How To Make Homemade Basil Pesto

You only need a few simple ingredients to make the most amazing homemade basil pesto. It’s so delicious and easy you’ll never want to go back to store-bought again!

Bright green basil pesto in a small bowl with a white spoon, some basil leaves, a few pine nuts, a garlic clove and grated parmesan cheese.

My love for basil pesto knows no limit. I remember when I found out a few years ago 1. how easy it was to make homemade pesto and 2. how incredibly delicious it tasted. I was already an addict to the store-bought kind but homemade? Homemade is next.level! Like, so good you won’t touch the other kind anymore.

Seriously guys, if you haven’t already, grab a bunch of fresh basil or two and do yourself a favor. Make homemade pesto ASAP! Did I mention that your kitchen will smell amazing, too?

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How to make homemade fresh basil pesto – step by step

It really is super duper easy!

First, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan in your food processor (step 1). 

Pulse until the ingredients are combined and form a kind of paste (step 2).

Slowly add in the olive oil until it’s all mixed and almost smooth (I personally like to keep some texture!). That’s it!

Step by step pictures of how to make homemade basil pesto in the food processor.

Variations and substitutions

The combo and proportions below are my favorite way to make pesto – but you can play around with the ingredients and find what’s your favorite version!

  • Cheese: Parmesan is traditional but you can also use grana padano or pecorino romano. No cheese? No problem! Try nutritional yeast instead or leave the cheese out entirely!
  • Nuts: If you don’t have pine nuts, find them too expensive or just want something different, try making your pesto with walnuts! It’s great with roasted almonds and pistachios too.
  • Garlic: I see a lot of recipes out there using more garlic than I do (usually 3 cloves) but that’s way to intense for me. My advice is to start with a little and add more to your taste (because you can always add more, but too much is hard to fix!)
  • Spinach: For a milder pesto, sub half of the basil leaves for 1 cup of baby spinach leaves.
  • Other herbs: Try adding some of your favorite herbs like parsley, cilantro or even mint! Not traditional and different for sure, but delicious.

Making ahead and freezing pesto

If not used straight away, you’ll notice that pesto darkens pretty quickly. It’s okay. It’s caused by oxidation. Although it’s less bright and pretty, it doesn’t change the taste. To prevent oxidation, cover the top of the pesto with olive oil.

You can make pesto ahead and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Pesto freezes well! If you know from the start that you’re going to freeze it, omit the cheese because it doesn’t freeze well (but if you do end up freezing it with cheese, you’ll be okay, don’t worry).

For individual portions, line an ice cube tray with plastic wrap, fill each pockets with pesto and freeze. Remove from the ice cube tray and store in freezer bags. When ready to eat, thaw in the fridge (not in the microwave) and add in the cheese.

Also…never (re)heat pesto! It will lose a lot of its delicious flavor. Instead, bring it to room temperature if it was in the fridge and it will be heated by the warm ingredients you’re using it with (pasta, veggies and so on).

Homemade basil pesto in a food processor

Can you make pesto in a blender?

That’s a good question. It works best in the food processor. I don’t like making pesto in the blender because you need to use more olive oil to get it running, it doesn’t have the same nice and smooth texture and I find that I lose a lot of the precious nectar at the bottom of the blender (plus it’s more difficult to wash).

BUT! if you only have a blender, you can make it work. Pack the basil leaves at the bottom of the blender, then top with parmesan, garlic and pine nuts. Pulse as much as you can, then slowly add in the olive oil. You will probably have to use more than 1/3 cup olive oil to get the blender to really blend the mixture.

This will work better in the blender if you double all the quantities (as if you were making two batches) – the more ingredients you have, the easier it will be for your blender to do the work.

How to use pesto + my favorite pesto recipes:

The most obvious way to use basil pesto is with pasta – there’s a reason it’s so popular: it’s ridiculously delicious! I rarely eat pasta (the traditional kind anyway!) but when I do, my favorite is pasta al pesto!

But pesto is also perfect…

  • as a salad dressing – to make it thinner and more “dressing like”, try adding some lemon juice, a little bit of water or more olive oil.
  • tossed with (grilled) veggies or potatoes
  • as a spread for sandwiches,
  • as pizza spread/base (seriously…SO GOOD!)
  • eaten by the spoonful (okay, I’m kidding! Or am I?)

Here are a few of my favorite pesto recipes from the blog:

Homemade basil pesto in a white bowl

If you tried this pesto, don’t forget to rate the recipe and let me know how it went in the comments below – I love hearing from you! You can also follow me on InstagramPinterest and Facebook for more deliciousness and behind-the-scenes!

Bright green basil pesto in a small bowl with a white spoon, some basil leaves, a few pine nuts, a garlic clove and grated parmesan cheese.
5 from 5 votes
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Homemade Basil Pesto

You only need a few simple ingredients to make the most amazing homemade basil pesto. It's so delicious and easy you will never want to go back to store-bought again!

Course Condiment
Cuisine Italian
Keyword fresh basil pesto, homemade pesto, pesto recipe
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 8 people - makes 1 cup
Calories 138 kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts see notes for substitutions
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan up to 1/2 cup - use freshly ground parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon garlic minced - about 2 small cloves
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste

Instructions

  1. Add basil, pine nuts, parmesan and garlic in the bowl of your food processor.

  2. Pulse a few times until ingredients are combined and look like a rough paste. 

  3. Pour olive oil slowly in the food processor while it's running (or add a little at a time, mix, add a little more and mix again). Pulse until it's mixed and somewhat smooth (I like it not perfectly smooth!), scraping down the sides of the food processor as needed. Season with salt to taste. Serve. 

