Introduction: Pesto - Recipe With Basil, Garlic, and Pine Nuts

Picture of Pesto - Recipe With Basil, Garlic, and Pine Nuts

Pesto is the perfect green food.

Serve it on pasta, witheggs, with cheese, on crackers, with chicken or fish, worked into pasta or tortillas or with just about anything else that needs fantastic flavor. I recently ate some marinated artichoke hearts that had been tossed in pesto - they were excellent.

Step 1: Basil and Garlic

Picture of Basil and Garlic

Collect a large amount of Italian basil from your favorite farmers' market or yuppie supermarket. (Don't use Thai basil, as the flavor is strong enough to be bitter in pesto.) Wash and stem basil, then pat dry with a kitchen towel.

Pulse several cloves of garlic in the food processer, then add handfuls of basil until everything is chopped. The bowl will be a nice emerald green color.

Step 2: Toast Pine Nuts

Picture of Toast Pine Nuts

Toast a pan full of pine nuts over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. They will smell nicely nutty when done. Take them off the heat before they reach the desired toastiness, as they'll continue cooking for a while afterwards.

Step 3: Add Other Ingredients

Picture of Add Other Ingredients

The traditional version:
Add pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and salt to taste.
The olive oil controls the consistency- add more for a softer blend. More parmesan makes it more crumbly.

For freezing:
If you plan to freeze your pesto, don't add the cheese! It doesn't take freeze/thaws well, and is easy to add after you've defrosted. You can add lemon juice to prevent oxidation.

Freakish (but tasty) variations:
If the basil turns out to be slightly bitter, you can add some honey or agave nectar. Salt, pepper, chili powder, and Worchestershire sauce are frequent additions. Taste to see what you like. If you're trying to make vegan pesto by skipping the cheese, add more salt and up the nuts and weird flavorings to make up for the taste, as Parmesan is pretty strong!

You can make all sorts of wacky versions- forget tradition, figure out what tastes good to you, and create something new. If you come up with a particularly good pesto derivative, put it up as a new Instructable for everyone else to try!

Step 4: Finished

Picture of Finished

When you've added everything, the pesto should look something like this. If you add parmesan cheese, it will be lighter in color.

Now dump your pesto on pasta, spread it on bread and cover it with tomatoes, or make a pesto egg crepe.

Step 5: Freezing Instructions

I fill ramekins with the pesto, wrap them in saran wrap, label with the date, and freeze. Don't freeze it with the cheese; it's much better to freeze without, then add cheese after thawing.


depotdevoid (author)2013-08-30
Thanks for the recipe, Christy.  I made some tonight with all the basil I could scrounge out of my garden, and it turned out great!  At first I was a bit intimidated by the lack of specific amounts of ingredients, but ultimately went with your instructable (over the others offered hereabouts) just for that reason.  I figured this would be my first try, so I can learn from it and see how the next batch turns out.  Definitely going with more basil next time!

A couple of slight variations I employed:
  • Pine nuts are CRAZY expensive!  $30/lb at my local Fred Meyer!  That's a tad out of my price range, so I bought about $7 worth and bulked it up with some sunflower seeds ($1.49/lb).  Worked great!
  • I used Romano cheese (again, the price of actual Parmesan cheese was more than my overstretched wallet could bear at the end of the month).  It was still really good cheese, and added a nice saltiness that really brought out the other flavors.
I don't have a great food processor, so the end result wasn't as smooth as I would have liked.  All in all though, everything turned out tasty and it went great with fettuccine.  I'll definitely try this again, with more basil and hopefully a better food processor.  Mine only handles about a cup at a time and isn't great at chopping things too fine.

