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Homemade Basil Pesto is a delicious sauce, spread, or condiment made from a few simple, fresh, and flavorful ingredients. This simple homemade pesto sauce comes together in minutes and tastes so much better than store-bought!

It’s a versatile and easily adaptable recipe. The uses for pesto are endless, giving you so many options for variations!

A brown bowl filled with homemade pesto sauce.

What is Pesto?

Traditional pesto is fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. In my recipe, I like to add spinach because I love its flavor, and I also use walnuts instead of pine nuts from time to time. Pine nuts can be really expensive, and other nuts are also delicious in pesto.

It’s a simple recipe to make and throw together for an easy weeknight dinner or even a quick dip. Freeze a batch ahead of time for those nights you come home and just really don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen or don’t want to order takeout.

Cook that pasta, and then toss it with your homemade pesto sauce, and you are all set. A meal made in minutes! A must-try is to drizzle it over Balsamic Chicken or a Burrata Caprese Salad.

Ingredient Notes

Labeled image of ingredients needed for homemade pesto sauce.
  • Nuts: Use walnuts or pine nuts (toasted for extra flavor, if desired).
  • Greens: Fresh basil leaves and fresh spinach leaves for a vibrant green color and flavor.
  • Cheese: Grated Parmesan cheese for a rich, savory element.
  • Garlic: Fresh Garlic cloves for a pungent, aromatic kick. (You can never have too much garlic, right!)
  • Seasoning: Coarse kosher salt and ground black pepper for seasoning.
  • Oil: Use olive oil or avocado oil for a smooth and creamy texture.

How To Make Pesto

Be sure to see the recipe card below for exact ingredients and full recipe instructions!

Step 1 | Toast Nuts for optimal flavor (optional)

Start by toasting your nuts in a skillet over low heat for about 3-5 minutes or until they turn a beautiful golden color. You can also do this in a blender if you prefer.

Walnuts in a nonstick skillet being toasted.

Step 2 | Pulse ingredients in the Food Processor

Next, toss the toasted nuts into your trusty food processor. Next, throw in the basil, spinach, Parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, a bit of salt, and some pepper into the same food processor.

Give it a whirl for about 10-15 seconds until everything’s mixed up. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides to make sure it’s all well combined.

Pesto ingredients added to a food processor and pulsed to combine.

Step 3 | Drizzle in oil

While your food processor is running, gradually pour in that lovely olive oil. If things get stuck to the sides, just stop and scrape them down.

Here’s the fun part: taste your pesto and give it a little personal touch. Then add more salt, pepper, or olive oil if it tickles your taste buds. Enjoy your homemade pesto!”

Oil added to combined pesto ingredients and pulsed to combine.

Tips

  • Fresh Ingredients: Use fresh basil and spinach leaves for the best flavor. Fresh ingredients make a significant difference in the taste of your pesto.
  • Toasting Nuts: Toasting the nuts before adding them to the pesto can enhance their flavor. Just be careful not to over-toast them; they should be slightly golden, not burnt.
  • Cheese Choice: Opt for high-quality Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself. Freshly grated cheese will result in a creamier and tastier pesto.
  • Choice of Oil: Extra virgin olive oil is the traditional choice for pesto, but you can also use avocado oil or other neutral oils. Use a good-quality oil for the best taste.
Blassic basil pesto in a bowl with a wooden spoon set on a wooden table.

Variations and Substitutions

Remember that pesto is highly adaptable, so feel free to get creative and customize it to your liking. You can use these substitutions and variations to create unique and delicious pesto sauces for various dishes.

Substitutions:

  • Nuts: You can substitute traditional pine nuts or walnuts with other nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, or even seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds. This can change the flavor profile of your pesto.
  • Greens: While basil and spinach are classic greens used in pesto, you can replace some or all of them with other greens like spinach, arugula, kale, or parsley. This can make your pesto milder or add a unique flavor.
  • Cheese: You can also experiment with different types of hard cheeses like Pecorino Romano, which has a stronger flavor than parmesan cheese.
  • Garlic: Adjust the amount of garlic to your preference. You can use roasted garlic for a milder flavor or increase the cloves for a stronger garlic taste.: Swap out the traditional extra virgin olive oil for a different oil like avocado oil, walnut oil, or even a flavored oil like garlic-infused olive oil for added complexity.