  4. Make ahead: If you're not planning to use the pesto straight away, transfer to an airtight container and cover the surface with olive oil to prevent oxidation (this causes the pesto to darken but doesn't change the taste). Store in the fridge for up to a week. 

  5. Freezing: Pesto freezes really well. If you know from the start you're going to freeze it, omit the cheese (it doesn't freeze well). For individual portions, line an ice cube tray with plastic wrap, fill each pockets with pesto and freeze. Remove from the ice cube tray and store in freezer bags. When ready to eat, thaw in the fridge (not in the microwave) and add in the cheese. 

Recipe Notes

Variations/substitutions:

  • Cheese: you can also use grana padano or pecorino romano
  • Nuts: instead of pine nuts, you can also use walnuts, roasted almonds and pistachios.
  • Garlic: I see a lot of recipes out there using more garlic than I do (usually 3 cloves) but that’s way to intense for me. My advice is to start with a little and add more to your taste (because you can always add more, but too much is hard to fix!)
  • Spinach: For a milder pesto, sub half of the basil leaves for 1 cup of baby spinach leaves.
  • Other herbs: Try adding some of your favorite herbs like parsley, cilantro or even mint! Not traditional and different for sure, but delicious.

Dietary swaps:

  • TO MAKE PALEO, VEGAN AND DAIRY FREE: use nutritional yeast (same ratio), or leave out the cheese entirely.

 

Nutrition Facts
Homemade Basil Pesto
Amount Per Serving (2 tablespoons)
Calories 138 Calories from Fat 126
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 22%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Cholesterol 3mg 1%
Sodium 137mg 6%
Potassium 56mg 2%
Total Carbohydrates 1g 0%
Protein 2g 4%
Vitamin A 7.1%
Vitamin C 1.7%
Calcium 5.9%
Iron 3.3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

UPDATE NOTE: This post was originally published on Jun 27, 2012 and republished in June 2018 with an updated recipe, new photos and more tips.

A step by step recipe to make homemade basil pesto - super easy and so delicious! Make the most of summer's basil. Recipe on NotEnoughCinnamon.com

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Clean Eating Gluten free Italian Inspired Low carb Paleo/Primal Recipes Sauces Spreads Summer Recipes Under 300 cal Vegetarian
20 Comments
  1. I have a new herb garden with lots of basil in it and not enough ways to use it. I will definitely give this recipe a go!

    1. Great Jacqueline, let me know when you do! I’m a bit jealous here, I’d love to have an herb garden too. What do you have along with basil?

      1. It’s so nice and easy to have fresh herbs right in your garden.
        I have italian parsley, coriander, oregano, sage, thyme, mint and rosemary

  2. Marie, I’ve had pesto on my mind the last couple months. It finally motivated to get my basil planted. I like to keep a small herb garden going with just a few of my most frequently used fresh herbs–dill, Italian parsley, cilantro and basil.

    1. Hi Jean, thanks for stopping by! I’m planning to get my own herb garden soon too. It’s always useful to have some fresh herbs, for garnish for instance. And it tastes some much better than the dried ones!

  3. Why can’t you use a blender? I’d love to make some pesto, but I’m a college student with a small budget and I don’t have a food processor…I do have a blender, though.

    1. For some reason, it didn’t work with my blender. I’m not sure why. Maybe because of the blades being too small, with too little ingredients. You could try with your blender with a larger quantity of ingredients. Try, like, to tripe them. It could work that way!

  4. HI,
    I made pesto with you recipe but mine became very bitter n has a strange bittery-spicy taste to it. Its not even close to yur pesto 🙁 wot did i do rong? I love pesto n its so rong now! plz guide

    thanku

    1. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work for you! Did you follow the recipe to the T or did you make any substitutions? The more I know the more I can help 🙂

  5. this is awesome! i love pesto and love your step by step tutorials! the freezing tips were also super handy!

  6. I’m making minestrone soup for dinner tonight, so I’m going to try your pesto in it in place of my usual recipe. It looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it!

  7. Hi. I made pesto for the first time a few days ago. Due to some severe food allergies, I often stay away from pre-mixed foods with unrecognizable ingredients. But, so many people rave about it, I decided to grab a recipe and give it a go. I did make it in my vitamix blender as my food processor is not very good and it turned out really delicious. Apparently, I over blended it and it should have a bit more texture to it. Havd you ever made something that you’ve never tasted or really seen before? Lol. It does add to the challenge! I don’t know if I have the taste profile down, but, I’ll have a couple friends critique it and give me some good pointers (my biased partner told me he thought it was perfect except for the texture, sweetheart!). I am excited to give your recipe and suggestions a go next time I make this, which will likely be next week.

    1. Welcome to the wonderful world of pesto Karen! You won’t look back 😉 Traditional pesto has indeed some texture but if you prefer it smooth, I say go for it. Both will be delicious! I hope you’ll love this recipe! 🙂

  8. I have tons of basil in my garden this year; sweet, cinnamon and lime. I made this pesto with all types and it was FANTASTIC! This summer my family and I were on an extended road trip, (10,500 km)and early in the trip, I became ill. All I wanted was garlic… and basil. I had some of this pesto and it was sooooo,so wonderful!

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