The One Thing I Never Do to My Pestos

updated Jun 7, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you’ve ever made a classic basil pesto before, you’re probably familiar with the concept of blanching basil. For years, chefs, cookbook authors, and countless food experts have declared that you must blanch your basil before turning it into a pesto. You have to dunk your basil into boiling water, transfer it into ice water, and dry it off before throwing it into the blender. Traditional cooking wisdom states that this is the only way to achieve a vibrant green color, and that it results in a smoother, more luxurious pesto.

But what if I told you that despite cooking professionally for over 10 years, I’ve never once blanched my basil? I’ve prepared countless batches of pesto and have never once brought a pot of water to a boil to do so. I see no purpose! Every time I’ve prepared a pesto with raw, unblanched basil it works just fine! It’s green, flavorful, and perfectly smooth. So why waste time blanching the basil? I’m here to state that not only can you skip this step when making pesto, but you should. Here’s why.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Why Blanching Basil Is an Unnecessary Step of Making Pesto

You don’t need to blanch basil to make a good pesto. You can throw it right into the blender and end up with a perfectly smooth, green, and flavorful pesto. The only benefit you get from blanching basil is color. The heat from blanching basil kills off the decomposing enzymes that makes the leaves turn brown, so you end up with a pesto that stays vibrant longer. But blanching basil changes its flavor. It mutes the fresh herbal flavor and tones down its punchiness. So although your pesto might look a little greener after a few days, it won’t be as flavorful — and I’m a firm believer that taste trumps appearance.

The next time you make pesto, try throwing your basil directly into the blender and ditch the boiling water. Not only will it have a stronger flavor, but it’ll also take a fraction of the time to throw together.

How to Keep Your Pesto Green

Blanching basil does make your pesto stay green for longer, but there are other, less labor-intensive methods for making sure it retains its color while still tasting great.

1. Make sure you start with fresh, dry basil. The greener your basil is to start, the greener your pesto will be. It’s also important to make sure that your basil is completely dry before throwing it into your blender. If it’s wet your pesto will turn out watery and murky.

2. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto. This prevents air from oxidizing the surface of the pesto. Just lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto so none of it is exposed to air.

3. Or top it with a thin layer of olive oil. This technique also prevents air from oxidizing the surface of the pesto. Just pour a small amount of olive oil on top to create a barrier and make sure to wrap the container with plastic wrap or secure with an airtight lid to prevent it from taking on any unwanted flavors from the fridge.

Ready to make your own pesto? Here are some of our favorite ways to use it up.