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Easy Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe

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This homemade pesto recipe is easy to make in a food processor in less than 10 minutes! It's a great way to use up a bounty of fresh basil goes well on pasta, veggies, chicken, pizza, sandwiches and more!

Green pesto in a white bowl with a spoon and fresh basil leaves

Growing basil is surprisingly easy and happens relatively quickly – which means that it's also easy to end up with an overabundance of basil!

My favorite way to use up a batch of basil is to make homemade basil pesto.

But before we dive into the recipe, let's go over the best way to prune basil leaves to ensure that you're allowing for new stem and leaf growth for a never-ending supply of aromatic fresh basil.

How to prune basil plants

Each time you cut back a basil plant stem, two new stems will grow and branch out from where you cut.

This means that consistent pruning is important to keep your basil plant healthy and producing new leaves.

And that means… more pesto for Future Us!

Bright green basil in a small silver pot

Once the basil stem is 6-8″ tall and has at least three sets of leaves, you'll want to start pruning.

Pruning a basil plant with scissors

Pinch the stem and use herb snips or scissors to cut about 1/4″ above the set of next set of leaves.

In my photo above, you'll see me cutting between the top two sets of large leaves – I simply couldn't get a good picture of me cutting closer to the bottom in the midst of all the leaves. I let it grow for a bit too long and it turned into a jungle!

Continue to water and prune your basil plant in the future, keeping in mind that the more individual stems you prune, the bigger your plant will grow and the more leaves you'll have to harvest.

Basil leaves on a cutting board

What is pesto?

Pesto is a bright green, salty sauce that originated in Italy. A classic basil pesto recipe is typically made with:

  • basil leaves
  • garlic
  • pine nuts
  • Parmesan cheese or pecorino romano
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

The traditional way of making pesto is by crushing the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle (pestle, pesto – coincidence? I think not!), but for the sake of saving time, I like to make mine in a food processor.

Key Ingredients for Basil Pesto

Ingredients for basil pesto in clear bowls on a cutting board
  • Nuts: You can use pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, or sunflower seeds.
  • Garlic: I peel and roughly slice up a couple of fresh garlic cloves, but you can also just peel the clove and toss it in whole!
  • Basil: A lightly packed cup of fresh basil leaves is the star of the show. Fresh herbs are key.
  • Salt and black pepper: Because you need to ensure it's seasoned, of course :)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Use a good quality EVOO – the flavor is going to be prominent, so make sure it's something you enjoy the taste of.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano: Freshly grated or shredded is always your best choice – pre-grated or pre-shredded doesn't have as much flavor, and is more dry.
  • Lemon juice: It's completely optional, but depending on how I'm planning to use the pesto I might add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice as well.

What kind of nuts can I use in pesto?

Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts, but we use walnuts due to a pine nut allergy in our house.

You can swap the walnuts with a 1:1 substitute of:

  • pine nuts
  • pistachios
  • almonds
  • sunflower seeds

How to make homemade pesto sauce

It's easy to whip up in the bowl of a food processor, so you'll have a batch of pesto in 5-10 minutes. Once you have delicious homemade pesto you're probably never going back to store-bought pesto!

Note: Don't use a blender! It won't work the same way, and the results will have an odd texture.

Walnuts and garlic in a food processor

Step 1: In a food processor, combine nuts and garlic.

Chopped walnuts and garlic in a food processor

Step 2: Pulse to combine until coarsely chopped.

Basil leaves, salt and pepper in a food processor

Step 3: Add basil leaves, salt, and pepper.

Chopped walnuts and basil in a food processor

Step 4: Process on low to medium speed until combined into a paste-like texture (about 1 minute).

Pouring olive oil into a food processor

Step 5: With the processor running on low to medium speed, add olive oil in a slow and steady stream until combined.

Shredded parmesan cheese being added to pesto in a food processor

Step 6: Add grated cheese and pulse again to combine, 30-60 seconds.

Storing pesto

Store your freshly made pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

If you've made a particularly thick pesto sauce, try adding a thin layer of oil to the top of the pesto to help keep it moist.

Freezing pesto

Thankfully, leftover pesto freezes well! So if you want to make a big batch when using up your crop of basil, you can set Future You up for delicious pesto whenever you need it.

Store your pesto in small jars, freezer bags, or freezer-safe containers for up to 6 months.

You can also freeze portions in ice cube trays, and then after they've frozen solid you can store them in freezer-safe plastic bags.

Green basil pesto on a spoon

Can I use dried basil for pesto?

I don't recommend it. Using dried basil results in a dull, brownish pesto that isn't as aromatic and flavorful as using fresh basil.

I also find it to have a slightly bitter taste, and that's not what I'm going for.

What can I use pesto in?

The uses for fresh pesto sauce are frankly, endless! It's such a versatile sauce – pesto goes well on:

  • Pasta (hot dishes and cold pasta salad)
  • Grilled or roasted vegetables
  • Chicken breasts
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Salads as an herby salad dressing – add a bit more extra virgin olive oil so that it drizzles easier

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Easy Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe

5 from 1 vote
Homemade pesto is easy to make in a food processor in less than 10 minutes! It's a great way to use up a bounty of fresh basil – goes well on pasta, veggies, chicken, pizza, sandwiches and more!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 8 servings (makes about 1 cup)

Ingredients
 

Instructions

  • In a food processor, combine walnuts and garlic and pulse to combine until coarsely chopped.
    3 tablespoons walnuts
    2 cloves garlic
  • Add basil, salt, and pepper and process on low to medium speed until combined into a paste-like texture (about 1 minute).
    1 cup (24 g) fresh basil leaves
    1/4 teaspoon (¼ teaspoon) salt
    1/8 teaspoon (⅛ teaspoon) ground black pepper
  • With the processor running on low to medium speed, add olive oil in a slow stream until combined.
    1/3 cup (72 g) extra virgin olive oil
  • Add grated cheese and pulse again to combine, 30-60 seconds.
    1/3 cup (33 ⅓ g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Enjoy!

Video

Notes

Substituting walnuts: Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts, but we use walnuts due to a pine nut allergy in our house. You can swap the walnuts with pine nuts, pistachios, almonds or sunflower seeds in the same amount as a 1:1 substitute.
Storing pesto: Store your freshly made pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. If you've made a particularly thick pesto sauce, try adding a thin layer of oil to the top of the pesto to help keep it moist.
Freezing pesto: Store your pesto in small jars or freezer-safe containers for up to 6 months. You can also freeze portions in ice cube trays, and then after they've frozen solid you can store them in freezer-safe plastic bags.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 341kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 35g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 21g | Cholesterol: 9mg | Sodium: 347mg | Potassium: 69mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 0.3g | Vitamin A: 416IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 169mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition Disclaimer

The provided nutrition information is generated by an automatic API and does not take variations across specific brands into account. This information is provided as a general guideline and should not be treated as official calculations. Learn more here.

Recipe created by Leslie Kiszka

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