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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!
Why We Love This Homemade Pesto Sauce Recipe!
- Quick and Easy: Making homemade pesto is a breeze and takes just a few minutes with a food processor or blender. It’s a convenient option for busy weeknight dinners.
- Versatile: Pesto is incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes, from pasta to sandwiches, salads, grilled meats, and more.
- Endless Possibilities: The variations and substitutions you can apply to pesto recipes make it an endless source of culinary creativity. You can adapt it to fit different cuisines and flavors.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, you can make nut-free pesto by omitting the nuts or substituting them with toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds (pepitos).
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.
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.
Easy Italian Dinner Recipes to Try
- Creamy Sausage Tortellini Pasta
- Italian Artichoke Medley with Pasta
- Spicy Spaghetti Pasta (not really spicy, but you can easily adapt the heat level)
- Easy Stuffed Shells
- Ultimate Baked Spaghetti Casserole
- Easy Baked Ziti
Homemade Pesto Sauce
- 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
- 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.
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.