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If there’s a classic summer flavor, this homemade basil pesto recipe is it! There are many variations, but I’m going to show you how to make pesto sauce with just 5 ingredients… and from there you can make easy swaps to make it your own. Either way, it’s ready in just 5 minutes and offers the perfect solution to your too-much-basil “problem” in the summer (please tell me it’s not just me!).
Pesto sauce adds such great flavor to just about anything. Try it on fish, grilled chicken, sandwiches, veggies, or whisk it into salad dressings or mayonnaise. It’s incredibly versatile and I recommend always having a stash in your fridge or freezer. Next time you find yourself with a big pile of basil leaves fresh off the plant, you need to make some!
Basil Pesto Recipe: Why You’ll Love It
- Bright, fresh, herby taste
- Aromatic and creamy
- 5 simple ingredients (plus salt and pepper)
- Just 5 minutes to make
- Healthy, naturally low carb, and packed with flavor
- Perfect for pasta, meats, veggies, and Italian dishes
What Is Pesto?
Pesto is a bright green sauce typically made from fresh basil, garlic, nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. It originated in Genoa, Italy. Although it’s commonly used as a pasta sauce, pesto can also work as a condiment or marinade for meats and veggies.
Pesto Ingredients & Substitutions
This section explains how to choose the best ingredients for this homemade pesto recipe, what each one does in the recipe, and substitution options. For measurements, see the recipe card below.
Wondering what pesto is made of? You only need 5 ingredients, plus salt and pepper, and they are easy to customize:
- Nuts – A classic basil pesto recipe uses pine nuts, but you could use macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, or cashews instead. For a nut free pesto sauce, replace the nuts with seeds, such as pepitas or sunflower seeds.
- Fresh Basil – Fresh basil leaves are the star of the show here! This is the most traditional option, but you can also substitute arugula, spinach, cilantro, parsley, mint, or kale leaves. You can also add oven dried tomatoes, in addition to or instead of the greens. The finished flavor and texture will vary depending on what you use.
- Grated Parmesan Cheese – You could also use pecorino romano or Asiago cheese. To make paleo, dairy free, or vegan pesto, simply omit the cheese and add a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast instead.
- Olive Oil – Choose extra virgin olive oil for the most traditional choice — its rich and fruity flavor complements the herbs and garlic. Regular olive oil also works if that’s what you have on hand, or you can experiment with other oils, but the flavor will be different.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic is best for this pesto recipe, but you could use 1 teaspoon of minced jarred garlic for convenience.
- Sea Salt & Black Pepper
VARIATION: Add lemon juice!
This is not required, but adding 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice makes pesto last longer, preserves the bright green color, and adds a tangy flavor.
How To Make Pesto Sauce
This section shows how to make pesto, with step-by-step photos and details about the technique, to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
- Chop the nuts. Since we are blending the pesto sauce anyway, the easiest way to do this is to place nuts into a powerful blender or food processor, and pulse several times until broken up into smaller pieces.
- Add the other ingredients. Add the olive oil, garlic, cheese, basil, salt, and pepper into the blender or food processor. Push the basil leaves into the olive oil.
- Blend. Pulse intermittently intermittently, until the pesto recipe reaches your desired consistency. Scrape the sides occasionally with a spatula as needed.
Tips For The Best Pesto Recipe
Pesto recipes are very simple to make, but here are a few tips I discovered that might be helpful:
- Don’t over-process. In the first step, only pulse the nuts until they are broken up. If you over-process, you will end up with nut butter! If you’re using a blender, it might work better to chop the nuts instead and then just add with the other ingredients.
- For larger food processors, add the oil in a thin stream. If your food processor is large and the blade is much higher than the bottom of the food processor, don’t add the oil with the other ingredients, because it might not mix well. Instead, gradually pour in a thin stream while the food processor is running.
- Pulse intermittently. The texture of pesto sauce can get too fine pretty quickly, so it’s better to pulse the blender or food processor (starting and stopping, instead of blending constantly) to reach the consistency you want.
- No food processor? Use a mortar and pestle! A mortar and pestle is the traditional method for making this recipe. Chop the nuts by hand and mash the garlic first, followed by pine nuts, basil leaves and salt (in batches), cheese, olive oil, and pepper. Make sure the pestle crushes each ingredient into a fine paste before proceeding to the next one.
- Adjust oil as needed. The amount you need can vary depending on how you measure your ingredients and how thick you want your pesto sauce to be. If it’s too thick, just add more oil.
Store homemade pesto in a mason jar or airtight container in the refrigerator.
How Long Does Pesto Last?
Homemade pesto lasts up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Can You Freeze Pesto?
Yes, you can freeze pesto sauce for up to 6 months. Simply pour it into small, freezer-safe containers or an ice cube tray, and freeze until solid. Pop the pieces out and transfer them to a freezer bag for long-term storage.
Ways To Use Pesto Sauce
Once you’ve learned how to make this pesto sauce recipe, you might wonder what to do with it! There are so many ways to enjoy this fresh and herby condiment. Here are some ideas:
- Chicken – Make pesto chicken with it, or use it as a marinade for juicy baked chicken breast, crispy grilled chicken legs, or even chicken leg quarters.
- Seafood – I love homemade pesto sauce for pesto salmon, but it would be perfect drizzled on crispy broiled salmon or juicy shrimp skewers, too.
- Eggs – Fry eggs directly in a thin layer of pesto, or drizzle on top of cloud eggs.
- Veggies – For a burst of fresh flavor, add a few spoonfuls of pesto to your roasted vegetables! You can also use it as a dressing for antipasto salad or shrimp salad, or drizzle it over Caprese skewers.
- Pasta – The most common way to use pesto is on pasta! Try it with your favorite noodles, or with healthier options like zucchini noodles, baked spaghetti squash, or low carb pasta.
- Italian Dishes – I’m a huge fan of swapping this for the sauce in my zucchini lasagna, but you can also use it as the sauce on cauliflower pizza crust or serve with sausage and peppers.
Tools For This Pesto Recipe
Basil Pesto Recipe
Basil Pesto Recipe (5 Minutes!)
The universal EASY homemade basil pesto recipe you need! This sauce needs just 5 ingredients, 5 minutes, and it tastes amazing on everything.
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Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the blender. Push the basil leaves into the olive oil.
- Pulse intermittently, scraping sides occasionally with a spatula, until the desired consistency is reached.
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Serving size: 2 tablespoons
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