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

12 January 2019 | Last Updated: 11 May 2019

How to make pesto – homemade basil pesto recipe

Basil pesto or Pesto alla Genovese in an Italian sauce originated in Geneva. Its name comes from the Italian word ‘pestare’, meaning to pound or to crush. According to tradition, pesto is prepared using a mortar and pestle. It’s made from basil, parmesan cheese, pecorino sardo cheese, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and salt.

Homemade pesto tastes so much better than the store-bought one. It‘s healthier (is not pasteurized) and can be made from the best and fresh ingredients (that means: olive oil, not sunflower oil, a larger amount of basil, parmesan and not grana padano or some other other cheeses). 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 search in italian cookbooks, how it really should be made.

A few words about the ingredients:

As for the ingredient proportions, 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, it should be intensely basil-flavoured, with a delicate cheese flavour.

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 tradition, pesto is prepared using a pestle and a mortar. Amazingly, making a pesto in a mortar and pestle is not as difficult or labor-intensive as I thought. During the week, after work, I‘ll use a food processor, but on the weekend, a pestle and mortar – why not! 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 portions of pesto, with the same ingredients, one portion in a blender and one in a mortar and peste. 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. So, it‘s important to pulse all the pesto ingredients without the olive oil together, then whisk it in by hand.

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 just not good for anything. Besides making pesto, I also use the mortar and pestle to prepare Thai curry pastes and to crush spices (eg fennel seeds, caraway seeds and chai latte spices). I have a Thai stone (granite) mortar and I‘m really happy with it.

How to make pesto – homemade basil pesto recipe, pesto in a mortar
how to make pesto

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!

How to make pesto – a basic pesto recipe:

1. greens / vegetables: basil, parsley, spinach, radish leaves, carrot leaves, celery leaves, arugula/rocket, kale, 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, 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

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

I also have a parsley and pumpkin seed / pistachio pesto recipe on my blog. Check it out! 🙂

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


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


In a food processor:

  • Wash the basil leaves in cold water and pat them dry.
  • Add all the ingredients, except olive oil, to a food processor bowl. Pulse until paste forms.
  • Whisk in the olive oil (by hand), until thick emulsion forms (the olive oil can also be mixed directly with the other ingredients in the food processor, but the pesto will come out slightly bitter).
  • 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 garlic and salt into a paste, then add the pine nuts, pound again until crumb forms.
  • 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.
  • Enjoy!


HOW TO STORE PESTO: put the pesto into a jar, cover with a layer of olive oil and close with a lid. The pesto can be stored this way for about a week.
Course Appetizer, dinner, sauce
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil pesto, basil pesto recipe, pesto alla genovese

Did you make this recipe? Let me know how you liked it in the comments below!

ingredients for basil pesto, How to make pesto – homemade basil pesto recipe
how to make pesto

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