Basil Pesto Recipe

Pesto is one of my favorite condiments to keep on hand. Try these easy, fun pesto recipe variations to brighten pasta, salads, roasted veggies & more!

Pesto Recipe

One of my favorite things about summer is the bounty of fresh herbs that are just outside my doorstep. Fresh herbs make any meal instantly more flavorful and beautiful. My favorite thing to do with all of those fresh herbs (aside from sprinkle them on everything) is to make pesto! It’s especially great for lazy summertime cooking. I like to dollop it on grilled vegetables, pasta, spaghetti squash, salads, eggs, toasted bread, pizza, sandwiches… you get the idea. With just a few easy steps, it makes anything an instant tasty meal whether you feel like cooking or not.

Pesto Recipe ingredients

What is pesto, and how do I make it?

Traditional pesto is a blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. With a food processor, it comes together in just a few steps:

  1. Pulse the nuts, lemon juice, and garlic in the food processor until they’re finely chopped.
  2. Add the basil and pulse again.
  3. Next, drizzle in the olive oil with the food processor blade still running.
  4. Finally, add grated Parmesan cheese and process briefly until combined. For vegan pesto, simply skip the cheese.

That’s it! It’s really simple to make, and it’s easy to vary according to the season or your mood. It will keep for a few days in an airtight container in the fridge, though its surface may start turning brown. As a result, it’s best to cover your pesto with a thin layer of plastic wrap before sealing your container. This will keep it fresh and green!

How to make pesto Basil Pesto Recipe

Pesto Recipe Variations

Once you’ve made the classic basil pesto recipe, try changing it up! You can make delicious variations with all sorts of nuts, seeds, veggies, and leafy greens. Here are some of my favorites…

  • Swap out the pine nuts for any nut of your choice! I particularly like walnuts and pistachios.
  • Make nut-free pesto by using pepitas or hemp seeds.
  • Use any herb or leafy green. I like a combination of parsley & cilantro, or use part basil and part arugula. Finely chopped kale leaves are also a great combination with basil!
  • Don’t let your veggie stems go to waste. Blanch kale stems and blend them into pesto with basil leaves or another herb.
  • Punch up the flavor! Add a roasted red pepper, sun dried tomatoes, a charred jalapeño, artichoke hearts, etc.

There possibilities are endless – let me know if you have a favorite variation!

Basil Pesto Recipe Pesto Recipe

I made pesto! Now what do I do with it?

The obvious choice is tossing pesto with pasta, but your options don’t stop there. Add it to a quinoa salad or a Caprese salad, top it onto a grain bowl, scoop it onto spaghetti squash or mac and cheese, or incorporate it into this yummy baked zucchini dish.

Basil Pesto

rate this recipe:
5 from 109 votes
Prep Time: 5 mins
Total Time: 5 mins
Serves 1 cup
A classic basil pesto recipe, plus many more variations to try!

Ingredients

Basic Basil Pesto:

  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for a smoother pesto
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, optional

Variation: replace the basil with:

  • Mint
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Spinach

Variation: replace half the basil with:

  • 1 cup arugula
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1 cup cubed raw zucchini
  • 4 artichoke hearts
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1/2 cup kale stems, boil until soft

Variation: replace the pine nuts with:

  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pepitas
  • Hemp Seeds

Variation: for something extra, add:

  • Nutritional yeast, in place of the parmesan
  • Pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 1 charred jalapeño
  • 2 to 4 sun dried tomatoes
  • Splash of honey or maple syrup, if your pesto is too sharp

Instructions

  • In a food processor, combine the pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and pulse until well chopped.
  • Add the basil and pulse until combined.
  • With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until combined. Add the parmesan cheese, if using, and pulse to briefly combine. For a smoother pesto, add more olive oil.

 

 

89 comments

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Rate this recipe (after making it)




  1. Stephanie Roberts
    09.14.2021

    5 stars
    So easy, so quick, and soooo delicious!!

  2. Diane
    09.12.2021

    5 stars
    P.S. I meant to say: Thank you for this wonderful website. I’ve shared it with some vegan friends and they are enjoying it a lot! Well done.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.13.2021

      Hi Diane, I’m so happy to hear! Thank you for sharing!

  3. diane
    09.12.2021

    5 stars
    If making pesto vegan, I add some nutritional yeast, which gives it a cheesy addition without dairy. I found with pesto and chumous, if using lemon I just add just a little so as not to overpower the rest. (Made a lot of beet/chickpea pesto and too much lemon and you couldn’t really taste the chickpeas OR beets which made it such a beautiful pink/purple color.) Using other greens in pesto is a new thing for me – and I love it. Arugula is especially good – not too much; but adding a little to the basil is amazing.

  4. Anneliese
    09.11.2021

    5 stars
    So good!! Best pesto I’ve ever had!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.12.2021

      yay, I’m so happy to hear!

