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


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


  • 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.




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  1. Rachel from

    Thank you SO much for interesting a note about what to do if you don’t have a spout on your food processor! I’ve been so lost up until now about what to do when recipes require that. Pinning this as a go-to for pesto 🙂

    • jeanine

      You’re welcome… I’m sure it does something to emulsify, but it totally works fine without it. Even when I forget to put the olive oil in last and I mix everything all at once, it works out just fine.

  2. val from

    Great post. I thought arugula-pecan was my favorite, but then I made dandelion pesto. In addition to tasting amazing, it really holds its green color.

  3. Linda

    Last night I brought home a big basil plant which I bought because I love basil and pesto. I found myself wishing this morning that I knew some interesting, delicious variations for pesto. Presto! Your post came this afternoon. When I finish typing, I’m going in to the kitchen to make, yes, pesto. Thank you.

  4. Eileen from

    Yay pesto! I usually make mine without any nuts at all, and it still turns out beautiful and delicious. 🙂

    • Celia

      Please share your recipe! I can’t have any nuts so I was thrilled when I read your comment.

      • Jeanine Donofrio

        Hi Celia, pepitas or hemp seeds work great in place of the nuts.

  5. I’ve been doing the Green Goddess thing for the last few weeks, but I want to mix it up a bit, so I guess it’s going to be a pesto summer! I love these kinds of recipes, that are more like guidelines. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Shira from

    Fabulous post! I’ve been loving your blog (ever since you featured one of my recipes here – thank you!) – and this is a wonderful post for the adventurous pesto lover! Thanks for the gorgeous shots, this is so elegant!

  7. great ideas! my favorite is ramp pesto, but sadly those are only around for a short time :(.

  8. I love pesto. So I’m into this. It’s so darn versatile!

  9. Kathryn from

    I’ve had a lot of fun this year experimenting with pesto. My favourite version used sunflower seeds which I always seem to have on hand in vast quantities. There is such a world of difference between home made pesto and store bought pesto that it’s very hard to go back.

    • jeanine

      Ah yes, I’m going to add sunflower seeds to the list, love them.

  10. Jenn Beck from

    I love these suggestions. I’m eager to try adding avocado to some pesto. My basil plants have been going crazy lately so I’ve been stock-piling my freezer with pesto to get me through the basil-free winter months. A couple of my favorite non-basil pestos are ramps with walnuts, as well as arugula with goat cheese.

  11. Kathleen

    My favorite pesto these days is made with garlic scapes (also not in season very long…) along with almonds, olive oil, and some sea salt. The scapes add bulk to the garlicky flavor and a lovely green color. Wonderful post. Thank you!

  12. Julianna from

    Eeeeek…lemons on th marble LOL! Thanks for taking the time to take to me I appreciate your generosity. I hope my food looks half as good on our counter.

    • jeanine

      ha! …but note that it’s not a lemon cut in half where juices could drip out 🙂

  13. Great idea! Love all the fantastic substitution suggestions.

  14. Peanut from

    Just discovered your blog,and as soon as I’ve seen the first two pages I have fallen in love yet. (oh,sorry for my mistakes,but I’m italian!)
    You’re kind of GOD,i swear!I’m a vegetarian and your dishes are simply a dream came true. From now I’ll follow you faithfully:) sincere congrats! <3

    • jeanine

      you’re so sweet, thank you!

  15. Pesto just SCREAMS summer to me. I can’t wait to take my basil crop and make a fresh jar of pesto to last me throughout the winter months. Is it scary that I’m excited to kill all of my basil? At least it’s for a good cause. 🙂 Cheers!

  16. I made arugula pesto just last night. Basil is still my favorite kind, but this was refreshingly pepper-y from the greens. Coming to my blog later this week.

  17. Mmm, just what I need for dinner tonight! We love fresh pesto tossed with pasta (homemade on a good day). Don’t you just love summer and all the fresh food it brings with it?

  18. Eugenia from

    I love pesto too! Thank you for your tips.
    I use to use almonds or sun dried tomatoes and they really work very well.

  19. Recently I tried pesto made with almond and capers, it was very good! Your blog is awesome!

  20. ali from

    Awesome recipes! I love a good pesto, and basil and pinenuts taste wicked together! Beautiful blog 🙂

  21. Ali M

    My favorite in pesto is roasted cashews — no cheese needed!

  22. Judy

    5 stars
    First freeze of the season coming tonight so in a mad dash to use my Basil before 2 big beautiful plants are gone for good. This Pesto recipe is exactly what I needed. Found it while making your Spaghetti Squash last night! Score!! This is delicious and my husband raved about it! Thanks so much!!

  23. Karen

    5 stars
    Lovely and easy – lemon juice makes it terrific.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  24. Linda

    5 stars
    Just made this pesto, very easy to follow, taste great, and love the variation lists for the ingredients.

  25. Maureen

    5 stars
    I just made with pepitas and fresh basil from our yard. it is really good. Satisfying flavor for sure!

  26. Katie H.

    5 stars
    I used about 1 cup raw, roughly chopped garlic scapes instead of garlic cloves. I substituted toasted walnuts for the pine nuts. I also put in a pinch of red pepper flakes. It was best after being overnight in the fridge. I ate it spread on bread/toast or crackers. It was so good I made two batches. Yum!!! Love the citrus notes. Makes it very bright and summery.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved the pesto! I love the idea of garlic scapes!

  27. Allegra Rainbow

    5 stars
    Mine turned out great! I most likely used extra cheese and I never know if a recipe calls for packed basil leaves or loose but I had more than enough for packed so that’s what I used. And the parm was freshly grated, so fluffy, and that’s why I used extra. I made a double recipe and froze it in ice cube trays for easy use, it made 15 cubes!!! I also used walnuts because I did not want to go to the store and that’s what I had. Thank you for the recipe! I’m gonna try my best batch with arugala and basil as they will be ready in my garden very soon for a second harvest, yay summer!!!

  28. Lillian Aaron

    Can you can these like you do with preserves?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Lillian, I’m not sure, I don’t have experience canning. But I do like to freeze pesto in ice cube trays, that way I can thaw one portion at a time.

  29. Jose Antonio

    5 stars
    First time making pesto but definitely this will be my go-to recipe

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Yay, I’m so happy to hear that!

  30. Amelia

    The variations helped me so much! Thank you for that. This was the best pesto I had ever made, and the best thing I have ever cooked.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  31. Stacey from

    5 stars
    Best pesto ever. Even my 13 year old agrees. I made it with pistachios so it was super green! And for the greens used 2 parts basil 1 part sweet potato leaves. The proportions are just right so it doesn’t separate in the fridge like our favorite store bought pesto. This is going to be a staple in our house. Thank you for the recipe!!

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.