Variations of Pesto:

  • Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto: Add sun-dried tomatoes to your pesto for a sweet and tangy twist.
  • Roasted Red Pepper Pesto: Combine roasted red peppers with the other ingredients for a smoky and slightly sweet pesto.
  • Lemon Basil Pesto: Add lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice to your pesto for a zesty and bright flavor.
  • Spicy Pesto: Kick up the heat by adding red pepper flakes or a dash of hot sauce to your pesto.
  • Herb-Infused Pesto: Experiment with other herbs like cilantro, mint, or tarragon to create unique flavor profiles.
  • Avocado Pesto: Blend ripe avocado with your pesto ingredients for a creamy and vibrant green avocado pesto.
  • Asian Pesto: Use cilantro, peanuts, ginger, and soy sauce for an Asian-inspired twist on pesto.
  • Artichoke Pesto: Combine artichoke hearts with your pesto ingredients for a rich and tangy pesto.
  • Vegan Pesto: Make a vegan pesto by omitting the cheese or using a dairy-free alternative and ensuring all ingredients are plant-based.
A white plate a pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes.

Recipe FAQs

Why does my pesto turn brown after a while?

Pesto can oxidize and turn brown due to exposure to air. To prevent this, make sure the pesto is stored in an airtight container with a layer of olive oil on top or plastic wrap directly touching the surface to limit air contact.

Can I make nut-free pesto?

Yes, you can make nut-free pesto by omitting the nuts or substituting them with toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds (pepitos).

Can I use frozen basil or spinach for pesto?

While fresh basil and spinach are preferred for the best flavor, you can use frozen basil or spinach in a pinch. Just make sure to thaw and drain them before adding them to your pesto mixture.

How to store pesto

Refrigeration (Short-term storage):

  • Transfer the freshly made pesto to an airtight container.
  • Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto to minimize air contact.
  • Seal the container tightly with a lid.
  • Store in the refrigerator.
  • Homemade pesto can be refrigerated for up to a week

Freezing (Long-term storage):

  • Portion the pesto into ice cube trays or small containers.
  • If using ice cube trays in 1 or 2-tablespoon measurements, freeze until solid, then transfer the frozen pesto cubes to a freezer-safe bag or container.
  • Alternatively, you can freeze larger portions in airtight containers.
  • Label and date the containers or bags.
  • Frozen pesto can be stored for up to 6 months.

Olive Oil Layer (Refrigeration or Freezing):

  • Whether storing in the refrigerator or freezer, consider adding a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before sealing the container.
  • This helps create a protective barrier that prevents air from reaching the pesto and reduces oxidation.

Thawing Frozen Pesto:

  • When you’re ready to use frozen pesto, remove the desired amount from the freezer.
  • Thaw it in the refrigerator or in the microwave on the defrost setting. When defrosting in the microwave, be sure to stop and stir it intermittently.
  • You can also use it directly from the freezer for cooking; it will thaw quickly when heated.
A fork with twirled spaghetti pesto pasta.

What to serve with Homemade Pesto

  • Pesto Pasta: Pesto and pasta are a classic combination. Toss your favorite cooked pasta (like spaghetti, fettuccine, or penne) with pesto for a quick and delicious meal. You can also add grilled chicken, shrimp, or veggies for extra flavor. Give our Slow Cooker Pesto Chicken Pasta a try.
  • Sandwiches and Wraps: Spread pesto on bread, rolls, or tortillas before adding your favorite sandwich ingredients. Pesto pairs well with grilled chicken, turkey, mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh greens.
  • Pizza: Use pesto as a pizza sauce alternative. Spread it on pizza dough or crust and top with ingredients like cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and grilled vegetables.
  • Grilled Meats: Pesto makes an excellent marinade or sauce for grilled meats like chicken, steak, pork chops, or fish. Simply brush it onto the meat before grilling or serve it as a condiment on the side.
  • Salads: Drizzle pesto over green salads or pasta salads for a burst of flavor. It can also be used as a dressing or mixed with yogurt or mayonnaise to create creamy salad dressings.
  • Roasted Vegetables: Toss roasted vegetables like cherry tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, or asparagus with pesto after they come out of the oven. It adds a delightful flavor boost.
  • Potatoes: Mix pesto with boiled or roasted potatoes for a tasty side dish. Pesto-infused mashed potatoes are another delicious option.
  • Eggs: Swirl pesto into scrambled eggs, omelets, or frittatas for a savory and herby twist. It’s also delicious on Shakshuka!
  • Dipping Sauce: Serve pesto as a dip for bread, crackers, or vegetable sticks. It’s a great appetizer or snack.
  • Soups: Add a dollop of pesto to soups like tomato, minestrone, or vegetable for extra depth and richness.
  • Burgers: Use pesto as a condiment for burgers, chicken burgers, or veggie burgers. It adds a burst of flavor and moisture.
  • Pesto Bruschetta: Top toasted baguette slices with a layer of pesto, sliced tomatoes, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese for a tasty appetizer.

