Classic Basil Pesto can be made in just minutes using fresh ingredients like sweet basil, minced garlic, and roasted pine nuts. In this traditional recipe, there’s also Parmesan cheese, coarse salt and pepper to taste, then blended together with olive oil. This sauce can elevate any pasta dish or make a wonderful spread on a sandwich, even top a grilled salmon steak. Once you make this beautiful homemade sauce, you may never want store-bought again.
Also known as pesto alla genovese, pesto sauce has been around for a very long time. Without going into it’s history, this is a traditional basic recipe to work from. In other words, you can customize the recipe to better satisfy your needs. We’ll get more into that later.
Classic Basil Pesto
Looking at the ingredients, let’s start with the sweet basil first. For this recipe, you’re going to need 2 cups of packed basil leaves, but you can substitute spinach or parsley if you run short on basil.
I buy 2 of the live potted plants from the produce department at my local grocery store, yet still have to add some spinach to get my 2 cups.
I will warn you, plucking the leaves can take some time. They should sell bags of basil leaves like they do spinach. A girl can wish.
Roughly grate a chunk of fresh Parmesan, or use the grated cheese we all have for sprinkling on our spaghetti dinner.
Definitely take the 3 minutes it takes to roast your pine nuts. It’s optional, but it really makes the difference in bringing out the robust flavor in these little nuts.
If you’re fresh out of pine nuts, you can substitute almonds, walnuts, or pecans. Pine nuts are the traditional nut used, but we all have our favorites.
If you’re unsure how to roast them, it’s this easy. Throw them into a pan, no oil or butter. Set the heat on medium and stir them often for about 3 minutes. Take them off the stove when they turn golden brown and let them cool on a plate. That’s it.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It’s fine to use other oils such as grape seed oil or canola oil, so long as it’s a lighter flavored oil.
Add Your Favorites
This sauce is fantastic just as the recipe reads, but you may want to customize it based on your preferences, or what you have on hand.
Adding cilantro as part of the 2 cups would be fun, or throw in some crushed red pepper flakes for a little heat.
Another really nice addition is a bit of lemon rind, maybe a teaspoon or a tablespoon if you’re a true lemon lover.
You can add or change the spices however you like. It’s mind blowing when you think about how many different spices are out there.
Making the Classic Basil Pesto
First, start by roasting those pine nuts. While those are cooling, set up the food processor or blender.
Load the basil leaves, grated Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper into the processor. The pesto will never be smooth, but rather grainy with tiny bits of chopped up ingredients. The bright green color is gorgeous.
After processing, add the olive oil until thoroughly blended, you may need to scrape the sides some.
Looking for other Italian recipes? These are delicious:
- Baked Tortellini with Sausage
- Creamy Spinach Prosciutto Tortellini
- Cheese Manicotti
- Spicy Turkey Spinach Roll Ups
- Italian Pasta and Lettuce Salad
Classic Basil Pesto
- Food Processor or blender
- 2 cups fresh sweet basil, packed
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- In small sauce pan, roast pine nuts on medium heat, stirring often, for about 3 minutes until golden brown. Remove to plate to cool.
- In food processor, load basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper.
- Add olive oil. Scrape sides as necessary. Enjoy!
- If short on basil, use spinach, parsley, or kale.
- If short on pine nuts, use walnuts, pecan, or almonds
- If short on olive oil, use a light-flavored oil like canola or grapeseed
Serving Classic Basil Pesto Sauce
Classic Basil Pesto can be served hot, warm, or cold. Try it on a delicious Pesto Tortellini Salad, or try spreading it on a grilled turkey and Swiss sandwich. It really elevates a simple sandwich.
It also goes great on top of a grilled salmon steak, and you just can’t beat it with hot spaghetti.
However and where ever you use it, I hope you’ll follow me on Pinterest and post a picture of your Classic Basil Pesto. We’d all love to see it.
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