The Best Classic Pesto
Pesto may be my favorite food. That’s right, my favorite food, not just sauce! I probably make pesto at least once a week.
Today I’m finally sharing my very favorite Classic Pesto recipe.
Genoese pesto, the gorgeous green sauce consisting of pine nuts, garlic, hard cheese, and basil, is what usually comes to mind when we think of pesto. But did you know that “pesto” is actually a term for any dish that is made from pounding or crushing?
I recently learned from a dear Italian friend of mine (who makes a showstopping pesto himself!) that the name “pesto” actually derives from the way this delicious sauce was traditionally prepared—with a mortar and pestle.
How cool is that?!!! A mortar and pestle is now officially at the top of my list of kitchen tools to invest in!
I quite literally love pesto on just about everything! (And my Classic Pesto recipe makes about 1 ½ cups, so you’ll most likely have more than enough to make a few meals from one batch!) I’ll share one of my favorite ways to use my pesto recipe as a pizza/flatbread sauce later this month, but today it’s all about using pesto in the most classic way, as a pasta sauce.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until more recently that pesto became popular in the US. Lucky for me, my mom was on top of this culinary trend, and growing up, I remember her serving us pesto pasta (usually gnocchi) for dinner on special occasions after she fell in love with this perfect sauce on a trip to Italy.
I know I’ll never forget the first time I had pesto in Italy on my first trip to Florence in 2008. And Andrew will tell you, when we had the chance to visit Florence and Romito Magra together just over a year ago, I ordered pesto at almost every meal, and even bought a jar of pesto at the local grocery store next to our Airbnb (I’m usually a huge snob about making your own pesto, but I”ll tell you, even jarred pesto in Italy is simply amazing!)
Pesto really is that delicious: it’s a sauce to make and enjoy at home, as well as an irresistible dish to order at a restaurant. Even though I make my Classic Pesto so frequently, I still find myself scouring the menu for anything with “pesto” in the title or description when my family and I go out to eat.
Make my delicious Classic Pesto for dinner this week, and I’m sure you’ll be as crazy about this quintessential Italian sauce as I am!
A Few Things!
Even though I’m currently looking for a mortar and pestle so I can make my pesto the traditional way, I’ve always relied on my trusty food processor to make amazing pesto. Use whatever your favorite processing/blending device is (there are so many these days!), but if you’re looking for a really good food processor, here’s the one I recommend on Amazon [aff. link]. I’ve had mine for just about ten years now, and after almost daily use, it still processes like it’s brand new. I’ve been so happy with this purchase!
Vegan Pesto?!! YES!!!
When I was vegan for two years, I still enjoyed pesto! Yes, pesto is still amazing, even without the cheese! If you’re vegan, make my Classic Pesto, and simply omit the Parmesan and Pecorino, or substitute 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast. Here is my favorite nutritional yeast on Amazon [aff. link].
This is a great brand, and you can’t beat the quantity, quality, and price! (And for any non-vegan readers, nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast. These little yellow flakes have a cheesy, nutty flavor, and are a great cheese substitute! And with 8 grams of protein and 60 calories in ¼ cup, nutritional yeast is a healthy, tasty way to work more protein into your meals.)
A Helpful Hint! (Or Two!)
And in case it’s helpful, here is a picture with the texture we’re going for after processing the pine nuts, garlic, basil, and sea salt. You’re really looking for a nice, mostly smooth, green paste before you add in the cheese (if using) and then the olive oil.
Finally, see the note in my recipe card for more details, but if your grocery budget is tight this week and you simply must have pesto (I speak from experience!), I recommend subbing the pine nuts in this recipe with cashew pieces.
The Best Classic Pesto
- ¾ cup pine nuts
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 4 cups basil, rinsed
The cheese (omit to keep this pesto vegan):
- 1/3 cup Pecorino, freshly grated or ground
- 1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated or ground
(Omit the cheese to keep this pesto vegan, and add 2 Tbsps nutritional yeast, if desired)
The olive oil:
- ¾ cup olive oil
Process the pine nuts and garlic
- In the bowl of your food processor (or preferred blending/processing device), add the pine nuts and garlic cloves.
- Pulse a few times, then process until the pine nuts and garlic are smooth and combined.
Add the basil and sea salt
- Now add the basil and sea salt to the pine nut/garlic mixture. Process again until a mostly smooth, green paste forms. (See picture above for consistency.)
Add the cheese (if using)
- Now add the Pecorino and Parmesan.
- Process again until the cheese has completely incorporated
- (You can omit the cheese to keep this pesto vegan, and it is still absolutely delicious! Try adding a total of 2 Tbsps nutritional yeast to your vegan pesto for a cheesey flavor!)
Add the olive oil
- Lastly, add the olive oil to the food processor. Process until the olive oil incorporates completely into the rest of the ingredients.
- The pesto is done! Enjoy as a pasta sauce, pizza sauce, dipping sauce, etc. I think the options for pesto are almost limitless!
- This recipe makes about 1 ½ cups pesto. I use it to make pesto pasta, then I use the leftover pesto to make my favorite flatbread pizzas!
To Make Pesto Pasta
- Bring 12-14 cups of salted water (I use scant 1Tbsp sea salt) to a boil.
- Cook 1 pound of pasta according to package instructions, drain it, and put the pasta back in the pot.
- Now add a few Tbsps of pesto to the pasta. With tongs or a spoon and fork, toss the pesto into the pasta.
- Continue adding more pesto to the pasta and tossing until you have coated the pasta with your desired amount of pesto.
- Add more pesto to each individual serving of pesto pasta, sprinkle with Parmesan if desired, and serve!
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