Updated Jun 20, 2023
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Basil pesto is my go-to summer sauce! It’s amazingly flavorful, deliciously aromatic, and adaptable enough to slather on pretty much anything. You just need a few fresh ingredients like basil leaves, olive oil, lemon juice, nuts, garlic, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Before we dive into the recipe, I just have to reiterate this point – homemade basil pesto tastes a million times better than anything store-bought! While I’m sure we’ve all bought jars of pesto in a pinch, nothing compares to the fresh scent and robust flavor of newly pureed basil leaves.
This basil pesto recipe is a replica of the fresh and authentic pesto I’ve enjoyed on numerous trips to Italy. And today, the smell of pesto has a magical way of transporting me back to the Italian Riviera, while getting my stomach primed for what I know will be a delicious meal.
Basil Pesto Recipe Ingredients
All you need is a handful of fresh ingredients:
- Olive Oil & Lemon Juice: Since there’s a good amount of olive oil, I recommend selecting a high-quality one. I love to use the brand Lucini Italia (which I’ve linked in the recipe card below).
- Nuts: You’ll need a mix of raw pine nuts and cashews. Let me emphasize the “raw” part as you don’t want extra salt or “roasted” flavors added to this sauce.
- Basil Leaves: When summer is in full swing, the markets have an abundance of fresh basil! Choose basil that is not wilting and looks extra fresh and green.
- Aromatics: Garlic, salt, and pepper tie everything together.
- Cheese: If you enjoy cheese, splurge on the good stuff. Don’t ever buy those bags of pre-grated parmesan cheese. Not only do they lack flavor, but they may also include unnecessary ingredients. I recommend a high-quality cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano and grate it yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Can you make this a vegan basil pesto? Absolutely! I often make this recipe without cheese for an easy, dairy-free option, especially if I have guests with a dairy sensitivity. The cashews in the recipe add much of the creaminess that the cheese would normally provide, so I find that it’s certainly not missing anything if you go without cheese.
How To Make Basil Pesto
You can use a food processor or a high-powered blender to make basil pesto. Just note that the blender will give a slightly smoother consistency. So depending on the texture you prefer, you have two choices!
Add all the ingredients to a food processor or blender. Before adding everything, I love to toast the pine nuts and cashews in a skillet to give them a delicious, toasted flavor. But this is optional.
Blend the pesto. If you’re using a food processor, pulse until the ingredients are all pureed. If using a high-powered blender, slowly turn the speed to high and use the tamper to push down the ingredients until it’s perfectly creamy.
Helpful tip: If you’re using a high-powered blender, don’t halve or reduce the quantity. You need a minimum amount of ingredients in order for your blender to process the sauce properly.
Ways to Use Basil Pesto
Use this basil pesto recipe with just about anything! It’ll instantly elevate the flavor of any dish with its aromatic, herby, nutty, garlicky, and all-around divine flavor.
- Toss into pasta or salads. Basil pesto pasta is a classic. But I love to toss it with this zucchini noodle caprese or pesto chicken salad for a fresh green twist.
- Use it as a spread. The options are endless here. Use it as a spread in a sandwich, onto breakfast toast with eggs and ham, on top of baked salmon and baked chicken, or as a layer in this zucchini lasagna.
- Make pesto eggs! Cook some fried or scrambled eggs and slather pesto on top. The results are chefs kiss!
- Spoon over hummus. Give your hummus some oomph by spooning a bit of pesto on top — like in my roasted beet hummus.
- To store in the fridge: If you’re meal-prepping for the week, a jar of pesto will be extra handy! Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for 4 to 5 days. To keep it extra fresh, make sure there’s a nice layer of oil on top before storing away (you can always add an extra drizzle of oil if needed).
- To freeze for later: You can freeze basil pesto for quick and easy meals! Just pour any leftovers into a silicone ice cube tray and freeze it, then transfer to a storage container. It will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer. When you’d like to enjoy it, simply thaw a basil pesto cube and add it to your favorite meal.
More Recipes with Basil
- Marinara Sauce: Homemade marinara is the way to go, just like this pesto.
- Melon Mozzarella Salad with Basil: This is for all the summer melon lovers.
- Caprese Salad: A classic salad you should always know how to make.
- Basil Chicken with Kumquats: Give baked chicken a fresh, summery twist!
This basil pesto recipe will become a summer staple in your kitchen. Once you make it, let me know your thoughts in the comment box below!
- Toast the pine nuts and cashews in a skillet on medium-low heat for 5 minutes, tossing gently. Then place them in your food processor or blender.
- Add the remaining pesto ingredients to the blender. If using a food processor, pulse until the ingredients are mixed. If using a blender, slowly turn the speed to high and use the tamper to push the ingredients into the blades until the pesto is smooth and creamy.
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Recipe originally posted July 2018, but updated to include new photos and information.