Pesto Sauce

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Homemade pesto sauce is easy to make, and it’s good on just about everything, from pastas to pizzas to salads.

One of my favorite things about summer cooking is stepping out my back door to pick fresh herbs from my potted herb garden. It always amazes me how the tiny seedlings I plant 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 sauce. Pesto, or pesto alla genovese, is a vibrant, garlicky green sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. It’s traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, but 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 Sauce

Traditional pesto is made with garlic, 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 sauce

For the cheese, be sure to use authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy; domestic Parmesan is not the same thing. You can always tell if the cheese is 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.)

Step-by-Step Instructions

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, and that’s your pesto sauce.

blended finished pesto sauce

How To Store & Freeze Pesto

Use the pesto 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 or zoodle dishes, pizza, eggs, sandwiches, and potatoes.

More Summer Recipes You May Like

The Best Basic Pesto

Homemade pesto sauce is easy to make, and it’s good on just about everything, from pastas to pizzas to salads.

Servings: Makes about 1¼ cups (about 10 servings)
Total Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup walnuts
  • 2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ 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.

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Comments

  • Just made this because I had more basil than I knew what to do with. It was so delicious!!!! I love the use of walnuts because we almost always have them on hand. I put this over pasta and garnished with freshly diced tomatoes. Delicious!

    • — Mattie on August 15, 2022
    • Reply
  • Love all of your recipes and I’m sure this one is no different. Unfortunately, due to dental work I’m on liquid diet so I can’t try it. However, questioning why my pesto, right from the food processor was a deep green vs. the vibrant and fresh looking one in your pics. I used the best ingredients and fresh basil from my garden. I followed the directions to a T. Any ideas what could have gone wrong? I did use a mini processor. Perhaps too cramped and basil got bruised??

    • — Neil Markman on August 15, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Neil, That’s a bit of a head scratcher. I don’t think the mini food processor would cause it. Olive oil can come in a variety of shades ranging from yellow to green to brown. Is your olive oil a bit of a darker color?

      • — Jenn on August 16, 2022
      • Reply
  • made this exactly written, with fresh from our garden basil. It was soooooo delicious. I used walnuts too. Husband said he could never get pesto this good in a restaurant! Thank you Jenn for this perfect pesto recipe.

    • — Vicki Cohen on August 15, 2022
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  • This is my go to pesto! I love it!

    • — Barb on August 15, 2022
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  • I bought a bunch of organic basil, rinsed off and patted dry, then placed them flat between parchment before placing in freezer. My question: can frozen basil be used to make pesto, or will the frozen state make for an unattractive pesto?
    BTW: I love that you use walnuts which are so rich in omegas!

    • — iris on August 15, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Iris, I haven’t done it before, but I think it’s fine to use basil that’s been frozen. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on August 15, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jenn, your pesto is an absolute flavour bomb. I love that I can use walnuts rather than overpriced pine nuts. I get to enjoy the flavours of summer all winter, since this pesto freezes so well.

    • — JaniceY on August 14, 2022
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  • I’ve made this at the end of summer 2 years in a row with the rest of my basil before the first frost. It’s AMAZING!! I love using walnuts because I always have them in the freezer.

    I found large 4 ounce ice cube trays at the 99 Cent store. They have a silicone bottom and I push the cubes out and freeze. Perfect amount anytime I like. And it tastes so great even after frozen!!

    • — Lydia on August 14, 2022
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  • I love this recipe as it is simple and easy to use. I have frozen it and look forward to seeing what it does for the flavour. Thank you Jenn

    • — Ann Dowling on August 14, 2022
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  • The ingredient amounts were perfect. Good consistency and flavor.

    • — Sharon on August 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is wonderful. I used a small cloves of garlic because I don’t love garlic and a little less olive oil because I ran out! It was perfect. Not too salty – I actually added a pinch more because I love salt. Thanks for a great recipe.

    • — Sarah on August 6, 2022
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  • Tasty use of garden basil. Per other reviewer’s suggestions, I cut the salt to 1/4 teaspoon which was plenty for us. Next time, I’ll use just one garlic clove as the garlic flavor was pretty potent.

    I substituted roasted (unsalted) pepitas due to my son’s tree nut allergy. Worked just fine.

    • — Kuskus on August 5, 2022
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  • Delicious! Doubled the recipe with no problem. I didn’t find that there was too much olive oil. The more the tastier!
    Thanks for this amazing recipe! 5 stars from me!

    • — Yvonne Turkenburg on August 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • For me, this is way too salty. Otherwise, delish.

    • — Dawn on July 10, 2022
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  • My food processor is packed away and unattainable but I’ve got tons of basil so would love to try this recipe! I do have a Ninja food blender that I use for smoothies….would that process the nuts, garlic and basil to the same consistency?

    • — Lucia Cross on July 7, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Lucia, that should work. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 10, 2022
      • Reply
  • I have been directed that American’s use way too much olive oil compared to Italian cooking. I cut the olive oil to 1/4. It may not have had the same flavor Jenn was going for, but it was very fresh and flavorful

    • — BlarneyTalker on May 6, 2022
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  • Omg, Jenn, this is the best Pesto ever!!! You are my ‘go to’ for any recipe, but I must say this is amazing! Great as a condiment for fish as well as my favorite Vegie Pasta (which is always an invention depending on the fresh vegies on hand). Thank you for being there!

