How To Make Perfect Pesto Every Time
Makesabout 1 cup
Prep25 minutes to 30 minutes
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. You can spread it on caprese sandwich or toss it with pasta — or, yes, treat yourself to a single, happy spoonful.
Making pesto is as simple as processing your ingredients together. We’ll show you the wide variety of ingredients you can use, and we’ll walk you through the recipe and techniques that will yield the best taste and texture for pesto.
What Is Pesto?
Modern pestos are made from many different combinations of nuts (such as pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds), other herbs, and hearty greens, as well as with or without the cheese. Once you master the basic ratio of nuts to herbs to oil, you can easily swap out one or more of these for your own custom pesto.
What Is Pesto Sauce Made Of?
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 the following:
- Basil: Traditionally, Genovese basil is used to make pesto. It is sweet with large, flat leaves, but any sweet basil will do.
- Pine nuts: These buttery, ivory-colored seeds (no, they are not really nuts) from certain types of pine trees are creamy and sweet. They are toasted for this recipe but you can leave them raw too.
- Parmesan: This dry, aged cheese provides a salty base flavor for the pesto.
- Garlic: The amount of garlic is up to you, but I prefer 1 to 2 cloves per 6 cups of packed basil leaves for just a hint of spice.
- Olive oil: This is pretty essential to pesto and will impact the flavor of your sauce considerably. Purchase extra-virgin olive oil with a fruity, peppery flavor best used for salad dressings, dips, and uncooked sauces like pesto!
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!
Key Steps for Making Pesto in the Food Processor
- Process half of the basil first. The best pesto has a mixture of fine and rough pieces of basil in the finished sauce. Traditional pesto is made in a mortar and pestle to get that texture. By adding the basil in two batches (and carefully pulsing) we can replicate that with less work.
- Pulse, don’t blend. Part of pesto’s appeal is its rough texture that clings beautifully to pasta and bread. If you over-process the sauce, the pine nuts will be bitter and the sauce will be too thin to coat pasta.
- Stream in the oil. Once the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and cheese are evenly distributed, stream in olive oil using the steady pulse to create an emulsion that keeps the sauce together.
How to Store Basil Pesto
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.
More Pesto Recipes to Try
Prep time 25 minutes to 30 minutes
Makesabout 1 cup
- 5 to 6 ounces
fresh basil leaves (2 big bunches or about 6 cups gently packed), 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
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup
extra-virgin olive oil
Blender or food processor
Blend half the basil with the nuts, cheese, and garlic. Place 1/2 of the basil (about 3 cups) in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or blender. Add 1/2 cup pine nuts, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 1 to 2 cloves garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and process or blend until the ingredients are finely chopped.
Blend in the rest of the basil. Scrape down the sides of the bowl or pitcher and add the remaining 3 cups basil. Process or blend until a uniform paste has formed, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl or pitcher as needed.
Stream in the olive oil. With the motor running, stream in 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup 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.
Taste and adjust. Taste the pesto and add more salt, garlic, nuts, or cheese as needed.
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.
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.