I don’t always have a green thumb, but the one thing I seem to be able to master fairly consistently is growing fresh herbs. One of my favorites to grow and use in my kitchen are basil plants and I put them to work regularly with this homemade basil pesto sauce.
Our family has some Italian heritage, so pasta is often on the dinner menu. We all love a good marinara or garlicky alfredo sauce but I adore the simplicity and brightness of this basil-based sauce. Plus, it has cheese.
Whether it’s a quick weeknight dinner or a larger gathering, this is one of my favorite recipes to whip up with a handful of ingredients that I usually already have. It’s also easy to make ahead and store in the fridge or freezer so I almost always have it ready to go to sauce my spaghetti, slather on veggies, or make a quick dip.
Table of Contents
What is Basil Pesto?
The flat parsley helps to round it all out with its mild flavor. The final product is a beautiful bright green sauce.
Basil pesto combines just a few simple ingredients to make a quick, easy sauce. While the sweet basil with its fresh flavor is the key ingredient, salty cheese and crunchy pine nuts impart their own flavor and texture.
The best part about pesto is that it’s such an incredibly versatile sauce. It makes a great pasta sauce, of course, going with long to short shapes, and it’s even great for stuffed pastas like ravioli.
It’s also a great addition to meats and vegetables and you can even add it to butter or other sauces.
I also love that it’s so easy to make. Just grab your ingredients, toss them in the food processor and — voilá — you have your sauce. It comes together in mere minutes.
If this is your first time making your own pesto, you’re in for a treat. Next time you think about buying a jar, turn to this recipe instead.
- Pine nuts– these add just the right amount of texture and flavor to pesto. If you want even more nutty flavor, you can toast them before adding them to the recipe.
- Parmesan Reggiano cheese– make sure to grate this cheese so that it’s fine enough to mix well and combine thoroughly with the rest of the ingredients. It’s best to grate it yourself for the freshest flavor.
- Fresh garlic cloves– What Italian food is complete without the addition of garlic? You can add more or less to taste.
- Fresh basil leaves– Make sure to pack these tightly when measuring. This ingredient is the star of the show, after all, so you want to make sure to have plenty of it.
- Flat parsley– Flat parsley brings a brightness to this recipe. It’s also far more flavorful than the curly-leafed variety.
- Extra-virgin olive oil– Don’t skimp on this ingredient. With so few ingredients, pesto relies on all of them being high quality to get the best end results.
- Fine sea salt and pepper– Use these to round out the flavor of the other ingredients.
How To Use Basil Pesto
- Toss with your favorite pasta, especially varieties like cavatappi, fettuccine, and capellini
- Drizzle over a caprese salad
- Make pesto chicken by saucing it after you take it off the grill or out of the oven
- Add bright color and flavor by making a pesto pizza
- Dip veggies it it or use it as a salad dressing
- Mix it with sour cream or Greek yogurt for a fun dip
- Spread it on your favorite bread (focaccia and ciabatta are great choices as well as garlic bread)
- Mix with butter to make a colorful compound butter
- Add extra flavor by stirring it into your mashed or smashed potatoes
- Dip french fries, mozzarella sticks, or baked zucchini sticks
- Elevate your vegetables by brushing them with pesto before roasting
- Take your morning breakfast up a notch by serving this to put on eggs or hash browns
- Kick up an alfredo sauce by adding a dollop or two
- Mix with your ricotta when making stuffed shells, manicotti, or lasagna
- Sunflower seeds– If you’re allergic to pine nuts or you just don’t have any on hand, sunflower seeds are a solid swap.
- Greens– For a milder pesto, add baby spinach or increase the amount of fresh parsley.
- Roast the garlic– instead of just mincing it, try roasting the garlic with olive oil.
- Cheese– You can substitute another hard cheese for the parmesan cheese. Asiago, grana padano, and pecorino romano cheese are all good options.
- Nutritional yeast– If you’re avoiding dairy or living a vegan lifestyle you can substitute nutritional yeast for the cheese.
- Lemon juice- Adding citrus to this sauce is a great way to brighten it even more.
- Red pepper– If you want to add a little heat, toss in some crushed red pepper flakes.
Store any leftover basil pesto sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week or in a freezer bag in the freezer for three months. Alternatively, spoon the mixture into an ice cube tray to make pesto cubes. Store in the freezer so that you have it ready in small portions whenever you want it.
If you’ve tried this recipe, please come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings.
More Homemade Sauces
- Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe
- Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce Recipe
- Sweet Thai Chili Sauce Recipe
- Cilantro Sauce
Basil Pesto Sauce Recipe
- 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan Reggiano cheese grated
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
- 1/4 cup flat parsley packed
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt and pepper
- Place pine nuts in a large food processor. Pulse until a paste forms.
- Add parmesan reggiano cheese, garlic, basil, parsley, olive oil, fine salt and pepper. Pulse until a grainy pesto is formed.
- Toss with pasta, make pesto bread, use a marinade for chicken or fish, or use as a salad dressing. This can be refrigerated for up to a week.
- If you tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings!