Basil Pesto

Classic basil pesto sauce in a small white bowl
The Spruce
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 10 mins
Servings: 5 to 7 servings
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
250 Calories
25g Fat
3g Carbs
5g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 5 to 7
Amount per serving
Calories 250
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 25g 32%
Saturated Fat 4g 21%
Cholesterol 9mg 3%
Sodium 239mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 3g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 2%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 2mg 9%
Calcium 108mg 8%
Iron 1mg 5%
Potassium 102mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Pesto is a herbaceous, nutty, salty, and garlicky sauce made of fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and aged hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano. It comes from Liguria in Italy where much of the country's basil is grown and it's often tossed with pasta for a simply delicious dish. The no-cook sauce is especially suited for summer since the main ingredient is fresh basil.

This pesto recipe is classic in style, using only the key ingredients for a simple but flavorful sauce. While traditional pestos are made with a mortar and pestle, use a food processor or blender to keep things extra quick and easy.

There are endless ways to use pesto. You can toss cooked pasta directly with the pesto or, if you want to thin out the sauce a little, add a spoonful or two of the hot pasta water to the pesto. Then toss with the cooked pasta and serve right away, garnished with a sprinkling of cheese.

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"Simple and easy to follow, this classic recipe is great paired with anything from chicken to panini to pasta. It came out more viscous than I had expected but was still delightful. If you’re looking for a thinner sauce, add a little more oil. All in all, definitely a make-again." —Victoria Heydt

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 3/4 cup freshly grated hard cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese, or a combo of the two

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for classic basil pesto sauce
    The Spruce  
  2. Combine the basil, garlic, pine nuts, and salt in a food processor.

    Basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor for pesto

    The Spruce

  3. Pulse until the pesto is blended into a slightly coarse paste (or your desired consistency).​

    Pesto sauce blended into a paste in a food processor

    The Spruce

  4. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the olive oil and cheese.​

    Pesto in a bowl with cheese and oil

    The Spruce

  5. Enjoy!

    Classic basil pesto sauce in a white bowl

    The Spruce

How to Store and Freeze

  • Pesto tastes best when you use it as soon as you make it. Anything you don't use immediately you can refrigerate in a sealed container with plastic wrap pressed against the surface of the pesto for four to five days. It may thicken in the fridge and discolor, but if you stir it and add a little oil it will come back to the right consistency and color.
  • You can also freeze pesto. A great trick is to spoon it into ice cube trays, freeze, then crack them out into a zip-close bag so that you can use them whenever you want. Try adding a cube or two to a soup for extra flavor.

How to Use Pesto

In addition to tossing with pasta, pesto can be used for an array of dishes:

  • Use instead of tomato sauce as a base for pizza
  • Whisk into scrambled eggs
  • Thin out with mayonnaise for a french fry dip
  • Add to sour cream for a chip dip
  • Spread on bread for a sandwich, panini, or grilled cheese
  • Add a few spoonfuls to soup for a dose of flavor
  • Whisk in fresh lemon juice and a little more oil to make a salad dressing
  • Use to top chicken or fish
  • Stir into rice for a rice bowl

Recipe Variations

  • More affordable walnuts are often substituted for pricey pine nuts with great results. You can also use cashews, pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds or, even pumpkin seeds (but make sure they have the hulls removed).
  • If you'd like a less nutty and more herb and cheese-forward pesto, feel free to reduce the amount of nuts to 1/4 cup.
  • It's best to use a hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, or Pecorino Sardo. You can also experiment with other aged, hard cheeses, including ones made from sheep's milk.
  • Decrease the cheese by up to half for a lighter pesto sauce.
  • For a slightly different flavor, swap half of the basil for fresh baby spinach or flat-leaf parsley.

How Can You Make Pesto Taste Better?

Sometimes pesto can taste bitter. Extra-virgin olive oil contains relatively large amounts of chemical compounds called polyphenols, which usually remain trapped within the fat molecules of the oil. When those fat droplets are broken up by the blades of a blender or food processor, the polyphenols, which have a bitter flavor, are released into the emulsion. The more the oil is blended, the more bitter it can become. That's why we recommend stirring in the oil and cheese after blending.