basic recipes/ italian/ sauces and dips

How to make pesto – homemade basil pesto recipe (Pesto alla Genovese)

12 January 2019 | Last Updated: 17 April 2020

Basil pesto or Pesto alla Genovese is an Italian sauce made from fresh basil leaves, parmesan cheese, pecorino sardo cheese (optionally), pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and salt. It makes literally everything taste better. It’s very easy to make at home and tastes so much better than the store-bought basil pesto!

basil pesto in a granite mortar

Background of the sauce:

Basil pesto or Pesto alla Genovese is an Italian sauce originated in Geneva. The name ‘pesto’ comes from the Italian word ‘pestare’, meaning to pound or to crush, as according to the tradition, pesto is prepared using a mortar and pestle. You can easily make it in a food processor, though.

Homemade pesto tastes so much better. It‘s healthier (it’s not pasteurized) and can be made from the best quality and fresh ingredients. That means: olive oil, not sunflower oil, a larger amount of basil, parmesan cheese and not grana padano or some other cheese types.

I have been making homemade pesto for a long time, always adding the ingredients by ‚feel‘. I always liked it very much, but trying to write down all the ingredients for you, I decided to browse the Internet and do research in Italian cookbooks to read how it really should be made.

A few words about the ingredients:

basil pesto ingredients

As for the ingredient ratios, it turns out, that until now I have been making a cheese sauce, not a basil sauce 😉 To get the very best pesto, you really need a lot of basil. The pesto should be intensely basil-flavored, with a delicate cheese flavor.

When it comes to cheese, I like the version with parmesan cheese better than with the pecorino and parmesan cheese. Parmesan (cheese made from cow’s milk) has a more pronounced taste than the more mild Pecorino Sardo (Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese), but that’s just a matter of taste.

Nuts – you don‘t need to toast them on a dry pan, like some recipes are suggesting. Pesto is so flavourful that you can‘t taste the difference and it‘s a shame to use an extra dish for this purpose. It tastes equally good with almonds as with the pine nuts.

Olive oil – preferably with a delicate, floral flavor (in the store-bought jars, you‘ll find most often sunflower oil).

Preparation method:

According to the tradition, pesto is prepared using a pestle and a mortar. To my surprise, it turned out that making pesto in a mortar and pestle is not as difficult or labor-intensive as I thought. During the week, after work, I‘ll probably use a food processor, but on the weekend, a pestle and mortar – why not!

Pestle and mortar vs food processor/blender:

Pesto made in a mortar really tastes better, all the ingredients are better combined and more flavorful. It also has to do with the fact that the olive oil mixed at high speed in a food processor can become bitter. Until now, I didn‘t believe it. This time I made 2 batches of pesto, with the same ingredients, one portion in a blender and one in a mortar and pestle. I was really shocked. The pesto made in the food processor was clearly more bitter. I thought that when I stir it into a pasta or spread on a toast I won‘t spot the difference anymore, but unfortunately, that was not the case. Other people in my household couldn’t spot the difference so I guess some people are more sensitive than others! Nevertheless, from now on, I pulse all the pesto ingredients without the olive oil together, then add the olive oil and pulse it in food processor over very low speed or I whisk it in by hand.

What kind of mortar and pestle is best:

A few more words about the mortar and pestle, if you are wondering if it‘s worth to buy. If you want to buy one, just buy a big and heavy granite or marble mortar and pestle. With the small and light one you‘ll only get frustrated, it’s just not good for anything. I have a Thai stone (granite) mortar and I‘m really happy with it. It’s shown on the photo.

Besides making pesto, I also use the mortar and pestle to:

– prepare Thai curry pastes

– to crush spices (like fennel seeds for my ricotta meatballs, caraway seeds for liptauer spread, and chai latte spices).

– make pistou – this is French sauce very similar to Italian pesto, it’s used to make Pistou soup, one of my favorite soups ever!

How to make basil pesto step by step:

Using a pestle and mortar:

It’s important to add all the ingredients in a particular order! Start with washing the basil leaves in cold water and patting them dry.

First pound the garlic and salt into a paste, then add the pine nuts and pound again until crumbs form. Add the basil leaves and lemon zest (if using), pound until only small pieces of leaves remain. Add the grated cheese, pound to a thick paste. Add the olive oil and pound until thick emulsion forms. Season to taste with salt, you can also add more olive oil if you want thinner consistency of your pesto.

In a food processor:

I must admit, the easiest and quickest way to make pesto in the food processor would be to add all the ingredients and mix until smooth or just slightly chunky (depending on your preferences). It literally takes 2 minutes. You’ll get a little better results though if you won’t mix the olive oil with the other ingredients at high speed.

mixing the ingredients for basil pesto in a food processor

STEP 1: Wash the basil leaves in cold water and pat them dry. Add all the ingredients, except the olive oil, to a food processor bowl.

STEP 2: Pulse until thick paste forms.

olive oil is being added to basil pesto

STEP 3: Add the olive oil and pulse slowly at the low speed or whisk in the olive oil by hand, until thick sauce forms.

STEP 4: Season to taste with salt, you can also add more olive oil if you want thinner consistency of your pesto.

Basil pesto uses (ways to use pesto):

Pesto makes just everything taste better! It’s uses are countless.