  5. Alyssa
    08.30.2021

    5 stars
    The proportions of this recipe are PERFECTION. I subbed out pine nuts with sunflower seeds and used a special variety of lemon basil. The amount of lemon juice in this recipe enhanced those flavors tenfold, I ate myself sick! THANK YOU!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      08.30.2021

      Ha, I’m so glad you loved it!

  6. Rochelle
    08.27.2021

    5 stars
    I followed this recipe exactly as stated. I think next time I will leave out the lemon juice. I felt like it really over-powers the pesto. It’s good, but has a strong lemon taste (and I love, love lemons!!) Instead of using it as a spread on a baguette or sourdough, I’ll use it with pasta. All the other ingredients were perfect!! I’ll definitely make it again, minus the lemons!

  7. Sarah Cox
    08.24.2021

    5 stars
    Delicious recipe –
    I cut the ingredients in half, used pecans instead of pine nuts and left out Parmesan as I was serving with burrata cheese. The flavor was amazing. Perfect balance of nutty and tart.
    Used this as a base for a burrata salad with diced Campari tomatoes, pine nuts and a balsamic glaze. Quick and beautiful appetizer salad.

  8. Tammy S
    08.20.2021

    5 stars
    This recipe is great! I used walnuts instead of pine nuts and nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan, it is delicious!!!

  9. M
    08.12.2021

    5 stars
    This is a great recipe; I’ve made several versions. I leave out the Parmesan so it’s dairy free.
    It freezes well (in 2-oz portions) too.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      08.13.2021

      I’m so glad you’ve loved it!

  10. Julia
    08.10.2021

    5 stars
    Amazing recipe! I used a variation – 1/2 cup of basil and a 1/2 cup of arugula. I didn’t even need the parmesan cheese – rare for this cheese lover.

  11. Carmen Vossen
    08.02.2021

    Sorry if this was asked…how long does it last in the fridge?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      08.03.2021

      Hi Carmen, I keep it about 5 days. It also freezes well.

  12. Emma
    08.02.2021

    5 stars
    Wow this recipe is fantastic. I grow basil every year and have tried just so many pesto recipes and this has become my all time favorite. Not too garlicky and perfect amount of sweetness. Thank you!

  13. Donna Thomson
    07.28.2021

    Hi I found a recipe yesterday that I cannot find again pesto it included white wine vinegar and lemon juice and I think it called for four cloves of garlic

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      07.29.2021

      Hi Donna, I’m not sure, I don’t think I have a pesto recipe that uses 4 cloves of garlic.

  14. Deidre
    07.23.2021

    5 stars
    Hi Jeanine:
    Can I freeze pesto? Do you have any suggestions for doing so?
    Thanks so much for the best pesto recipe ever!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      07.23.2021

      yep! I like to freeze it in ice cube trays so I can use a portion at a time. When you’re ready to use it, let it thaw at room temp.

  15. Megan
    07.12.2021

    5 stars
    Fantastic recipe. My husband added too much garlic. I could ward off a vampire after one bite.
    Does anyone have a suggestion about how to ease that taste down?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      07.12.2021

      Hi Megan, I would just add more volume of the other ingredients (basil, oil, etc,)

      • Megan McAnany
        07.13.2021

        5 stars
        Thanks Jeanine.
        I added a little more lemon and tossed in some fresh baked chicken breast.
        My husband eats everything!
        We have very different tastes and cooking processes, so his feedback isn’t necessarily helpful. I appreciate your response.

      • Dawn Ross
        07.26.2021

        i saute the crushed garlic in a small amount of olive oil and toast the pine nuts in same saute pan before making pesto. mellows the garlic and turns up the flavor of the pine nuts.

    • Dawn Ross
      07.26.2021

      i saute the crushed garlic in a small amount of olive oil and toast the pine nuts in same saute pan before making pesto. mellows the garlic and turns up the flavor of the pine nuts.

    • Andrew
      08.26.2021

      Garlic bite is tempered well by lemon juice – combine minced garlic glove with the lemon before adding to the mix.

  16. Toni
    07.10.2021

    5 stars
    I will have to give this recipe a 5 star too! I changed a few things to make it go with my lifestyle, but it came out great! I swapped the oil for water, the cheese for nutritional yeast and the whole garlic for garlic powder. I’m Vegan and trying not to use oil. I love garlic, but I find raw garlic a little too overpowering in some dishes. The powder worked great for me. I made this for myself and my granddaughter. We both loved it and I’ll keep this recipe handy! Thanks

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      07.10.2021

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  17. Lynn
    07.09.2021

    5 stars
    Not really a pesto person, but after making this recipe, it is absolutely delicious. I made it with almonds and nutritional yeast with a small amount of honey. DELICIOUS!

  18. CJ
    07.07.2021

    Delicious! Made standard recipe with 3 cloves of garlic

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.