Easy Basil Pesto Recipe: Like a spoonful of fresh summer flavor! Bright & herbal, with the savory richness of nuts, olive oil, & parmesan.

Pesto recipe, prepared and served in a shallow glass jar.

Can you believe how cool it’s getting? It’s like, school starts and the weather immediately shifts. Crazy!

It’s such a relief after a hot summer, and it’s got me thinking I need to prep my gardens for fall and winter!

This means harvesting up all the gorgeous basil I’ve been cultivating all summer long. Sadly, it won’t make it through the winter, so now’s the time to use it up and enjoy it.

This basil pesto recipe is the best way to do that.

 

So let’s get cozy with a bowl of corn chowder, a crusty loaf of ciabatta bread, and a big glass of chilled summery sangria, and learn all about how to make pesto. The time for summer recipes is getting shorter by the day!

Pesto with parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, in a glass vessel with a text overlay that reads "Basil Pesto."

WHAT IS PESTO?

The word “pesto” basically just means to pound or grind. It’s Italian and it’s also come to mean this gorgeous green “paste” which is used to bring the most heavenly herbal flavor to so many dishes.

It’s made by finely chopping herbs or greens, nuts, oil, cheese, and seasonings to almost a sauce-like consistency.

Very quick and easy to make, this pesto recipe is eaten raw so there’s really no cooking involved, other than to toast the nuts. All the better to taste the freshness of its simple, earthy ingredients.

While pesto can be adapted to utilize any variety of greens, nuts, and cheeses, traditionally when you hear “pesto” what’s implied is “Genovese pesto,” which originates from the Genoa region of Italy and specifically includes the ingredients listed below.

PESTO INGREDIENTS

Traditionally, pesto is made with the following ingredients:

  1. Fresh basil
  2. Pine nuts, aka: pignoli
  3. Garlic
  4. Extra-virgin olive oil, and
  5. Parmesan cheese

I also like to add lemon zest to brighten up the flavors, a big pinch of kosher salt, and a little crushed red pepper flakes for subtle heat. These are my personal tweaks and I think they really bring out all the best in pesto.

Pesto pasta sauce spooned from the jar with a copper spoon.

HOW TO MAKE PESTO

This easy recipe comes together in about 15 minutes flat. It’s super quick, but I’ll break it down into 3 basic steps to make it even simpler.

TOASTING THE PINE NUTS

Any time you’re cooking or baking with nuts, it’s best to toast them beforehand. It brings out their flavors in the most delicious way.

Just toss them into a dry skillet and cook them over medium heat until they look shiny and slightly browned. You’ll know they’re done when they become fragrant. It usually only takes about 5 minutes or so.

Toasted pine nuts in a cast iron skillet.

You’ll want to keep stirring or shaking the pan around, so they toast evenly. Keep a close watch, they burn quickly and that will make them taste bitter!

BLENDING

This step can be done in a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle.

Pesto ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.

Process/blend/grind the fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, lemon zest, and garlic together finely.

Streaming olive oil into the food processor.

Then work in the olive oil.

Blending pesto in a food processor.

The goal is to almost emulsify it in, like you would do with a vinaigrette, mayonnaise, or hollandaise sauce. Get it as creamy as you can.

SEASONING

Next, fold in the freshly grated parmesan cheese. Use the best quality you can get; any recipe with so few ingredients needs for them all to be top-notch. I like to use imported Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano.

Folding freshly grated parmesan cheese into homemade pesto recipe.

I save this step for the end because good parm is meant to be served uncooked, and the friction of a food processor could do just that.

The final step is to season the pesto with salt and pepper. You can do this to your own taste; I like a pretty big pinch of kosher or sea salt and just a tiny bit of crushed red pepper flakes.

IS THIS PESTO RECIPE HEALTHY?

Pesto is relatively high in fat and therefore high in calories, as it contains high-fat ingredients like olive oil, nuts, and cheese.

But these are mostly unsaturated fats and therefore considered beneficial because they can lower cholesterol and ease inflammation, as well as being heart-healthy (source: Harvard).

It’s also a vegetarian food, naturally gluten-free, and egg-free.

If you’d like to make a dairy-free, vegan version, try it with one of these vegan parm options: Vegan Parmesan.

Swap out the pine nuts with sunflower seeds for a nut-free adaptation.

HOW TO SERVE

While taking a spoonful straight from the jar and into your mouth is simply heavenly, my favorite way to enjoy this recipe is to dunk in some homemade bread. It makes a great appetizer or side dish!

Try it with my homemade dinner rolls, soft Italian breadsticks, or crusty French baguette!

But it can also work great as a pasta sauce (toss cooked spaghetti in, add in some grilled shrimp or chicken, top with more parm- YUM!), a dip for fresh veggies, a spread for sandwiches or panini, or a sauce for pizza!

Check out my go-to pizza recipe here: Homemade Pizza.

HOW TO STORE

Store your homemade pesto sauce in an airtight container in the fridge.

An additional drizzle of olive oil over the top surface will help prevent discoloration, as it seals the air out a bit.

It should last in the fridge for about a week or so, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Thaw it in the fridge.

Generally, it’s not advisable to process homemade pesto in canning jars. The ingredients just aren’t suitable for water bath canning, and the acidity is too low for it to be safe.

A jar of basil pesto on a pale background, surrounded by fresh basil, lemon, parmesan, and pine nuts.

A FEW MORE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHENTIC ITALIAN RECIPES:

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Basil Pesto Recipe
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
Total Time
15 mins
 

Easy Basil Pesto Recipe: Like a spoonful of fresh summer flavor! Bright & herbal, with the savory richness of nuts, olive oil, & parmesan.

Course: Topping
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: how to make pesto, pesto, pesto pasta, pesto recipe, what is pesto
Servings: 6
Calories: 220 kcal
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat, until lightly browned and fragrant (approximately 5 minutes).

  2. Place the basil, toasted pine nuts, lemon zest, garlic, and crushed red pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until very finely ground.

  3. While the food processor is running, stream in the olive oil slowly.

  4. Stir in the parmesan and salt.

Recipe Video

Nutrition Facts
Basil Pesto Recipe
Amount Per Serving (0.25 cup)
Calories 220 Calories from Fat 207
% Daily Value*
Fat 23g35%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 14g
Cholesterol 7mg2%
Sodium 341mg15%
Potassium 63mg2%
Carbohydrates 2g1%
Fiber 0.4g2%
Sugar 0.2g0%
Protein 3g6%
Vitamin A 508IU10%
Vitamin C 3mg4%
Calcium 91mg9%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.