How to Make Pesto

With a few simple ingredients, you can make a fresh and flavorful homemade pesto that you can use in so many ways. I’m sharing my favorite basil pesto recipe plus other easy recipe ideas that you can make all year-round.

If you have basil plants growing and you need all the ideas for using those delicious herbs, this is the post for you. I’m sharing my favorite basil pesto recipe plus lots of other ideas to try.

What is Pesto?

Basil pesto is an Italian sauce made with basil leaves, pinenuts, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorini cheese, and olive oil. Traditionally, the ingredients are crushed and combined using a mortar and pestle creating a vibrant green sauce that is most often tossed with pasta, although there are many ways to use it.

If you’ve ever searched for a pesto recipe you probably noticed there are many recipes that use different ingredients and are still called “pesto”. For non-purists, pretty much anything that combines fresh herbs or greens, nuts, garlic, and hard cheese like parmesan with olive oil is also a pesto. That flexibility opens up a whole world of opportunities to create different flavor combinations. I’m sharing some very creative pesto recipes later in the post but first, we start with the basics.


  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Garlic cloves
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pine nuts
  • Lemon juice and zest
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

How to Make It

Although a mortar and pestle is the tool of choice for making traditional pesto, I don’t happen to own one and, like many others, combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and then blitz them. It takes all of five minutes to combine the ingredients and the sauce is ready to go.

In addition to the basil, nuts, cheese, garlic, salt, and olive oil I like to add a little lemon juice and zest. It’s not what you’ll find in Italy, but it adds a little zing that amplifies all of the flavors. For me, it’s the perfect pesto!

Ingredient Substitutions

As you’ll see after the recipe, there are lots of ways to get creative, but if you want to make a simple basil pesto like the one I’m sharing here are a few ways to switch it up:

  • Nuts: Pinenuts are very pricey so sometimes I switch out the pinenuts for almonds or walnuts in my pesto. You can also use pecans or skip the nuts and use sunflower seeds. It changes the flavor a bit but tastes delicious and it’s a little easier on the wallet! A lot of recipes call for toasting the nuts first. It brings out the flavor and natural oils but I don’t always do it. It’s optional in my book.
  • Cheese: Try substituting Asiago or Pecorino Romano cheese for the Parmesan cheese. Pestos work best with hard aged cheeses that are salty.
  • There really isn’t a substitution for garlic, but I’ve used roasted garlic in place of raw and it’s delicious. Check out my Roasted Garlic Pesto if you want to try it!
  • If you want to get creative, you can swap out the basil leaves for other green tender herbs like parsley and cilantro. Or, try using fresh spinach or arugula in combination with basil or another herb.
  • You can also add a kick of heat with a pinch of red pepper flakes or add freshly ground black pepper when you serve it.

How to Store It

I prefer to make fresh pesto in small batches because it’s so easy to do, but if you want to make a bigger batch to have on hand here are my recommendations for storing it:

  • Refrigerator: Store the pesto sauce in an airtight container. It will keep for five to seven days, although it may darken in color as it sits.
  • Freezer: You can freeze it for up to three months as long as it’s stored in an airtight container. This is a great way to save summer-fresh basil pesto. I like to freeze it in an ice cube tray with a layer of olive oil on top of each cube. Once they are frozen, it’s easy to add to sauces and soup during the winter.

Pesto tossed with hot pasta is one of the easiest dinners ever, but you can use it like a condiment or add it to sauces, soups, or use it as a spread.

I think the best pesto is the one you make yourself with the ingredients you love. It’s such a simple recipe that can be adapted in so many ways. I hope you’ve found some inspiration in this post!

Happy pesto-making 🌿

More Amazing Pesto Recipes

Once you know how to make pesto, the flavor combinations and ways to serve it are endless. From pasta to dips to salads here are some creative and good pesto recipes for you to browse. I hope you find some new recipes to try!


Easy Pesto Recipe

a bowl of pesto.

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Pesto is so easy to make and, with a food processor, is ready to go in about five minutes. Toss it with pasta, spread it on sandwiches, use it to make salad dressing, or mix it with cream cheese for your morning bagel. 

Because pesto is so easy to make I tend to make it in smaller batches. This recipe makes approximately 3/4 cup of pesto which is enough for four servings. You can easily double it if you want a bigger batch.

  • Author: April Anderson
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Sauces
  • Method: No Cook
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (see note)
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 of a small lemon (see note)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 of a cup of olive oil (see note)


  • Place the basil, garlic, cheese, pine nuts, lemon juice and zest, and salt in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Plus a few times until the ingredients create a paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed.
  • With the food processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture. If needed, stop to scrape the sides to ensure everything is incorporated. Give the pesto a taste and adjust the salt, if needed.


  • Pine nuts are pricey, so I’ve substituted almonds and walnuts in their place with success. It changes the flavor a bit, but still tastes delicious.
  • Lemon is not a traditional ingredient in pesto, but I like to include it because the acid makes all of the other flavors pop. 
  • Depending on how thick or thin you want your pesto you may need to adjust the amount of olive oil.


  • Serving Size: 1/4 of recipe
  • Calories: 212
  • Sugar: 0.2g
  • Fat: 21.4g
  • Carbohydrates: 3.3g
  • Fiber: 1.3g
  • Protein: 3.4g

Do you love this recipe? Don’t forget to leave a comment and your recipe star rating!

This post has been updated from the archives. First published in May 2016.


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