Thanks again for the recipe, and here are a couple of pictures of the end result.
karl1969 (author)2005-12-21

Hey, it's also REALLY nice made with rocket!

a grain of alt. (author)karl19692007-06-09


I believe the comment refers to arugula (aka rocket , roquette, et al.).

rera (author)House-of-Yes2012-02-23

Eruca Sativa, rucola in Italian. I love rucola pesto! Since I have all my pots infested by it, We often use rucola instead of basilico.

karl1969 (author)karl19692005-12-21

I mean in place of the basil of course

bowakowa (author)karl19692006-06-23


italianirish (author)2007-09-03

Pamigiano Reggiano-what is this? I live in a small town, I could only find a nice wedge of Parmesan.

canida (author)italianirish2007-09-12

It's basically a name-identifier for good Parmesan. You're fine with what you found.

rera (author)canida2012-02-23

I think You don't know the meaning of "DOP". Parmigiano Reggiano is only from Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantova. You can have same cows in same climate, with same grass but You cannot call it Parmigiano.

Seth (author)2006-08-08

YOU GUYS ARE FRIGGIN HERETICS!!! What do I have to stand? Worchester sauce in pesto? SPINACH?!?
Seriously though, just for full reference, being the proud Italian I am, I'd like to offer you the original recipe for pesto. Of course the Pesto D.O.C. is a real pain in the ass to make (especially if you live outside of Italy) but I'm writing this just FYI

Ingredients for 600 gr. of pasta (yes, we use the metric system =þ )
Basil (Ocimum Basilicum) 4 bunches (HAS to be original Basilico Genovese =þ )
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: one glass (HAS to be made in Liguria =þ )
Grated Parmisan Cheese: 3 tablespoons (HAS to be "Pamigiano Reggiano" or "Grana Padano" D.O.P.)
Grated Pecorino Cheese: 3 tablespoons (HAS to be roman, tuscan, sicilian or sardinian pecorino)
Garlic: two cloves (HAS to be... you get the idea =þ )
Pine Nuts: one tablespoon (obtained from Pinus pinea, grew in the Mediterranean area bla bla bla)
Nuts (optional) from Juglans regia, grew in Europe
Salt: some grains

First: the original pesto genovese is not made in a blender, but in a marble mortar with a wood pestle.
Wash the basil with cold water and leave to dry on a cloth, meanwhile put one clove of garlic for every 30 leaves of basil in the mortar and pound them with the big grains of salt. After you're done add the basil leaves, a few at a time. Pound using a light rotatory movement. Remember: the essential oils of basil are found in the little veins of the leaves, and to get the best from them you have to pound gently rotating the pestle, not by squishing the leaves.
When the basil will start to drip a bright green liquid it's time to add the pine nuts. Again add a few at a time. After the pine nuts add the cheeses (few at a time) and at the end the oil, one drop at a time.
One last note: the preparation of pesto has to be done at ambient temperature and as quickly as possible to prevent oxidation.

There! If you followed all my instructions you now have the original Pesto alla Genovese, made using a century-and-a-half old recipe. If not, well it's pretty close to the original thing =þ

rera (author)Seth2012-02-22

I think the original recipe is only with “Pecorino Fiore Sardo” and Parmigiano Reggiano, not other cheese . Ah.. a curiosity: most "pecorino romano" comes from Sardinia.

rera (author)Seth2009-09-08

Your message is great! Just one thing, Basilico Genovese is not enough, it has to be from Prà :-þ

gowithflo (author)Seth2007-02-03

Amen, don't mess with traditional Italian cooking. Well you can but it ain't right, I'm sure the other one is good too if you are vegan and stuff.

canida (author)Seth2006-11-16

Traditional pesto is certainly awesome- you should post this recipe as its own Instructable, complete with pictures of your mortar and pestle in action! (This is an intentionally bastardized version made to fit my tastes and needs, which include freezing and tasting good without cheese. )

genderbender (author)2009-11-30

Ya beat me to it! Just the way I make mine. Well, here's my video but it looks like you've got it covered:

cgg123321 (author)genderbender2010-08-09

I know this was posted awhile ago, but if you get a chance to read this, you have a great video put together! and I will be using it to make my own pesto tonight. Thanks a bunch!

genderbender (author)cgg1233212010-08-13

So happy to hear the video is seeing some action.

dayersr87 (author)2010-06-19

Good source for pine nuts or pignoli nuts there are American organic grown they are superb in-shell raw or shelled raw there web sight is a simple comment to let you know you don’t have to buy importer pine nuts any more. They have a bitter-free guarantee. Mike

fabrivassa (author)2009-09-13

you should use crushed almonds instead of pine nuts

solo.card (author)2009-09-12

Pestle and Mortar over a food processor every time.

prestonm (author)2009-09-11

OH MY GOD TRADER JOE'S YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunkicked (author)2009-09-09

Nice recipe Canida. I made some today, though I altered the recipe a bit (I went super heavy on the garlic, went easy on the parmesan, and added a healthy dose of white pepper). I call it "Punch You In the Face Pesto". I'll try to get an Instructable up by the end of the week.

CHED F.B (author)2009-09-09

Thanks for the Instructable - well done, Pine nuts are pretty pricey in my supermarket and so I usually supplement with other nuts - blanched peeled almonds (I do the blanching peeling myself - Coffee cup+Almonds+Boiling water+a couple of minutes then a squeeze between the fingers)come out least expensive here - Basil grows pretty well in our warm climes - but bugs love it, I sometimes throw through some rough chop tomato and capsicum. It's a great quick meal - by the time I've boiled the water and cooked the pasta everythings ready to go - great green super food. Again many thanks I look forward to trying out some of your freakish variations.

tixylix (author)2006-02-02

fridge life: to stop the basil going dark, bitter and crappy after a few days: wash the basil, pat dry, then hang it (if it is still in a bunch) or spread it out on a tea towel and wait for it to dry. has to be dry. no excess water. stem the basil and stuff it in the food processor, then drizzle the oil so that the basil is all oily before you turn the food processor on. as the shredded basil is immediately smothered in oil it won't have the chance to oxidise (or whatever) and turn dark green and bitter. you should be able to make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for a month. other tips: for the traditional basil pesto, sometimes i toast the pinenuts, sometimes not, sometimes half and half. walnuts is heresy. of course, pesto just means paste, (or "pestled" if you prefer), so you can make up any recipe you like. basil, olive oil, pine nuts, cheese (pecorino or parmesan) garlic, salt pepper & chilli to taste. i only use a little salt, and add salt at the dinner table after it is served.

Phoghat (author)tixylix2009-09-09

I've got a nice recipe made from sun dried tomato, pistachios and the king of cheeses Parmigiano Reggiano

I prefer the pine nuts untoasted. The aromatics are incredible that way, toasting can ruin them.

nachobobs (author)2009-09-09

I always add a teaspoon or so of lemon juice in with the basil before I blitz it, this ensures it remains nice and green and vibrant.

Jayefuu (author)2009-09-09

Homemade pesto is so much better than any of the rubbish you buy in the shops. I do sort of agree with seth though, cheese cheese cheese! :) Nice photos btw.

ashi (author)2006-07-04

To prevent darkening add one capsule of vitamin C! Not only will you make the pesto bright green, you will also make it rich with vitamin C.

I Am An Evil Taco (author)ashi2008-05-16

lemon or lime juice does this too.

awang8 (author)I Am An Evil Taco2009-09-05

Lemon/lime juice contains high amounts of citric acid and tends to turn things mushy... Also, they add a sour flavour to the pesto (which can actually be a bonus).

Aleksandr Skotbot (author)2008-10-06

I'm vegan and I make pesto with basil, pine nuts, walnuts, nutritional yeast, garlic, and olive oil. The combination of walnuts and nutritional yeast can make up for parmesan cheese in pretty much any recipe. (:

Thanks for the vegan tip. Always welcome!

Yerboogieman (author)2009-02-09

Do you blend it with the pine nuts in the food processor?

jinonaspa (author)Yerboogieman2009-03-28

the blades basically crumble it to a very small size, but people call it "blended"

Yerboogieman (author)jinonaspa2009-03-28

I could imagine.

a grain of alt. (author)2007-06-09

Worcestershire sauce?? BLASPHEMER! : P I'll have to try some of your "modifications" sometime and see how they taste. FYI: I help make around 50 gallons of organic pesto every year for my father's healthfood store using the traditional recipe (fresh basil, garlic cloves, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil) and it freezes beautifully. Just pack your fresh pesto into smaller containers so you don't need to dethaw that much at a time, and move one from the freezer to the fridge when you are ready for another.

