Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe

5 from 1 vote
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Originating from the Liguria region of Italy, basil pesto has become a staple in countless recipes, adding a burst of freshness and a touch of elegance to any dish. Pesto is delicious on pasta, Italian sandwiches, seafood, and even pizza. Homemade fresh basil pesto is worlds above anything you can buy in the store!

Fresh basil pesto being spooned out of a small bowl.

This pesto recipe is really simple and only requires a few basic ingredients. Fresh basil leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and salt are all you need to make very authentic pesto that tastes straight out of Italy. Pesto is easy to make at home and only takes a few minutes. Completely transform your pasta dishes with delicious homemade pesto.

If you’re looking for some delicious pesto inspiration, you should take a look at my pesto gnocchi, chicken pesto pasta, or simple homemade pasta! For summery recipes, try grilled pesto shrimp skewers and my pesto pasta salad.

Ingredients

Basil pesto ingredients on a cutting board
  • Fresh basil leaves: great pesto starts with fresh basil. Always look for vibrant green leaves that are firm and not wilting.
  • Pine nuts: these tiny, buttery nuts provide a rich and creamy texture to the pesto. If pine nuts are hard to find, almonds or walnuts make suitable substitutes.
  • Garlic: always use fresh garlic for aromatic garlic flavor.
  • Parmesan cheese: always go with freshly grated cheese. It’s fresher and tastes better than pre-grated cheese. You can substitute Pecorino Romano or use a combination of the two for more depth.
  • Olive oil: choose a high-quality extra virgin olive oil to bring all the ingredients together and create a smooth, velvety texture.
  • Salt: salt brings out all of the flavors and makes the fresh basil and garlic pop.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities below.

What to Make with Fresh Pesto

I have numerous delicious pesto recipes on this site. For pasta dishes, try my chicken pesto pasta with fresh mozzarella, pesto pasta with shrimp, or my scratch-made pesto pasta. For a delicious pesto side for grilling, try my spin on pasta salad with my pesto pasta salad.

My chicken pesto panini or pesto shrimp skewers are great recipes for using up leftover pesto. Looking for a healthy pesto dish? Try my pesto zucchini noodles for a low-carb alternative.

How to Make Basil Pesto

Step 1.

Wash the basil leaves and pat them dry gently. Remove any tough stems or brown spots.

Step 2.

Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend/pulse until mixed and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap seated directly on top of the surface to prevent browning/air exposure.

Fresh basil pesto being spooned out of a small bowl.

Expert Tips

Tips & Tricks for Perfect Pesto

  • A cup of basil leaves is about 1 handful. It can be hard to judge but I typically use about 2.5 ounces of basil leaves per batch. This is usually labeled on the package.
  • Pesto is best made in a food processor, however, I’ve been making it in a single-serve smoothie blender for a long time. The key is to pulse the blender to not over-blend the pesto and turn it into slime. Shake the contents to help mix as needed.
  • Pesto should be thick and slightly granular in appearance. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil to help thin it out a bit. Pesto can be adjusted in a bowl by simply stirring in extra olive oil.
  • If your pesto is too thin or runny and you’ve run out of fresh basil, you can add some baby spinach. You can also stir in a little cornstarch. This will help to thicken the sauce without adding any flavor. I would only consider this a last resort.
  • Add salt to taste. Adjust pesto with additional salt afterward. The salt helps to bring out the flavor and makes the pesto pop.
  • Walnuts can be substituted for pine nuts. I prefer pine nuts, but walnuts work in a pinch. You can easily make nut-free pesto by omitting them altogether. It’s still delicious!

How to Freeze Pesto

Pesto freezes well and stays fresher longer than when kept in the fridge. At a minimum, always tightly cover the pesto with plastic wrap to prevent browning. Ensure plastic wrap is touching the surface of the pesto so it’s completely sealed from the environment.

To freeze pesto, place portions in small Ziplock baggies and remove as much air from the bag as possible. Pesto can last several months in the freezer. To defrost, let the pesto rest on the counter for 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, you can freeze pesto in ice cube trays for simple small portions that quickly defrost when added to hot dishes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does pesto stay fresh?

1-2 days in the fridge. Store in an airtight container and seal with a layer of plastic wrap directly in contact with the surface. Freeze for longer storage (2-3 months).

Can I make pesto ahead of time?

Pesto is best when prepared hours/minutes before serving. If you must make it ahead, keep it in the freezer in a sealed Ziploc bag with as much air removed as possible!

Why is my pesto color dull and darkening?

Oxidation or heat. Heating basil will darken the leaves and diminish flavor. Fresh pesto will also darken over time due to oxidation.

Can I make nut-free pesto?

Yes. Simply omit the pine nuts from the recipe. It’s still delicious!

More Pesto Recipes

Enjoy this recipe? If you made this recipe, please leave a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ star rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments!
5 from 1 vote

Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe

Servings: 1 cup
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
Fresh homemade basil pesto made with basil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. Perfect for pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and more.

Ingredients 

  • 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves, about 2.5 ounces, stems removed
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or Pecorino Romano
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • salt, to taste

Instructions 

  • Wash the basil leaves and pat them dry gently. Remove any tough stems or brown spots.
  • Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend/pulse until mixed and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap seated directly on top of the surface to prevent browning/air exposure.

Notes

A cup of basil leaves is about 1 handful. It can be hard to judge but I typically use about 2.5 ounces of basil leaves per batch. This is usually labeled on the package.
Pesto is best made in a food processor, however, I’ve been making it in a single-serve smoothie blender for a long time. The key is to pulse the blender so as to not over-blend the pesto and turn it into slime. Shake the contents to help mix as needed.
Pesto should be thick and slightly granular in appearance. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil to help thin it out a bit. Pesto can be adjusted in a bowl by simply stirring in extra olive oil.
If your pesto is too thin or runny and you’ve run out of fresh basil, you can add some baby spinach. You can also stir in a little cornstarch. This will help to thicken the sauce without adding any flavor. I would merely consider this a last resort but it works in a pinch.
Add salt to taste. Adjust pesto with additional salt afterward. The salt helps to bring out the flavor and really makes pesto pop.
Walnuts can be substituted for pine nuts. I prefer pine nuts, but walnuts work in a pinch. You can easily make nut-free pesto by omitting them altogether. It’s still delicious!

Nutrition

Serving: 1tbspCalories: 97kcalCarbohydrates: 0.5gProtein: 1.6gFat: 10.5gSaturated Fat: 1.9gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 44mgFiber: 0.2gSugar: 0.1g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Side
Cuisine: Italian
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About Shawn Williams

My name is Shawn, author behind Kitchen Swagger. I'm a food & drink enthusiast bringing you my own simple and delicious restaurant-inspired recipes.

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5 Comments

  1. We grow basil every year in the summer and always have a huge abundance of it. Can’t wait to try this! Question: Since I have a ton of basil every summer will the pesto hold up to freezing in a large container (not ice cube trays). I assume since you said ice cube trays that it might not hold up i.e. take on a funky texture, etc.

    1. Thanks for visiting Elaine!
      The only reason I suggested an ice cube tray was quick and easy accessibility from the freezer. I sometimes use it for pasta dishes and may need to pop out 2 or 3 for a recipe or only 1 for a bread dip. But if you have an amount you usually use, feel free to freeze that amount in freezer safe bags.

  2. This recipe is so much better than the pesto in the grocery store! They are not even in the same category anymore after you try this recipe. Thank you!