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. Which often means that I have too much…
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.
What is Basil Pesto?
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 flat parsley helps to round it all out with its mild flavor. The final product is a beautiful bright green sauce.
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 pasta 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.
Why You’ll Love Basil Pesto Sauce
A delightfully fresh sauce that only takes 7 ingredients to make- what’s not to love!
- Easy – There’s very little prep time — your food processor will do all of the work! And you needn’t worry about cleanup, either, since all you’ll need to wash is the bowl of the food processor.
- Versatile – Basil pesto takes any dish to the next level, from pasta and pasta salad, pizza, and proteins to veggies and starches. You can even use it as a sandwich spread.
- Customizable – There are tons of ways to adapt this recipe to change up the flavor profile.
All you need are these 7 simple ingredients to make this brightly flavored basil pesto sauce.
- 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 black pepper– Use these to round out the flavor of the other ingredients.
What To Serve Basil Pesto With
One of the most popular ways to use basil pesto is to toss with your favorite pasta, especially varieties like cavatappi, fettuccine, and capellini. You can also drizzle it over a caprese salad, add bright color and flavor by spreading it on a homemade pizza, dip veggies in it, or use it as a salad dressing.
Also, try spreading it on your favorite crusty bread (focaccia and ciabatta are great choices, as well as garlic bread), mixing it with butter to make a colorful compound butter — or you can use it to add extra flavor by stirring it into your mashed or smashed potatoes. At our house, we also love to use it as a dipping sauce for french fries, mozzarella sticks, or baked zucchini sticks into it.
How to Make Fresh Basil Pesto
In just a few quick steps, you can make this easy sauce.
- Blend pine nuts. Pulse pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor until they become pasty.
- Add rest of ingredients. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse again until you read the desired consistency.
- Store or serve. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.
While we keep the base recipe of this basil pesto sauce simple, you can dress this pesto up with all sorts of add-ins or substitutes.
- Sunflower seeds– If you’re allergic to pine nuts or you just don’t have any on hand, make a nut-free pesto. 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, make a vegan pesto by substituting nutritional yeast for the cheese.
- Citrus– Adding a little lemon juice 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.
Storage, Make Ahead and Freezing
This fresh pesto is easy to store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Make Ahead: Since this basil pesto sauce keeps for up to a week, you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator for when you need it.
Refrigerator: Store any leftover pesto sauce in an airtight container (or covered in plastic wrap) in the refrigerator for up to one week
Freezer: Store in a freezer bag in the freezer for three months. Alternatively, spoon the mixture into ice cube trays to make pesto cubes. Store in the freezer so that you have it ready in small portions whenever you want it.
Common Questions About Basil Pesto Sauce
Basil pesto sauce is a simple blend of fresh basil and garlic cloves with cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, parsley, salt, and pepper.
Basil pesto can be eaten with so many different things. Use it as a topping for proteins like chicken or salmon, spread it on crostini or sandwiches, or toss it with pasta.
Since it contains olive oil, pesto is a heart-healthy sauce. It also contains nutrients from the basil, cheese, and garlic.
We do not suggest making pesto with dried basil. The flavor is different and so is the consistency since dried herbs don’t have the same liquid content.
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 the pine nuts in a large food processor. Pulse until a paste forms.
- Add the 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!