How to Make Pesto
An in-depth step-by-step guide.
Pesto is a sauce from the Liguria region of northwestern Italy, typically made from fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. It's traditionally made by hand-crushing pine nuts into a creamy base in a mortar and pestle, but you can make a quick and easy version with a food processor or blender. For more info on pesto, its history and uses and its flavor, head over to our story What Is Pesto?.
Basil Pesto Ingredients
- 1 large bunch fresh basil leaves: To measure, discard the stems, then gently pack the leaves into the measuring cup.
- 2 to 3 cloves of garlic: Because there are so few ingredients in pesto, it's important to use fresh cloves of garlic from a whole head - never the jarred chopped variety.
- 1/3 cup pine nuts: Italian are best; Chinese are too bitter. If pine nuts are too expensive, it's okay to swap in walnuts or almonds for some or all of the pine nuts.
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese: Again, it's important to use freshly grated Parmesan cheese to achieve a full-flavored pesto.
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste: Even though you're adding salty cheese, you'll still need to season the pesto to taste.
How to Make Pesto
Step 1: Prep the Ingredients
Remove the skins from 2 or 3 cloves of garlic. Give them a gentle crush under the blade of a chef's knife. This will make it easier for the food processor to break them down into the pesto.
Rinse and dry the basil, and remove the leaves from the stems.
Grate the Parmesan cheese.
Step 2: Pulse the Basil, Garlic and Nuts
Add the leaves, crushed garlic and pine nuts. Pulse several times until they form a coarse paste. At this point, if desired, add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar to keep the basil from darkening.
Step 3: Blend in the Cheese and Oil
Add the Parmesan cheese to the mixture. Blend the mixture while slowly drizzling in the olive oil. The mixture should come together as a soft paste.
Step 4: Season to Taste
Blend to the desired degree of smoothness, and add oil if needed to bring the pesto together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pesto Recipe Variations
Feel free to get creative with the combination of ingredients. Just make sure to stick to the same volume ratios as the original pesto recipe you're working from.
- Change up the greens: Nearly any herb or green can be used. For example, Food Network Kitchen's Mixed Herb Pesto leans on basil, parsley, oregano and thyme. Kale and Cashew Pesto puts those dark leafy greens to use - balancing them out with creamy cashews.
- Change up the nuts: As well, practically any nut can be swapped in for pine nuts, which tend to be expensive. See Food Network Kitchen's Pecan Pesto, Walnut Pesto, Pistachio-Mint Pesto and Hazelnut and Arugula Pesto
- Change up the cheese: You don't need to use Parmesan. You can opt for another aged, hard salty cheese instead. For example, Asiago and Almond Pesto leans on asiago cheese, an Italian cow's milk cheese that is savory like Parmesan. Or take inspiration from this Almond, Parsley and Manchego Pesto.
- Add mix-ins: Feel free to mix other savory ingredients into pesto. Pistachio-Olive Pesto, for example, adds red pepper flakes and chunks of black olives. Almond, Basil and Tomato Pesto incorporates chopped tomatoes, while Watercress Pesto with White Beans has canned white beans as a creamy addition.
How to Store Pesto
How to Store Pesto In the Refrigerator
Store your pesto in an airtight container with cling wrap pressed directly onto the surface to prevent darkening or browning.
How to Freeze Pesto
Alternatively, spoon the pesto into ice cube trays, cover and freeze, where it will keep for up to three months.
How to Make Pesto Pasta
Enjoy your fresh or thawed pesto by tossing it directly with freshly cooked and drained pasta. Do not cook the pesto, but rather allow the heat of the pasta to bring out the delicate aromas of basil, garlic and Parmesan.
Recipes with Pesto
Stirring pesto into soup, such as this simple, nourishing spinach and broth-based dish, is an easy way to add more savory flavor.
Toss your favorite cooked veggie in pesto – in this case beets, but you could use roasted carrots or cauliflower or broccoli too – for a new iteration.
The only thing more luxurious than drenching potatoes in butter? Tossing them with a generous amount of cheesy pesto.
Smear pesto in between the layers of your next lasagna. Or take it one step further and add it to your favorite casserole – chances are, it’ll work like magic.
Tossing pesto with a cooked grain is an instant, easy way to add some flavor.