanks for sharing another wonderful recipe Jen!

    • — Kathy M. on September 26, 2020
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  • This is the best ever pesto ….. our basil plants were lovely this year and we have made seven batches ….. some for us, some for family. Freezing in the trays is a great tip. Thanks

    • — Ruby on September 24, 2020
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  • I followed this exactly and it was too salty, too garlicky and too oily for us. Next time, I will put 1/4 tsp salt or even less, half the oil, and only half a garlic clove.

    • — France on September 23, 2020
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  • Perfect proportions of ingredients. Just like Nonna used to make… really!

    • — duckconfit on September 22, 2020
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  • Just made my first ever batch of pesto to be used in another recipe I’m making for dinner – this turned out amazing! I was looking for a basic pesto recipe that used walnuts, and this one worked wonderfully.

    • — SJ on September 20, 2020
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  • Outstanding Recipe! Pesto was so yummy, I could just lick the jar. The fresh basil leaves from my garden found a perfect place! Other than pasta and pizza topping, what else can I use the pesto for?

    • — Prajakta on September 14, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Prajakta, Glad you liked it! Pesto is also nice stirred into or dolloped on top of soup like in this recipe. It’s also great spread onto bread for sandwiches or grilled cheese. You can also freeze pesto for future use if you have more than you can use now.

      • — Jenn on September 14, 2020
      • Reply
  • This was sooooo good! Thanks for the recipe!

    • — Diana M on September 4, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi! If I did want to use pine nuts, would it be the same amount? 1/3 cup?

    Thanks! 🙏🏻

    • — Allison on September 1, 2020
    • Reply
    • Yes – hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on September 2, 2020
      • Reply
  • I just made this and it’s super bitter! I followed it exactly. Now what am I supposed to do, this is tonight’s dinner ? 🙁

    • — Shelley on August 31, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hmmm…so sorry, Shelley. Any chance your nuts were bad?

      • — Jenn on August 31, 2020
      • Reply
  • My family said it is fabulous 🙂

    • — Maria D'Abate on August 25, 2020
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  • This is the best pesto recipe I’ve ever had, and my Grandfather is from Italy. I only use 1/3 cup + 1 Tbs Cold Pressed EVO and 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. We love it so much we’ve doubled the number of basil plants in the garden so every 4 days I can pick enough to make a pesto dish. I’ve even made it to give as gifts and shared your recipe. Thank you so much! My entire family loves it.

    • — Karen Hudson on August 20, 2020
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  • Hi Jenn,
    Just made your pesto. Wow! Substituting pine nuts for walnuts is genius. My family and I enjoyed it with fresh pasta. Delicious! Thank you very much!

    • — Pasqualina on August 16, 2020
    • Reply
  • Yummy!! We loved it. I didn’t need to use all of the olive oil but the result was still great.

    • — Marnie on August 14, 2020
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  • Two notes:
    If you blanch your basil for 30 seconds in boiling water you do not have to worry about it turning brown.

    Most pine nuts available in the US are from China and they are a different type than those grown in New Mexico or Europe. Those from NM will not have that horrid taste. It is well worth paying more for those grown in the USA.

    • — Simone Andrus on August 13, 2020
    • Reply
    • Simone, Thank you for sharing info about the origins of pine nuts! Love the recipes and own the cookbook… First cookbook I bought since internet! I even bought my BFF one!
      Looking forward to the next cookbook…Yummers!

      • — Mila on August 14, 2020
      • Reply
  • Once I found this recipe, there’s never been another acceptable pesto on my plate whether it’s puddled over pasta or spread on some bread.

    One of my wishes is to one day drop a straw into a glass of this pesto and enjoy. Salut!

    • — Catherine Nichols on August 13, 2020
    • Reply
    • LOL – glad you like it!!

      • — Jenn on August 13, 2020
      • Reply
  • I’m thinking this would work as a base for your three-cheese white pizza (which is so delicious!). What do you think?

    • — Glenna Ross on August 12, 2020
    • Reply
    • Are you referring to this pizza? If so, definitely!

      • — Jenn on August 13, 2020
      • Reply
      • No. Your three cheese white pizza with arugula which I love!

        • — Glenna on August 14, 2020
        • Reply
        • Sure, but I’d skip the olive oil and garlic that the dough gets topped with. Hope you enjoy!

          • — Jenn on August 18, 2020
          • Reply
  • contains way too much olive oil. I cut the olive oil in 1/2 and it was still extra greasy and very rich. I’ll use an other recipe next time.

    • — john rowland on August 9, 2020
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    • Can you recommend a good substitute for the pine nuts? (I have a tree nut allergy) and miss good pesto!!