    • — Sally Spurgeon on February 24, 2022
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  • If I did want to substitute pine nuts (I’ve never experienced what you describe!) would it still be the same amount as the walnuts?

    • — L on January 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yep – Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 20, 2022
      • Reply
  • Of course another perfect recipe!! I had a ton of fresh basil at the end of November!! Gotta love California for some things :). I made the recipe times 5 and it was a bit of a challenge in one shot with the food processor but I made it work. I have giant ice cube trays that I bought this summer and each cube has 6 servings! I can’t wait to share the deliciousness with friends. Tonight I am going to use the unfrozen to make pesto with shrimp and mushrooms, might throw a bit of cream in there too.
    Thank you again Jenn!

    • — Lydia on November 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Great recipe, especially since I had a ton of walnuts around from our tree. For those that want to use pine nuts for pesto – pine nut mouth has been traced back to a species of pine nut exported from China. If you manage to find European or North American pine nuts you shouldn’t have a problem. Cheers!

    • — TC on November 9, 2021
    • Reply
  • I also made a double batch with an aged Gruyere (so a semi-hard cheese) from a local organic farm. Turned out amazing. I distributed most of it into a cupcake tin, filling each cup about two-thirds the way up until it ran out. Then I froze it in that – so I have pucks that are the right size to add one to pasta for two.

    • — Paul L on October 2, 2021
    • Reply
    • I’ve made this twice in the last two weeks and the first time I made it exactly as written. It was the best pesto I’d ever made and using walnuts instead of pine nuts was a revelation.

      The second time I made it as written, except I used generic Parmesan cheese instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano. While still good, the difference in flavor profile was notable. If you’re considering subbing out the good cheese for the cheaper cheese, heed Jenn’s advice!

      • — Gracie on August 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jenn’s recipes have become my go to for family dinners – hands down, the best recipes I’ve ever made. Thank you for sharing these with all of us. I’ve made this pesto twice and it was a big hit with my entire family – so delicious. Mine came out a bit too thick both times but I was likely too generous with my basil measurements plus a poorly working food processor. This recipe has inspired me to replace it. I can’t wait to try it once again.

    • — Sandy on September 5, 2021
    • Reply
  • Excellent recipe and I prefer the walnuts to pinenuts. Not sure if that is a China / NA sourced nut issue or not. Reduced the olive oil just a bit and added a touch of lemon juice. We grew our own basil in our greenhouse in the Yukon. Best basil I’ve ever tasted and the pesto ditto. Made 11 125ml jars for the freezer this long winter. Delightful.

    • — Guy Duperreault on August 29, 2021
    • Reply
    • Does the pesto freeze well? How is it when defrosted? Thanks!

      • — Kathrine Breeden on September 9, 2021
      • Reply
      • Hi Katherine, Pesto freezes beautifully and retains its consistency and flavor when defrosted. See the bottom of the recipe for more detailed freezing instructions. Hope that helps!

        • — Jenn on September 13, 2021
        • Reply
  • Foolproof and really delicious.

    • — Gustavo Escobedo on August 15, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi, Jenn
    We enjoy pesto when Mom’s basil is prolific all summer. But, some say the pine nuts have a ‘metallic taste’. A little detective work sheds light on the problem: it’s the pine nuts from China! Research on Wikipedia says pine nuts from China are not pure. Be safe. Use walnuts or pistachio nuts instead, or if you have to have pine nuts, make sure they are grown in the US; not just distributed from the US. I have to toss my recently purchased pine nuts that are from China (read the fine print!). You’re welcome.

    • — Lisa M on August 5, 2021
    • Reply
  • Absolutely fabulous! Changed a few things but only because it is a palate preference but the base of this recipe is the best I’ve used in a very long history of making pesto. You can adapt this recipe to your own taste. Just great! Will use it all the time and delete my others. I usually use pine nuts but was out so I had walnuts and it is wonderful either way.

    • — Gloria on July 22, 2021
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  • Oof!!! Wrong again. The 1/2 cup was for the parm. EVOO was 2/3 cup. So please just ignore (or erase) the foregoing. At this point, I don’t know what I did to add too much EVOO to my batch. Apologies.

    • — Tom from Maine on July 22, 2021
    • Reply
  • See earlier review today: Partly my bad for not checking. I opted to go with the metric measures, and the recipe said 160 ml EVOO. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup. That is 118 ml, not 160. So when I adjusted all measures for my 44 g of basil, I added 202 ml instead of 149. Issue solved.

    • — Tom from Maine on July 22, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this yesterday and used 1/3 for noodles with pesto for dinner. The rest I froze in two batches for later use. I would recommend using less olive oil by 25 to 30 percent. It was way too runny, and the pesto really didn’t stick to the noodles that well. One could always add more for a give application; difficult to add less.

    • — Tom from Maine on July 22, 2021
    • Reply
  • I loved this recipe, so tasty on pasta!! I mixed about 2/3 cup pesto with 1/3 cup pasta water and it coated my pasta so nicely!! Only thing I added was the zest and juice of 1/2 lemon.

    • — Lloyd on July 21, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this today. Quadrupled the recipe. Very good. Put several containers in the freezer.
    Thank you for a great recipe!

    • — Adena on July 20, 2021
    • Reply

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