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A brown bowl filled with homemade pesto sauce.
Recipe
5 from 6 votes

(click stars to rate)

Homemade Pesto Sauce

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 13 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Nikki Lee
Homemade Basil Pesto is a delicious sauce, spread, or condiment made from a few simple, fresh, and flavorful ingredients. This simple homemade pesto sauce comes together in minutes and tastes so much better than store-bought!
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Ingredients 

  • ½ cup walnuts or pine nuts, toasted (optional)
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, (2.25 ounces)
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • ¾ cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • ¾ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup olive oil or avocado oil

Instructions

  • In a skillet, toast the nuts on very low heat for 3-5 minutes or until slightly golden. Transfer the nuts to the food processor. (This can also be done in a blender)
  • Add the basil, spinach, parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, salt, and pepper to the food processor. Pulse for 10-15 seconds until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the sides and pulse until all the ingredients have been combined.
  • While the food processor is running add the olive oil. Stop and scrape down the sides when needed.
  • Taste and adjust; add more salt, pepper, or olive oil as desired.

Notes

Makes 1 ¼ cups of Pesto
Refrigerator Storage: Transfer the freshly made pesto into an airtight container. To minimize air contact, press plastic wrap directly onto the pesto’s surface before sealing the container with a lid. Homemade pesto can be refrigerated this way for up to a week.
Freezer Storage: Divide the pesto into ice cube trays or small containers. If you choose ice cube trays, freeze until solid and then transfer the frozen pesto cubes to a freezer-safe bag or container. Alternatively, freeze larger portions in airtight containers, remembering to label and date them. Frozen pesto can be stored for up to 6 months.
Oil Layer: Consider adding a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before sealing the container. This olive oil layer acts as a protective barrier, preventing air from reaching the pesto and reducing oxidation.
Thawing Frozen Pesto: When you want to use frozen pesto, remove the desired amount from the freezer. You can thaw it in the refrigerator or in the microwave on the defrost setting. You can also use it directly from the freezer while cooking; it will thaw quickly when heated. 

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1serving Calories: 547kcal (27%) Carbohydrates: 6g (2%) Protein: 9g (18%) Fat: 56g (86%) Saturated Fat: 9g (56%) Polyunsaturated Fat: 13g Monounsaturated Fat: 31g Cholesterol: 16mg (5%) Sodium: 772mg (34%) Potassium: 195mg (6%) Fiber: 1g (4%) Sugar: 1g (1%) Vitamin A: 1503IU (30%) Vitamin C: 6mg (7%) Calcium: 217mg (22%) Iron: 1mg (6%)

Nutritional Disclaimer

Soulfully Made is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.

©️Soulfully Made

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10 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I have always wanted to make homemade pesto, so this recipe came at the best time! So excited to make this in the New Year!!

  2. 5 stars
    This pesto turned out super fresh, creamy and so flavorful! It was perfect tossed with some pasta and veggies for an easy dinner!

  3. 5 stars
    My family loves this recipe for homemade pesto! I’ve always purchased pesto in the past as I didn’t realize how easy it is to make. So much better when it is fresh and homemade.

    1. Thank you, Stephanie! I agree. I have basil in my herb garden and always have nuts on hand so it’s so simple to throw together for a quick meal or dip. Whens it’s fresh you just can’t beat it.