Homemade basil pesto tastes so much better than store-bought, and it’s a cinch to make in your food processor!
Most of the time, I don’t have an issue using store-bought products in my cooking. I almost never make my own stock. I like the convenience of canned beans. Basically, anything that saves me time in the kitchen is a winner for me.
Except for basil pesto.
I have not found a single brand of ready-made basil pesto that I actually like. None of them have the bright fresh flavour of a homemade pesto sauce.
Luckily, making basil pesto from scratch is actually incredibly easy.
Pesto isn’t something that I make often, largely because I don’t have fresh basil in my house in the winter months (my plants never do well indoors), and I can’t always find it at my local grocery.
But, right now I’ve got a HUGE basil plant in my backyard that has been growing happily all summer. Now that the weather is getting a bit cooler in the evening, it’s the perfect time to harvest the leaves for this easy basil pesto recipe.
(P.S. If you’re interested in reading about how I grew my basil, check out this post I wrote about growing herbs in containers.)
How to Make Basil Pesto
Now, technically, you could just throw all of the ingredients for this pesto into the food processor and call it a day.
I prefer to blitz the pine nuts and garlic a bit first though, so they can start to break down. The more you process the basil leaves, the more the flavour seems to diminish.
I add in my basil leaves once the pine nuts and garlic and ground up, then pulse them just enough to chop them up a bit. After that, I add my cheese, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, and season to taste.
If you prefer a chunkier texture to your pesto, don’t grind the pine nuts and garlic too much at the beginning, and add your basil leaves at the very end – right before you add your oil.
If you don’t have a blender, you can crush the ingredients together the old fashioned way – in a mortar and pestle. I have a tiny one at home, but I only use it for bashing up spices.
If you’re going to use a blender, just be careful not to liquify the ingredients.
Also, I want to mention that I’ve seen recipes on the internet suggest that you should blanch your basil leaves before processing them. The claim is that your pesto will be a brighter green in the end.
I decided to try that method, for the sake of science.
Do not blanch your basil leaves. All it will do is ruin that bright fresh basil flavour that makes pesto so delicious.
You can put your own spin on this pesto by making a few substitutions.
If you don’t have pine nuts, or don’t like them, or just don’t want to spend the money for them (they can be expensive!), then use walnuts instead.
I’ve also heard that pumpkin seeds and pistachios are nice, and they can help boost that green colour.
If you are going to use pine nuts, resist the temptation to toast them. While toasted nuts are always tasty, in this recipe leaving them raw actually helps create a creamier texture. If you really must toast them, do so very lightly.
Tip: Costco usually has the best value for pine nuts. I never buy them from my local grocery because they’re wicked expensive. When I do get them at Costco, I store the excess in the freezer so they don’t go rancid.
As for the cheese, I’ve used regular Parmesan here, but you could sub in a nice Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese instead.
I’d just avoid the shelf-stable pre-ground stuff that comes in a bottle. The flavour of fresh cheese is really important in this basil pesto recipe.
Once your pesto is ready, you can add it to a multitude of dishes. It’s great on pasta (duh), potatoes, and steak. It’s also a great lower-calorie substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches (I love using it in chicken sandwiches).
TIP: to create a glossy pasta sauce, add pesto and chopped cold butter to a large bowl, add pasta and a bit of the starchy cooking water, then toss to combine.
Recipes You Can Make with Pesto
How to Store Leftover Basil Pesto
Leftover pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Just make sure to put it in an air-tight container, and cover the top with olive oil to prevent browning. If you don’t have an air-tight container, you can press a piece of plastic wrap right onto the surface of the pesto, then wrap another layer on top of your container.
To freeze, you can pour the pesto into an ice cube tray, freeze it, and then put the pesto cubes into a freezer-safe zip-top bag. I don’t have an ice tray anymore, so I freeze my pesto flat in a zip-top bag and then break off pieces as I need it.
Alternatively, you can use my friend Tori’s method for freezing instead. She lines a baking sheet with parchment paper, dollops one tablespoon portions of the pesto onto the parchment, and then pop the tray in the freezer overnight. Once the dollops are frozen, you can throw them into a freezer bag and store until ready to use. She also uses this method for tomato paste (clever!).
Some people say that cheese doesn’t freeze well, but I’ve never had an issue with it. If you’d rather be on the safe side, omit the cheese in the recipe and freeze as directed. When you’re ready to use the pesto, defrost what you need and then add the cheese in.
UPDATE: I learned in one of my recent culinary school classes that pesto will last much longer if you don’t add the cheese and pine nuts. Just make up a batch with just your oil, basil and garlic, season it, and then pour a thin layer of oil on top to prevent it from oxidizing. Once you’re ready to use it, you can add your cheese and pine nuts. In this case, you’d also be able to freeze it without worrying about how the cheese will defrost. Win-win!
If you try making this recipe, let me know how it turns out! You can leave a comment below, or share a photo on social media using #InSearchOfYummyness.
- Add pine nuts and garlic into a food processor. Pulse several times, until finely chopped.
- Add basil leaves, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Pulse a few times, until coarsely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
- While machine is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Process until the mixture is combined, but still has some texture.
- Season with salt and pepper. Stir, taste, and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Leftover pesto can be stored in an air-tight container, with a layer of olive oil on top, for up to 1 week.
To Freeze Pesto:
- Transfer mixture into an air-tight container and drizzle a layer of olive oil over the pesto. Alternatively, you can pour the mixture into an ice cube tray, freeze until solid, then store in a freezer safe zip-top bag. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- I do not toast my pine nuts for pesto, as the raw nuts create a creamier texture. You can lightly toast them if you want to.
- You can substitute walnuts, pumpkin seeds or pistachios for the pine nuts.
- You can substitute Pecorino cheese for Parmesan cheese.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano is excellent in this recipe, but any fresh Parmesan cheese is a good option.
- Don’t have a food processor? You can make this recipe in a mortar and pestle instead.
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