worchester: raisins and anchovies. both were vaguely common in old-school pesto, so it's not as strange as you'd think.

teersteeg (author)2006-08-26

Seth's (strange name for an Italian) "original" pesto is actually something culled from--what is it? 150 years ago? That would make it about 1856-- a year that I don't believe has had a profound effect on the annals of culinary greatness. Can you imagine other dishes popular in 1856? Honestly, I can't imagine eating anything that was popular back then--did they have refrigeration, running water, indoor plumbing, or did they even wash their hands before cooking? Even when I was a kid in the 40's the oldtimers were still using the "bacouzu" (a shed with a hole in the ground somewhere out in back of the house) as a toilet. Oh well. Thank the Great Pumpkin for my Cuisinart, for basil shipped in fresh daily from California, for garlic from the garlic capital of the world, Gilroy, CA, for sea salt from Spain, fresh pepper from Brazil, cold pressed olive oil from the boot of Italy, Reggianito cheese from Argentina, and pignolias from the hothouse of the orient: China! regards, Teersteeg Cape Cod

The fridge was invented in 1748. Indoor plumbing was first recorded in the 1840s, and by 1860 was common in middle-class housing. Sanitation and clean water was understood because of the cholera outbreaks. 1851 saw the end of a miniature ice-age throughout the planet because of the eruption of the volcano Tambora. Crops were near impossible to keep in the ground, and vegetables were scarce. So, yeah. the 1850-1860 era saw a great resurgence in vegetable cuisine, as vegetation had been scarce since 1816 (the year without a summer). I have a cookbook of mid-victorian cuisine, and i promise you. The food was spectacular back then. All fresh, raw ingredients in combinations modern chefs would be terrified of. They were far more advanced than most people think. I agree with the sentiment, though.

djksimon (author)2006-02-02

Try substituting fresh spinach leaves for the pesto. The taste is less pronounced but just as tasty. Great over pasta and in omelettes.

I heartily concur, but I use a 75 basil/25 spinach blend.

hairyneil (author)2008-05-06

wow. some folks gettin really anal about what is and sin't ALLOWED in pesto. its food for christ's sake. shut up and let him eat what he likes.

habanero (author)2007-09-29

i'm italian and this isn't the original recipe of italian must use a mortar I you MUST crush the basil with a rotation motion around the mortar and not cut..Must use BIG salt, basil genovese d.o.p., extra vergine oil, garlic. not roasted pinoli and parmiggiano (50% parmiggiano 50% pecorino)

pierlo (author)2007-09-29

hey canida! nicely explained pesto recipe and 90% real italian! only thing "wrong" here is the step n.3! Neither pepper nor chili should touch a real pesto! And the worcestershire sauce!(that ain't italian at all!)
And to be precise: parmiggiano cheese is a MUST! Hope you dont hate me now ehhehe... Ciao!

zachninme (author)2007-09-13

I was just poking through, when I noticed that the black and white pepper was labeled "14181" and "14182" ... Is that a count of how many mg's of pepper are in there?

canida (author)zachninme2007-09-13

Those were the SKU numbers for each spice at the Cambridge, MA co-op I used to shop at. I'd just take the containers in, get them tared, fill them up, and take them to the cashier all properly pre-labeled.

zachninme (author)canida2007-09-13

Ah. I figured it might be something like that... That's a cool idea... although we don't shop anywhere with spice-bins, or anything close to that...

Scallion (author)2006-06-15

The major problem with the recipe, and the reason for the blackening, is the lemon juice. It has no place in pesto, culinarily or historically, and the acid definitely causes the mixture to darken. As for walnuts being a heretical addition, no one familiar with the food of Liguria would say that. The best dish I ever had in the area, one of the best things I've ever eaten, in fact, was a dish of pansotti, little square ravioli stuffed with wild greens. The sauce was butter, garlic and walnuts, and it was heavenly - not that eating on the quay in Portofino doesn't help. But I can tell you that walnuts are eaten in many dishes in Liguria. My preference is for equal parts of walnuts and pignolis.

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Bio: I've been posting Instructables since the site's inception, and now build other things at Autodesk. Follow me for food and more!
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