How To Make Perfect Pesto Every Time

How To Make Perfect Pesto Every Time

Emma Christensen
Jul 1, 2017
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

It's always tempting to eat pesto by the spoonful. It's so very fresh and so very green. And those flavors of basil, pine nut, Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil just play so very nicely together. Spread it on sandwiches, toss it with pasta, or yes, treat yourself a single happy spoonful, but definitely absolutely positively make pesto any chance you get.

Perfect Classic Pesto: Watch the Video

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Besides how heavenly it tastes, the other thing I love about pesto is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Traditional Italian pesto is, of course, made strictly with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and really good olive oil. It's a classic sauce, no contest.

But you can switch out the basil for another handy herb or leafy green, replace the (crazy expensive, if delicious) pine nuts with a different favorite nut, or swap the Parmesan for pecorino or asiago. Use more or less of anything to suit your tastes. Heck, you can even make a lower-fat pesto by replacing some of the olive oil with ricotta cheese!

Bottom line: green + nuts + cheese + olive oil = awesome sauce, literally. Whiz it up in a blender and you can't go wrong.

What's your favorite way to make pesto?

How to Make Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

What You Need


  • 5 to 6 ounces

    (2 big bunches or about 6 cups gently packed) fresh basil leaves, or any other green, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    toasted pine nuts, or any other nut

  • 1/2 cup

    grated Parmesan cheese, or any other hard cheese

  • 1 to 2 cloves


  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • Equipment
  • Blender or food processor


  1. Blend half the basil with the nuts, cheese, and garlic. Place 1/2 of the basil in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or blender. Add the nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt and process or blend until the ingredients are finely chopped.

  2. Blend in the rest of the basil. Scrape down the sides of the bowl or pitcher and add the remaining basil. Process or blend until a uniform paste has formed, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl or pitcher as needed.

  3. Stream in the olive oil. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil. Less olive oil will make a paste good for spreading on sandwiches and pizzas; more will make a sauce better for pastas and stirring into soup. Scrape down the sides of the bowl or pitcher and continue blending as needed until the olive oil is emulsified into the basil and the pesto looks uniform.

  4. Taste and adjust. Taste the pesto and add more salt, garlic, nuts, or cheese as needed.

  5. Using and storing pesto. Pesto will darken and brown very quickly, but will still be tasty and fresh for several days. For best appearance, use it right away.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store pesto in the smallest container possible with the smallest top surface area and thoroughly pack it in to eliminate air pockets. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface or press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pesto, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Pesto can also be frozen for several months.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
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