Learn how to make classic pesto with this easy fresh basil pesto recipe. Made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil for the perfect, classic recipe.
You can skip the little expensive jars of pesto at the store because making your own is so easy and so much better! Homemade pesto is one of the simplest sauces to make and you can use it in all kinds of ways – it’s not just for pasta.
Do you grow your own herbs? I love to grow basil and pesto during the summer and the best way to use up basil is in pesto. I look forward to it every year!
Why This Recipe Works
- Pesto is a classic Italian sauce made with nuts, cheese, fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil. The traditional way to make it is with a mortar and pestle – the herbs are crushed with the other ingredients to make a textured sauce. The easier way to make it is with a food processor, which is how I like to do it. It’s so easy.
- This is a no-cook sauce. Just blend, and then it’s ready to toss with hot pasta, or you can use it as a spread, dip, or add it to other sauces or soups. It gives whatever you add it to a pop of bright, fresh flavor.
- Basil pesto is what most people think of when it comes to pesto, but there are many ways to switch it up to create new pesto sauces with different flavors. More on that in a minute!
Make this sauce and toss it with some cooked pasta like fettuccine or spaghetti and add some breadsticks on the side. It will taste like you ordered it at a fancy Italian restaurant!
The key to the best pesto is to use fresh ingredients. You want it to have the best flavor! What’s nice about this recipe is that there’s not much prep – the food processor does all the chopping for you.
- Fresh basil – Pluck the leaves from the stems. You only want the delicate tender leaves in the pesto.
- Pine nuts – Look for them in the produce department!
- Large garlic cloves
- Parmesan cheese – Buy a wedge of cheese and grate it yourself for the best results! Pregrated cheese has additives that keeps in shelf stable – that’s fine for other recipes, but for pesto it’s best to grate it yourself.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper
How to Make It
Place the basil leaves, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Secure the lid and pulse several times until the ingredients are broken down and combined. You don’t want a puree – the mixture should be chunky.
Add the cheese and pulse several more times. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
Put the lid back on and turn the processor on so it’s running continuously. Slowly pour the oil through the feed tub while the processor is running.
It’s important to pour it slowly in a steady stream so it will create an emulsion. Otherwise, it could separate.
Stop a few times to scrape the sides of the food processor. You can process the sauce until it’s very smooth or you can keep it so it has some texture.
Once it’s your desired consistency, stir in the salt and pepper.
It’s so easy to switch up the ingredients to make your own pesto! Just keep the amounts the same and try some of these swaps;
- Herbs: Basil is great, but you can also use any green herb or even other types of greens. Pesto is great for pesto, or try using a combination of herbs with fresh spinach, kale, or even arugula. It will change the flavor to give you a new twist!
- Cheese: Parmesan is good, but any hard Italian-style cheese will work, too. Asiago, Romano, and Parmagiano-Reggiano are all great ones to try.
- Nuts: Don’t like pine nuts? Try using walnuts, almonds, cashews, or pistachios.
Different Ways to Use It
Serving it with pasta is obvious (and delicious!) but you can also use pesto sauce in other ways – here are some ideas!
- Add it to the layers in homemade lasagna, mix it into spaghetti sauce, or spread it inside a calzone!
- You can also thin it with extra olive oil and use it as a dressing for salads like my antipasto salad. Or use it to make pesto pasta salad.
- I love to add it to soups, too! Add a spoonful before you serve tomato soup, lasagna soup, and tortellini soup!
How to Store It: Homemade pesto will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Keep it in an airtight container!
How to Freeze It: I love to make a big batch at the end of the summer and freeze it in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, keep the cubes in a freezer bag and add them to your favorite dishes.
How to Make Pesto Without a Food Processor: If you have a regular stand blender, you can use that! I recommend roughly chopping the basil and garlic first and then blend everything in the blender. Slowly pour in the oil while it’s running until the sauce is the consistency you like.
How to Make Pesto Without Pine Nuts: The flavor will be a little different, but sometimes I use walnut or almonds instead of pine nuts. They work great.
Fresh pesto made from scratch is so good! It’s so easy, too, you’ll want to make a batch to have on hand all the time. Treat yourself to this easy sauce – I know you’re going to love it!
More Easy Italian-Style Recipes!
- Air Fryer Meatballs are a little crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and so easy to make!
- My Crock Pot Zuppa Toscana tastes just like a restaurant’s! Tons of flavor from spicy sausage, potatoes, and kale in a creamy soup base. It’s perfect if you’re craving a hearty bowl of soup!
- Chicken Alfredo made easy in the Instant Pot! This family favorite dinner is always a hit.
- Italian Beef Sandwiches are great for weeknight dinners. The beef simmers all day in the crockpot, so when it’s dinner time, just assemble and serve!
Be sure to give this recipe a try! If you love this recipe as much as we do (pretty sure you will!), be sure to leave a five-star rating below!
Don’t forget to tag me on Instagram either – I’d love to see pictures of your good eats! @julieseatsandtreats or #julieseatsandtreats
Fresh Basil Pesto
- 2 c. fresh basil leaves packed, no stems
- 2 Tbsp pine nuts
- 3 large cloves garlic
- ½ c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
- ½ c. extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt more to taste
- ⅛ tsp ground black pepper more to taste
- Place basil leaves, pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times.
- Add Parmesan cheese to the bowl and pulse several more times. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
- Turn on the food processor and slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady, small stream while it’s running. This will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop and scrape the sides of the food processor down.
- Stir in salt and ground black pepper to taste.