According to my Italian grandmother, homemade pesto is probably one of the best sauces to have in your cooking repertoire. It’s easy to whip up at any time of year, because of the wide availability of basil, but it’s especially wonderful during basil season. Basil is at peak season in the summer, so it's the best time to try out this parmesan basil pesto sauce! One of my favorite ways to use pesto is on a pizza, so whip up a batch of homemade pizza dough to go along with your pesto!Jump to Recipe
Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy. Like many Italian recipes, pesto can get pretty controversial. If you speak to a purist, they’ll tell you that you absolutely cannot use lemon in any way, and you have to make pesto by hand with a mortar and pestle. While that sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon, I have become accustomed to modernities like…electricity…and…appliances. So I use a food processor. You can also use a high-powered blender. Just make sure it can handle the low amount of moisture in this recipe.
Since this sauce uses such simple, fresh ingredients, it's important that they are high quality.
- basil - if you aren’t growing a monster basil plant in your garden, or you don’t have an army of basil plants on your kitchen window sill, you can most definitely buy some basil from the grocery store or your farmer’s market to make this sauce.
- parmesan cheese - this is called a PARMESAN basil pesto sauce. This recipe has a whole cup of freshly grated cheese. Many other pesto recipes out there will stop you at about ¼ of a cup of parmesan cheese, but my needs cannot be met with such paltry cheese conditions. I NEED MORE. So, I added it.
- garlic - this recipe calls for about 4-5 cloves of garlic. Just know, I often add more. I am a proud #garlicgirl, and not afraid of it. If you are also a #garlicgirl, please, please message me on social media, and let’s discuss it. I love connecting over a mutual adoration of garlic!
- lemon - lemon isn't always in traditional pesto recipes. But here, we have it in two forms: (gasp!) freshly juiced and zested.
- pine nuts - pine nuts are lightly toasted and allowed to cool before being crushed and combined with the remaining ingredients. The high fat content of pine nuts helps bind together the other ingredients of this sauce.
- olive oil - a high-quality olive oil is essential for a high-quality pesto. Are you seeing a trend here?!
- salt - kosher salt is used to help balance out the flavor, but much isn't needed thanks to the saltiness of the parmesan cheese.
Once you’ve separated your basil leaves from the stems, homemade pesto comes together pretty easily. You can technically just cram everything into the food processor at once and blitz it if you’re impatient. I have tested this method, and while it yields a slightly chunkier pesto, it still completely satisfies the urge.
- roasted garlic - use roasted garlic instead of fresh for a sweeter, deeper garlic flavor in your pesto.
- walnuts - if you don't have pine nuts on hand, I've made this pesto with walnuts too.
- classic - lower the content of parmesan cheese to ¼ of a cup for a more traditional, classic pesto recipe.
- parsley - use parsley instead of basil for a fresh take on pesto.
- food processor - a good, high-powered food processor or blender is needed to make homemade pesto. Alternatively, you can use a mortar and pestal, but it will take a little elbow grease. 😅
- storage jars - I like to store my pesto in these smaller 4-ounce jars from Ball Canning.
- spatula - these silicone spatulas from Gir are perfect for scooping your pesto and portioning it out. As a bonus, they do not absorb color or odor.
People will tell you that the one downside to pesto is that once opened (or made, in this case), it “goes bad” very quickly. It's true, pesto does typically have a shorter shelf life once opened. But freshly made pesto can be kept longer with this one lil’ trick: top the jar of pesto with about ¼ inch of olive oil! This layer of olive oil creates a barrier between the pesto and the air, which slows oxidation. That’s what turns your lovely green pesto into an unappetizing shade of brown. If you’re looking to store your pesto longer term, you can always freeze it in ice cube trays! I love these ones from Tovolo.
Keep an eye on the portion size of the basil container. It will likely take 2-3 containers of basil to make this recipe. Basil is typically sold in 2 or 3-ounce containers, and a large portion of that weight is, unfortunately, stems. I used three 2-ounce packages of basil for this recipe, and the weight of the basil leaves equaled 4 ounces. When I filled a measuring cup, the total was approximately 4 cups, lightly packed.
Homemade pesto can be stored for up to two weeks without turning in the fridge, as long as you cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil, or plastic wrap, to keep the air from oxidizing the basil. You can also freeze your pesto for longer storage.
If your pesto is bitter, there is a possibility that the olive oil or pine nuts you are using have gone bad or turned rancid. Be sure to taste a little bit of olive oil and one of the pine nuts once toasted to ensure they're still of good quality.
If you make this recipe, please leave a review in the comments and a star rating!
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Parmesan Basil Pesto Sauce
- 1 food processor
- 1 spatula
- 4 4 oz jars
- 4 oz basil leaves, trimmed from stem approximately 4 cups, lightly packed, from about three 2 oz packages
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup parmesan cheese grated
- ¼ cup olive oil extra virgin
- Toast pine nuts over medium-low heat in a saucepan until golden brown. Allow them to cool completely.
- Add garlic cloves, lemon juice, lemon zest, and cooled pine nuts to a food processor and pulse until a paste forms—about 60 seconds.
- Add basil leaves and pulse, stopping to scrape down the food processor when needed, until the basil leaves are all roughly chopped.
- Add parmesan cheese & pulse for 30-60 seconds.
- With the food processor running, slowly stream in ¼ cup of olive oil, or until your desired pesto consistency is reached. For a chunkier pesto, use less oil. For a smoother, more liquid consistency, you can add more olive oil.
- Divide pesto in 4 oz jars about ⅔ full, leave about half an inch for topping with olive oil. This will create a barrier and keep your pesto fresher longer!