The Best Classic Pesto

The Best Classic Pesto

February 4, 2020   |  by Shannon   |   Jump to Recipe

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.

Pesto Facts!

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. 

Oh hello! I didn't see you there, just making some pesto for dinner tonight. Although I'm planning to get a mortar and pestle soon, I've always used my food processor to satisfy my pesto addiction.

How cool is that?!!!  A mortar and pestle is now officially at the top of my list of kitchen tools to invest in!

Pesto Pasta

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!

My trusty food processor. Can you say you love your food processor without sounding crazy? If you're looking for a food processor, I highly recommend this one. Click to view on Amazon! [aff. link]

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 my favorite brand and deal for nutritional yeast. You really can't beat the flavor, quality, quantity, and price point! Click the photo to view 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!)

Here's the texture you're going for before you add in the cheese and olive oil!

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. 

Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

The Best Classic Pesto

Pesto may be my favorite food. That’s right, my favorite food, not just sauce! I probably enjoy it at least once a week. Here is my very favorite, classic Italian pesto recipe. I’ve made this showstopping pesto for years, and it’s truly perfect for any occasion!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time20 mins
Servings: 6

Ingredients

The base:

  • 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

Instructions

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!

Notes

This pesto is gluten free!
This pesto can be made vegan by omitting the cheese.
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.
Cashew pieces are just about the cheapest nut out there. (Cashew pieces are cheaper than whole cashews. And since we’re processing them anyway, you don’t need the cashews to be whole!)
With their mild flavor and creamy texture, cashews are a good substitute for pine nuts in pesto.  You’ll still get a to-die-for pesto with cashew pieces!

I’m Shannon, thanks for visiting!  When I’m not on an adventure with my 4 year old, I’m developing plant-based recipes or watching a Classic Film!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Ah, you’ve touched on a recipe that’s near and dear to my heart as well! I loved reading this post, Shannon. First of all, I love all things Italian…so, of course, pesto ranks pretty high up there on my list. Second, pesto has such great flavor! We often make a huge batch at the end of the summer. I’ll buy several basil starter plants, and by end of September they are huge. Perfect for a round of pesto-making! (I’d let them go longer, but there’s always a chance of freezing after late September here and I don’t want to run the risk of losing my basil!) Have you ever tried freezing pesto? We freeze it in ice cube trays. The next day we pop out the cubes (sometimes with a butter knife) and then freeze them in a big bag. Then you have pesto “bombs” for easy meals or to drop into soup. Now that I’ve talked your ear off, I’ll stop here. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

    1. Thank you so much David! Isn’t Italian food the best?!! Freezing pesto sounds like such an amazing idea, I so need to try that! And what an excellent idea to use ice cube trays to make pesto bombs, absolutely genius!

  2. I love pesto, too! I also love the way you plated the spaghetti for these photos. How cool!

    1. Thank you so much Jeff! 💗 Pesto is my absolute FAVORITE!

  3. You are adorable! This made me laugh because it’s my husband’s favorite food as well. I’ve always said that he could eat pesto on ice cream! A friend of mine who blogs and is very scientific about cooking compared mortar and pestle made pesto vs that made in a food processor, and there is supposed to be a significant difference! But I will continue to make it in my food processor because in the summer I make huge batches of it, without cheese, and freeze in jars. It works really well. I will never make it by hand….

    1. Haha that is so awesome!!! Your husband has excellent culinary tastes! Always happy to find a fellow pesto lover. 😃 And that is so interesting to hear about the mortar and pestle vs. the food processor. Just makes me want to try making pesto with a mortar and pestle even more! But you are so so right, you just can’t beat the food processor when it comes to quantity! I love the idea of making huge pesto batches in the summer and freezing it. So so great for months when basil is harder to come by, or on a night when you want a quick meal without sacrificing flavor!

  4. Ahh, a fellow pesto lover! Firstly, those pasta swirls look AMAZING! I don’t know how you did it and how much patience that required but it was absolutely worth it. And thanks so much for sharing your pesto recipe, I am definitely going to be trying this one out!

    1. Thank you Katerina! Haha the swirls definitely take some time, but for pesto pasta I will do anything! 😆

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