  • I like it most as a pasta sauce, like in this recipe for shrimp zucchini pasta with pesto or Parsley pesto pasta with zucchini and carrots. It could be also added to this Caprese pasta.
  • To spread on toast, bruschetta, focaccia, sandwich, flatbread or panini.
  • To spread on pizza (after is has been baked).
  • Mix it into dips.
  • As a salad dressing (you can thin it more with olive oil or just water), you can add it for example to Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato and basil salad).
  • Toss on top of steamed / fresh / roasted veggies).
  • As a sauce for a burger.
  • Add it to a vegetable soup (like Pistou soup).
  • You could make savory crepes/pancakes and fill them with veggies and use pesto as a sauce.
  • Use it as a sauce to serve with fish or chicken.
  • Serve it with ravioli.
  • Scoop them over vegetable quiche/tart like this asparagus zucchini tart.

Basic pesto recipe – how to make pesto out of anything!

Did you get tired of basil pesto? You can make pesto out of almost everything! There are so many different options, all are delicious. I urge you to try for yourself what you like and adjust the ingredient proportions to your liking!

BASIC PESTO RECIPE:

1. greens / vegetables: basil, parsley, spinach, radish leaves, carrot leaves, celery leaves, arugula/rocket, kale, wild garlic/ramp leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes (yes! in Pesto alla Trepanese), bell peppers

2. cheese: parmesan, pecorino, or other hard cheese, or even creamy ricotta (Pesto alla Calabrese)

3. oil: extra virgin olive oil, or other delicious and healthy extra virgin vegetable oils, for example: linseed oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, pumpkin seed oil, you can also mix them together

4. nuts: you can really use all nuts and seeds, the best are pine nuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios, pumpkin seeds

5. seasonings: fresh garlic, salt, black pepper, chili, lemon zest (really good!)

My pesto recipes:

parsley and pumpkin seed / pistachio pesto recipe

– wild garlic pesto (ramp pesto)

Storage / freezing:

The basil pesto will keep up in the fridge for up to 3 days (stored in a tightly closed container or tightly covered with plastic foil). If you want to keep it longer, pour a small layer of olive oil on top of the pesto. This way you can keep it in the fridge for up to a week.

Pesto freezes very well. Put it in a tightly closed container or plastic bag and freeze for up to 6 months.

How to make pesto – homemade basil pesto recipe (Pesto alla Genovese)

This is my favorite basil pesto recipe, but feel free to adjust the recipe to your liking!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 2 servings (2/3 cup)
Calories 560kcal
Author Aleksandra

Ingredients

  • 1.4 oz (40g) basil leaves 2 small pots of basil or 1 very large (like on the photo)
  • 1.4 oz (40g) Parmesan cheese or 20g parmesan and 20g pecorino sardo
  • 1 very small clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts or almonds
  • big pinch of lemon zest optional
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • large pinch of salt

Instructions

In a food processor:

  • Wash the basil leaves in cold water and pat them dry.
  • Add all the ingredients, except the olive oil, to a food processor bowl. Pulse until thick paste forms.
  • Add the olive oil and pulse slowly at the low speed or whisk in the olive oil by hand, until thick sauce forms.
  • Note: The olive oil can also be mixed directly with the other ingredients in the food processor at high speed, but the pesto comes out just slightly bitter in my opinion.
  • Season to taste with salt, you can also add more olive oil if you want thinner consistency of your pesto.

Using a pestle and mortar:

  • Wash the basil leaves in cold water and pat them dry.
  • In a mortar, pound the garlic and salt into a paste, then add the pine nuts, pound again until crumbs form.
  • Add the basil leaves and lemon zest (if using), pound until only small pieces of leaves remain.
  • Add the grated cheese, pound to a thick paste.
  • Add the olive oil and pound until thick sauce forms. Season to taste with salt, you can also add more olive oil if you want thinner consistency of your pesto.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

  • Storage: The basil pesto will keep up in the fridge for up to 3 days (stored in a tightly closed container or tightly covered with plastic foil). If you want to keep it longer, pour a small layer of olive oil on top of the pesto. This way you can keep it in the fridge for up to a week.
  • Freezing: pesto freezes very well. Put it in a tightly closed container or plastic bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
  • BASIC PESTO RECIPE:
    1. greens / vegetables: basil, parsley, spinach, radish leaves, carrot leaves, celery leaves, arugula/rocket, kale, wild garlic/ramp leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes (Pesto alla Trepanese), bell peppers
    2. cheese: parmesan, pecorino, or other hard cheese, or even creamy ricotta (Pesto alla Calabrese)
    3. oil: extra virgin olive oil, or other delicious and healthy extra virgin vegetable oils, for example: linseed oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, pumpkin seed oil, you can also mix them together
    4. nuts: you can really use all nuts and seeds, the best are pine nuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios, pumpkin seeds
    5. seasonings: fresh garlic, salt, black pepper, chili, lemon zest (really good!)
  • BASIL PESTO USES:
    • I like it most as a pasta sauce, like in this recipe for shrimp zucchini pasta with pesto or Parsley pesto pasta with zucchini and carrots. It could be also added to this Caprese pasta.
    • To spread on toast, bruschetta, focaccia, sandwich, flatbread or panini.
    • To spread on pizza (after is has been baked).
    • Mix it into dips.
    • As a salad dressing (you can thin it more with olive oil or just water), you can add it for example to Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato and basil salad).
    • Toss on top of steamed / fresh / roasted veggies).
    • As a sauce for a burger.
    • Add it to a vegetable soup (like Pistou soup).
    • You could make savory crepes/pancakes and fill them with veggies and use pesto as a sauce.
    • Use it as a sauce to serve with fish or chicken.
    • Serve it with ravioli.
    • Scoop them over vegetable quiche/tart like this asparagus zucchini tart.
Course Appetizer, dinner, sauce
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil pesto, basil pesto recipe, how to make pesto, pesto alla genovese

Did you make this recipe? Let me know how you liked it and give it a star rating in the comments below! You can also add a photo of your creation!

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