Homemade basil pesto is a wonderfully versatile and tasty sauce/spread made from a handful of flavorful ingredients. It comes together in minutes and tastes worlds better than store-bought because it’s so fresh. (Just like with lemon curd, store-bought pesto is nothing like real, FRESHLY made pesto!)
The uses for pesto are virtually endless, and you can use it in recipes like pesto pizza and pesto shrimp. Or use it as pasta sauce, drizzle it over grilled chicken, eggs, or roasted vegetables, spread it on sandwiches or homemade bread, or even swirl into hummus or minestrone soup.
Today’s homemade basil pesto recipe is my absolute favorite. It’s classic, simple, flavorful, and completely fresh. You’ll appreciate how easily it comes together and that it tastes infinitely better than store-bought versions. Homemade pesto can be a dip, sauce, or spread and pairs wonderfully with so many flavors. Bottom line? Pesto is an easy way to instantly elevate any savory dish.
Originating in Genoa, Italy, pesto was traditionally made by crushing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. Now it’s typically done with the convenience of electric tools like a food processor or blender. You don’t need to cook it at all, unless you want to roast the garlic first.
This Homemade Basil Pesto Is:
- Fresh and flavorful
- Incredibly versatile
- Ready in minutes
- Made with just a few ingredients
- Easy to customize with what you have on hand
- Extra flavorful with roasted garlic
Key Ingredients You Need & Why
- Basil: Fresh basil leaves are the base of this pesto recipe. Rinse and pat dry before using.
- Pine Nuts: Pine nuts add structure and a light nutty flavor to the pesto. If I’m having trouble finding pine nuts, sometimes I’ll swap them for walnuts, pistachios, or almonds.
- Parmesan Cheese: Fresh parmesan cheese adds a little saltiness and helps the pesto stick together. In place of parmesan (aka parmigiano-reggiano), you can use any Italian-style hard cheese, such as pecorino romano, asiago, or grana padano.
- Garlic: It goes without saying that garlic adds incredible flavor to homemade pesto. I urge you to try using roasted garlic because the flavor isn’t as harsh as raw garlic. (Here’s how to roast garlic.)
- Olive Oil: Olive oil is the main liquid and helps create a creamy, rich consistency.
- Lemon Juice: 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice brightens everything up and really helps the other flavors shine. Many recipes don’t call for it, but I highly recommend it.
- Salt & Pepper: Both add flavor and you can add them to taste.
Make it your own: For a twist, try adding your favorite herbs like cilantro, mint, or parsley; your favorite spices like cayenne, ground ginger, paprika, or crushed red pepper flakes; or add a dash of your favorite hot sauce.
FAQ: What Can I Use Instead of Basil?
When fresh basil isn’t in season, it can be really pricey or even impossible to find. I like to use kale, spinach, or arugula in its place. You can find the kale variation I like to use in this pesto pasta salad recipe.
FAQ: What Can I Use Instead of Pine Nuts?
Pine nuts can be really expensive, not to mention hard to find! Walnuts, pistachios, and almonds are all great 1:1 substitutes and you can’t really detect a flavor difference in the finished pesto.
For nut-free pesto, try pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, or cooked and cooled edamame.
Overview: How to Make Homemade Basil Pesto
Basil pesto comes together in a matter of minutes using a food processor or blender; just a few pulses and you’re done. The ingredients blend together rather easily, so if you don’t have a fancy food processor, don’t worry. It will still taste like pesto and it will still be good. (It’s hard to mess this up.)
- Blend the basil, pine nuts, cheese, and garlic together in a food processor or blender. Add the olive oil and pulse/process to blend. Scrape down the sides of the blender bowl, then add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse this mixture until everything is blended together and relatively smooth. Taste and add more seasoning and any extra herbs/spices if desired.
Can I double or triple the recipe? Yes, you can easily scale up this recipe if your food processor/blender has the room!
How to Use Homemade Pesto
If you need inspiration, here are MANY ways you can use this basil pesto:
- Pesto Tortellini: Use as a sauce over cooked tortellini with parmesan cheese and fresh diced tomatoes.