      • — Liz on August 12, 2020
      • Reply
      • Walnuts would be a great substitute. Hope you enjoy!

        • — Jenn on August 12, 2020
        • Reply
  • Hi, Jenn! I love your pesto recipe, however, I have a ton of arugula in the fridge right now – could I do a 1:1 swap with the basil to make an arugula pesto? Would I need to add a little sugar or make any other adjustments? Thank you! Bethany

    • — Bethany on August 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Bethany, I haven’t tried it, but I think this would be great with arugula! Because arugula definitely has a sharper flavor, you may want to add a pinch of sugar (but I’d make it as is first, taste it, and then add a pinch if necessary). I’d love to hear how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on August 7, 2020
      • Reply
      • I did try it with arugula and it turned out very tasty! I did have to add about 1/4 tsp sugar to counteract the bitterness, and I used pecorino since it was what I had. I added an extra 1/4 tsp salt, as well, since the pecorino is a slightly less salty cheese.

        • — Bethany on August 12, 2020
        • Reply
        • Glad it turned out nicely — thanks for reporting back! 🙂

          • — Jenn on August 13, 2020
          • Reply
  • This pesto is the best I have ever tasted. I always have alot of basil in my garden but have never tried making pesto. I didn’t have a food processor so this time I used my blender…took a little while to get the basil blended but I was patient and it paid off. I tried to “drizzle” a little olive oil over the top for refrigerator storage…but may have got a little too much. I assume you just stir that in before using. Any suggestions on how to “drizzle” a small amount. I am heading to my garden to pick more basil to make more for my freezer. THANK YOU for sharing.

    • — Cheryl Bartle on August 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Cheryl, Glad you enjoy the pesto! You might find it easier to pour some onto a spoon, and then drizzle it from the spoon. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much — you really can’t have too much olive oil (and yes, just stir it in). 🙂

      • — Jenn on August 6, 2020
      • Reply
  • Delicious! This was the first time I had ever made pesto, I had so much basil in the garden this year I thought I’d give it a try. I used walnuts (and always will after this), it was easy to make and the family loved it. Thanks for a great recipe.

    • — Jodie Smith on August 2, 2020
    • Reply
  • Awesome recipe, thanks Jenn!!

    Question: I’ve read that if you’re freezing pesto, you shouldn’t add the cheese, but instead freeze all the ingredients and then add the cheese separately, when you actually use the pesto.

    True? False? Seems like a pain that would make a difference to people with a more sophisticated palate than mine. 😉 Thanks!

    • — Jane on August 1, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Jane, I freeze pesto with the cheese. 🙂

      • — Jenn on August 2, 2020
      • Reply
  • Amazing! I was always told I had to use pine nuts for pesto and I don’t always have those around but I always have walnuts since my husband likes them. Made exactly as written and it was hard to stop licking the spoon! Will be using it to make your pesto pizza. Thank you.

    • — Chris W. on July 30, 2020
    • Reply
  • Perfect. Made it for pesto pizza a bit later, exactly as written. Tastes the way pesto should taste.

    • — Steve Cohen on July 29, 2020
    • Reply
  • Delicious and easy. I suggest less salt and pepper.

    • — Danita on July 29, 2020
    • Reply
  • This recipe is awesome! I’ve had a bumper crop of basil this season and made it several times. I’ve given it away to friends and family and always received comments of “delicious”, the best” and “please share the recipe”!

    • — Susan Ross on July 24, 2020
    • Reply
  • I make this all the time, great recipe! I like to use it as a base for my pizza, with sliced tomatoes instead of tomato sauce. I freeze this in large quantities too, but instead of freezing in ice cube trays, I just put it in a quart size ziplock bag and lay it flat to freeze. It’s super easy just to break off what you need. I have also subbed raw cashews for the walnuts or pine nuts because that was what I had. I’ve had great luck with my basil plant this year so my freezer is stocked!

    • — Barb on July 23, 2020
    • Reply
  • SHRIMP PIZZA
    Hi Jenn, My wife and I used to get a pre-made crust such as the brand Bob—. Spread it with this and then add cut up cooked shrimp, top with fresh black pepper, and mozzarella mixed with a little fresh grated parmesan. Took about 5 minutes to prep. Now she makes a fabulous crust, which we roll out thin, and roll a dough docker over it. (We’re St. Louis thin crust fans.)We then pre-bake until it starts to turn brown. We then pull it out and add the toppings, put back in the oven until the cheese is light brown around the edges and bubbly in the center. It’s absolutely fabulous!

    • — Rick H on July 21, 2020
    • Reply

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