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 or an extra drizzle of oil before sealing your container. This will keep it fresh and green!

Pine nuts in a food processor Fresh basil in a food processor

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, almonds, and pistachios.
  • Make nut-free pesto by using pepitas or hemp seeds.
  • Use a different herb. Try replacing the basil with mint, cilantro, or parsley!
  • Or fewer herbs. Replace half the basil with 1 cup arugula, kale, or chopped zucchini. For a punchier twist, pulse in 4 artichoke hearts, a roasted red pepper, or half an avocado instead of half the basil.
  • Don’t let your veggie stems go to waste. Blanch 1/2 cup kale stems and blend them into pesto in place of half the basil.
  • Punch up the flavor! Add 2 to 4 sun dried tomatoes, a charred jalapeño, nutritional yeast, or a pinch of red pepper flakes.

The 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 end there. Spoon it over a Caprese salad, top it onto a grain bowl, scoop it onto spaghetti squash or mac and cheese, or incorporate it into this yummy zucchini casserole. We love it on polenta and homemade pizza, too. It’s even great on scrambled eggs! Do you have a favorite way to use pesto? Let me know in the comments!

Basil Pesto

rate this recipe:
4.96 from 177 votes
Prep Time: 5 mins
Total Time: 5 mins
Serves 1 cup
This classic basil pesto recipe is nutty and bright. We love it on pasta, pizza, and more! See the post above for my favorite pesto sauce variations.

Ingredients

Basic Basil Pesto:

  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for a smoother pesto
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Instructions

  • In a food processor, combine the pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and 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.

 

 

147 comments

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Rate this recipe (after making it)




  1. Jen
    09.30.2022

    If I substitute walnuts for the pine nuts, do I toast those?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      10.02.2022

      Hi Jen – it works either way, I’ve done both.

  2. Kari
    09.28.2022

    5 stars
    Excellent recipe. I tripled the recipe because I had THAT much basil. I didn’t have enough lemon juice on hand so I used half the amount. Still fantastic. I flatten mine out into a large zip lock bag and freeze and then just snap off how much I need. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      10.02.2022

      I’m glad you loved it! Thanks for the flattening freezing tip – that’s a great idea.

  3. Jen from hamillhomesales.com
    09.18.2022

    How long does it stay fresh? Do you freeze it too?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.19.2022

      Hi Jen, I’d say about 5 days – yes, it freezes well, I like to freeze it in ice cube trays to pop out smaller portions.

  4. Janet from janetlondon.ca
    09.18.2022

    4 stars
    doubled thia recipe and it worked out to perfection! Added pizza mozerella instead of the parmesan and it turned out amazingly!!!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.19.2022

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Wendy
    09.11.2022

    5 stars
    Love pesto in chicken salad with extra lemon. So good!

  6. Nadine
    09.11.2022

    5 stars
    Made 30 jars with this recipe ans its Fantastic
    Thank you for sharing

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.13.2022

      Wow, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Alex
    09.11.2022

    5 stars
    This is soooo good. as always!

  8. Donna
    09.11.2022

    can you freeze this?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.13.2022

      yep! It freezes well.

  9. laney
    09.07.2022

    5 stars
    phenomenal, as always.

  10. Carol
    08.27.2022

    5 stars
    My husband is making this now. Smells amazing. I always grow basil and make extra pesto to freeze in ice cube trays. Nothing like a cube of pesto dropped into hot minestrone soup on a cold winter day!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      08.28.2022

      I hope you enjoy it! I love your strategy to freeze some for the winter 🙂

      • Lisa
        09.17.2022

        This recipe is great and I’ve made it a ton of times! Tonight though, something weird happened…it didn’t taste as flavorful and the pesto turned black after sitting in the pot with the pasta for maybe 30 minutes. Any idea why this happened?? The last batch stayed green even though the leftovers! Thanks!

        • Jeanine Donofrio
          09.19.2022

          Hi Lisa, it might have to do with how fresh your basil was?

  11. Lovely Long Island Linda
    08.08.2022

    5 stars
    That was one of the best pestos I’ve ever made. Thank you for this delicious recipe. I was able to put my CSA basil to good use!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      08.10.2022

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

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.