Classic Pesto Recipe
Pesto is such a versatile sauce. It’s fantastic tossed with any pasta, gnocchi, or used as a spread on sandwiches. This pesto recipe is also the secret ingredient in Chicken Pesto Pasta and Chicken Pesto Roll-Ups.
Homemade pesto is surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make and fresh tastes so much better than storebought. During the summer months, we keep a steady supply of this fantastic sauce in the fridge and freezer since it stores really well.
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I’m always comparing this homemade pesto to the Costco pesto (which is the best store-bought one I’ve found) and this fresh pesto recipe wins. The lemon juice keeps the color bright and beautiful and adds fresh flavor without needing too much extra salt.
What Is Pesto Sauce?
Pesto is basically a bright green sauce that is made from crushing together basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese.
It’s a sauce that originated in Italy, with the term pesto derived from the Italian word “pestare” which means “to crush”. It was originally made using a Mortar and Pestle but we find it’s faster and easier in a food processor.
Ingredients for Basil Pesto
Most of the ingredients needed for this pesto recipe are things you probably already have on hand. If you don’t have basil growing in your garden, it’s best to buy it fresh the day you are making the sauce.
- Basil – use fresh basil leaves. The common basil leaves for pesto are large leaf basil, sweet basil, or genovese basil
- Parmesan cheese – shredded
- Extra virgin olive oil – use the best quality oil you can source
- Pine nuts – these are typical for pesto, but we have substituted with walnuts with great results
- Garlic cloves – we use 2 large cloves
- Lemon juice – use freshly squeezed juice from 1 large or 2 smaller lemons. Do not use lemon juice concentrate.
- Salt & Pepper – can be added to taste
Can I substitute Pine Nuts?
While traditional pesto sauce is made with pine nuts, you can certainly replace the pine nuts with a less expensive nut such as walnuts, or blanched almonds which work great.
Pro Tip: To get the most flavor out of your pine nuts, toast them on a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing often until golden and fragrant then cool before using in the recipe.
What Type of Basil Should I Use?
There are many varieties of basil. A few of the most popular include Italian large leaf (sweet basil), Thai, and lemon basil.
Any of these can be used for pesto but each has a slightly different flavor profile. For a traditional basil pesto flavor, you’ll want to use the Italian large leaf. It’s the basil leaf that most people typically think of as “normal” basil. It’s also referred to as sweet basil or Genovese basil. This is the type of basil sold in most grocery stores.
How to Make Basil Pesto
- Prep Basil – Gently rinse fresh basil leaves and pat dry or use a salad spinner to remove excess water.
- Process Sauce – Place all of your ingredients to a food processor or a high powered blender and process until smooth.
Pro Tip: After blending the pesto, add more salt to taste if desired. Keep in mind that store-bought pesto sauces can be significantly saltier since they are compensating for freshness. Salt also preserves the sauce for longer shelf life.
Basil pesto is an easy and healthy summer sauce that adds incredible flavor to a variety of dishes. Of course, there are the obvious uses for basil pesto, like mixing it in with your favorite pasta dish, or as the base for a pizza, but there’s so much more you can do with it!
- Spread on a sandwich for an elevated lunch
- Thin it down with oil or vinegar and make a basil pesto salad dressing
- Marinate or toss with your favorite grilled or roasted veggies.
- Topping for meat – spread pesto over cooked chicken, salmon, pork tenderloin, and of course on medalions of beef tenderloin.
More Homemade Sauces
The flavors and ingredients of pesto and these homemade condiment recipes are way better than storebought. Once you make your own homemade dressings and sauces, you won’t want anything else.
- Tzatziki Sauce Recipe – a healthy sauce you can serve with chicken, grilled veggies, pita chips, gyros and as a raw veggie dip.
- Tartar Sauce Recipe – great with fish and crab cakes
- Horseradish Sauce Recipe – Steakhouse quality horseradish
- Chimichuri Sauce – excellent topping for steak
- Avocado Ranch Dressing – doubles as a dip or dressing
- Caesar Dressing – our go-to creamy caesar
Basil Pesto Recipe
- Wash and dry the basil leaves.
- Place basil into a food processor, add cheese, nuts, garlic cloves, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth.
- Season with more salt to taste if desired.