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:
4.97 from 145 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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Rate this recipe (after making it)

  1. Linda Arbuthnot

    Can this recipe be frozen?

  2. Kathey Ahrens

    5 stars
    Perfect! Loved the addition of lemon juice!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Ann

    1 star
    This pesto recipe is very salty if you add the cheese do not add salt

    • Mary

      5 stars
      Ann, I had the same issue initially but after a night in the fridge, the flavors married beautifully and the salt was absorbed more.

  4. Fariha

    How long does the pesto stay good for? This looks delicious!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Fariha, about 3 to 5 days.

  5. Reggie

    Does this recipe freeze well?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Reggie, yes, I like to freeze it in ice cube trays.

  6. Steve Gabel

    5 stars
    I made it. Picked up some basil at the Farmer’s Market. I got some real Parmesan Cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano) imported from Italy that I grated in the food processor.. Pine Nuts from last year. I used some real, fresh squeezed lemon juice. It is easy to make in the food processor.. Don’t over blend. Keep it on the rustic side. Came out perfect. I think I’ll make it for picnics, it should be well received.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Nancy Sheehan

    5 stars
    Wonderful pesto recipe! We will enjoy our pasta thanks to your recipe!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  8. Haley

    5 stars
    I cannot eat pine nuts or have lemon juice, so I substituted cashews. It tasted the same as having pine nuts, and it kept its bright green color. I also love this pesto in place of a red sauce for pasta.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad those substitutes worked well for you!

  9. Valarie Clark

    5 stars
    Love it❤ Easy to prep with just a few ingredients as well as variations. This one’s a keeper for sure!

  10. Jesse

    4 stars
    I like the acid addition with lemon.
    The pine nut to basil ratio is a little off though. If doing the recipe as is, definitely make sure the 2 cups of basil are a packed 2 cups, or else I’d recommend to reduce the pine nuts by half and add more to taste.

  11. Crys

    5 stars
    I love your recipes. I especially like that you give suggestions for alternative ingredients. I’m excited to try this pesto.

  12. Denise

    I’ve been making pesto for years but tried this recipe and added the lemon juice. OMG takes pesto to the next level. Won’t make it without it from now on.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved it with the lemon!

    • Andrea

      5 stars
      The lemon juice keeps it nice and green! So tasty with chopped fresh kale-I used about 1/2 cup with 1.5 c. basil. And, walnuts and cashews are great 🙂

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.