Pesto is a simple sauce made from fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, cheese, and olive oil. The method and the ratio of ingredients are what make this the perfect pesto recipe!
My love for pesto goes way back. It’s one of the first things I learned how to make as a novice 13 year old cook. Well, I should say it was the first thing I learned to make when wanting to branch out from more familiar-to-me recipes.
Pesto was actually something I never even heard of until I came across it in an Italian cookbook. A cookbook that I found on a sale table at a bookstore when I was 13 – and I still have it! Anyway, I don’t have an Italian bone in my body, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t know what pesto was.
Back then jarred pesto wasn’t as easy to find as it is today, so the only way I was going to get to try it was to make my own…except I didn’t have a food processor. However, 13 year old Keri was very determined and decided to just make it by hand. And when I say by hand, I don’t mean with a mortar and pestle ( I definitely didn’t even know what that was let alone have one). Needless to say, I ended up with a very roughly chopped mix of ingredients that I couldn’t get even remotely close to the paste it’s supposed to be. It was really kind of a disaster.
I put my pesto-making efforts on hold and added a food processor to my Christmas list that year. I’m probably the only teenager that asked for a small appliance, but I was overjoyed when I opened one on Christmas morning! And so began my obsession with pesto.
After years and years of making pesto, I’ve learned a thing or two. The method does matter and so does the ratio of ingredients. You can’t just wing it and throw it all in a blender or food processor and expect it come out perfect.
I’ve seriously tried making it a million different ways – adding everything in at one time (definitely not a good idea), adding everything in but streaming in the oil (better but the basil gets over-processed and the pesto ends up an unappealing color), using grated parmesan and stirring it in at the end (don’t like the texture of this), plus I’ve tested in both a blender and food processor and I much prefer the food processor.
Method for making perfect pesto:
- Start with cubed Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can also use grated, but it has to be the real-deal Parmigiano-Reggiano for the best flavor. Trust me on this! I find it to be more cost effective to buy a block vs. already grated – and save the rinds when you’re done! They add such great flavor to soups and sauces and last basically forever in the freezer.
- Pulse your cheese with garlic until it’s all broken up.
- Add in the pine nuts and pulse a few times to roughly chop them up. Doing this helps get everything broken down before adding the fresh basil. The less you process the basil the better the color and flavor.
- Now add in your basil, salt, pepper, and a bit of lemon juice and pulse a few times. The lemon juice is not traditional in pesto and I’m sure most Italians would scoff at this, but I love it!
- Stream in the olive oil until the pesto comes together – you may need to scrape the sides down halfway through.
Now you’re ready to use it or freeze it! I always have pesto in my freezer. It’s super versatile – toss it with pesto, serve it on chicken, use it as a sandwich spread, or mix it with mayo for chicken salad.
Pesto remains one of my favorite pasta sauces… along with this one, of course. Especially in summer when I have more basil than I know what to do with coming out of my garden. Fun fact: after my first taste of pesto I loved basil so much that I named my cat after it. Miss Basil is now 16!
I hope you enjoyed this lengthy post all about pesto. Remember, the method matters!
- 3 Tablespoons Pine Nuts
- 1 Large Garlic Clove, peeled
- 1 ½ oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, cubed* (grated will also work, use 6 Tablespoons)
- 1 Large Bunch Fresh Basil, about 2 packed Cups (2 oz.)
- 1 Tablespoon Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
- ¼ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- ¼ Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Preheat oven to 350º. Spread the pine nuts out onto a small baking sheet and toast in the preheated oven for around 5 minutes, or until lightly golden and toasty. Cool completely.
In a food processor combine the garlic and the cubed cheese and pulse until the mixture is well broken down. Add in the pine nuts and pulse just a few times to chop the pine nuts.
Next, add in the basil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse until the basil is broken down, but not finely chopped.
With the food processor running, stream in the olive oil (you may not use it all depending on the texture you like), scraping the mixture halfway through.
*I highly recommend using the real-deal Parmigiano-Reggiano (you can tell by the stamp on the rind) for the best flavor. I find cubing it to be easiest as it’s more cost effective to buy it whole vs grated. However, if you can only get grates or don’t have a scale to weigh the cheese, use 6 tablespoons grated.
Pesto freezes beautifully! I love to double the recipe and stock my freezer.
This recipe will make enough for 1 pound of pasta. I love pesto with penne or linguine and to make it extra-delicious, toss your hot pasta with a few handfuls of parm before adding the pesto. I’m telling you, this makes it SO good! Then toss in your pesto with some pasta water for perfect pasta alla pesto.