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!

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Basil Pesto

rate this recipe:
4.95 from 273 votes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
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.


  • Food Processor (I swear by my Cuisinart one for a smooth consistency!)


Basic Basil Pesto:


  • 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.




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Rate this recipe (after making it)

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

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

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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

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

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

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.