- Shrimp: Try my creamy pesto shrimp for dinner—it’s super quick!
- Pizza: Use it in place of pizza sauce on pizza crust; here is my pesto pizza recipe.
- Pesto Bruschetta: Bake slices of a fresh baguette in a 400°F (204°C) oven until golden. Top with pesto, parmesan cheese, and diced fresh tomatoes.
- Stuffed Peppers: Use pesto in my sausage stuffed peppers recipe instead of the chicken broth. (Same amount—tastes fantastic.)
- Focaccia: Skip the herbed olive oil topping on focaccia (step 8) and spread 1/2 cup of pesto all over the dough instead.
- Star Bread: Use my star bread recipe and reduce the amount of sugar in the dough to 1 Tablespoon. Spread 1 heaping Tablespoon of pesto onto each of the 3 circles. (3 Tbsp. total.) Top each with a light layer of shredded cheese, herbs, and/or chopped pepperoni.
- Pesto Sandwich: Spread pesto on toasted bread, and add your favorite cheese or meat, greens, and tomato.
- Pesto Grilled Cheese: Brush 2 slices of thick-cut crusty bread (like artisan bread) with pesto, add provolone or cheddar cheese, butter the outside of the bread, and cook both sides on a griddle or skillet until golden brown.
- Swirl in Soup: Swirl a few spoonfuls into a bowl of minestrone soup.
- Hummus: Blend 2 Tablespoons of pesto with parmesan garlic hummus.
- As a Dip: Use it as a dip for homemade bread, breadsticks, crackers, or pizza pull apart rolls.
- As a Spread: Spread it on olive bread or seeded oat bread.
- As a Topping: Drizzle over cooked meats, fish, eggs, or roasted vegetables.
FAQ: How Long Does Homemade Pesto Last?
You can store this basil pesto in a jar or sealable container, then tightly seal and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 2–3 months. Let it thaw at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
To prevent your pesto from browning in the fridge, pour a layer of olive oil on top before tightly covering or sealing the pesto.
You could also freeze the fresh pesto in small amounts, in a greased ice cube tray, and then thaw the amount you need for a recipe when you need it, so you don’t have as much leftover to store in the fridge.Print
This is how I make classic basil pesto at home. It’s incredibly simple and flavorful and uses only a handful of fresh ingredients.
- 2 cups (60g) fresh basil leaves*
- 1/3 cup (48g) pine nuts*
- 1/3 cup (25g) freshly grated or shredded parmesan cheese
- 3 small cloves garlic (roasted garlic or fresh)*
- 1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Pulse the basil, pine nuts, cheese, and garlic together in a food processor or blender. Scrape down the sides, then add the oil, lemon juice, and salt. Pulse until everything is blended together and relatively smooth. Add a drizzle more olive oil to thin out, if desired. Taste and add pepper (and/or more salt) if desired. I always add a pinch of pepper.
- Store pesto in a jar or sealable container, tightly seal, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
- Storing & Freezing Instructions: You can store this basil pesto in a jar or sealable container, then tightly seal and refrigerate for up to 1 week. To prevent browning, pour a layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before sealing. Freeze the pesto for up to 2–3 months. You can freeze it in greased ice cube trays and thaw small portions at a time. Let it thaw at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
- Basil or Other Greens: Instead of basil, try other greens like spinach, kale, or arugula. No matter which greens you choose, rinse and pat dry before using.
- Nuts: If I’m having trouble finding pine nuts, sometimes I’ll swap them for walnuts, pistachios, or almonds. For a nut-free version, try cooked and cooled edamame, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, or sunflower seeds.
- Parmesan Cheese: In place of fresh parmesan (aka parmigiano-reggiano), you can use any Italian-style hard cheese, such as pecorino romano, asiago, or grana padano.
- Garlic: If you don’t have fresh garlic cloves, use 3 teaspoons minced garlic from the jar.
- Other Pesto Variations: Try adding your favorite herbs like cilantro, mint, or parsley. Add your favorite spices like cayenne, ground ginger, paprika, or crushed red pepper flakes. Or add a dash of your favorite hot sauce.
Keywords: homemade basil pesto, how to make basil pesto