How To Make Basil Pesto From Scratch: Ingredients, Servings, and Storing Guidelines

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Sometimes the kitchen’s simple pleasures are the most delicious. Pesto, a rich, herby sauce, contains only a handful of ingredients and takes a few pulses of a blender to make. 

It’s refreshing, lemony, and full of garlic and delicious fats like olive oil and nuts. It also has a vibrant green color that adds flair to a meal. 

Whenever there are great inventions–especially culinary ones–humans come up with a wide variety of uses for them. Pesto is no exception. While this blend is intended to be pasta sauce, you can use it as a pizza topper, dressing, sandwich condiment, or dip. Pesto is full of flavor, and a little goes a long way, making it the star of any dish in which you use it. 

Next time you have a few free minutes on your hands, blend up a batch of the easy pesto recipe below to use creatively later in the week. Take your leftovers to the next level by topping, tossing, or otherwise dressing them up with a fragrant dollop of pesto.  

How to make pesto sauce

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Servings: Makes 1 cup (up to 16 servings of pasta, depending on how concentrated of a flavor you like)

Pesto ingredients

  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 1 small garlic clove 

  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves (the big, leafy variety; smaller basil leaves can be bitter)

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese or pecorino romano cheese 

  • Black pepper (to taste)

Preparation instructions

  1. Pulse the pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper together in the bowl of a food processor.

  2. Add in the basil and pulse again, until well combined. 

  3. Start the food processor again, and slowly pour in the olive oil through the hole in the lid. 

  4. Remove the lid to add the parmesan cheese, close the machine again, and pulse until the sauce is smooth. 

Chef’s tip: You can add in more olive oil if you like a richer sauce, and if you taste the pesto and find it too acidic, you can drizzle in a tiny amount of honey or agave. Recipe adapted from Love and Lemons.

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Nutritional values per serving (roughly 1 tablespoon)

Calories: 66

Fat: 6.7 grams

Saturated Fat: 1.1 grams

Cholesterol: 2 milligrams

Sodium: 62 milligrams

Carbohydrate: 0.7 grams

Fiber: 0.2 grams 

Sugars: 0.2 grams 

Protein: 1.4 grams

FAQS about how to store pesto

Can you freeze pesto?

Thankfully, you can freeze homemade pesto. If you have an overwhelming basil harvest from your garden, you can make up vats of pesto and freeze them for quick weeknight dinners in the future. This article describes how you can even freeze pesto in an ice-cube tray to pop out only the portion you need for that night’s dinner.

How long does pesto last in the fridge?

Fresh pesto will last for about 4-5 days in the refrigerator when stored in an air-tight container. Some store-bought varieties are shelf-stable but require refrigeration once opened. Be sure to check the label for further instructions.

Pairings and serving suggestions: what to make with pesto

  • Pasta of all types: Pesto can complement any pasta, including fresh spaghetti, ravioli, and gnocchi. You can even use it to replace tomato sauce in lasagna. 

  • Sandwiches: Mayonnaise and pesto are a match made in heaven. Smear your favorite crusty bread with these two spreads, then fill the sandwich with your favorite cold cuts and cheeses, and melt. You can also try an open-face sandwich or a simple toast spread with pesto sauce topped with figs or greens. Really, any sandwich toppings will do.

  • Pizza: Top pizza with dollops of pesto in place of tomato sauce.  If you’re looking for other topping ideas for your pizza, goat’s cheese, roasted red pepper, and sundried tomatoes go particularly well with pesto. You can also serve the sauce on the side as a dip.

  • Bowls: Because it’s so concentrated and rich, pesto makes an excellent dressing. Top a bed of warm quinoa with roasted veggies like sweet potato or zucchini, grilled protein like chicken or salmon, and creamy slices of avocado. Then, toss with fresh pesto.  

Salad: Dress a simple cherry-tomato and onion salad with pesto or top a Caprese salad with a pesto drizzle to complement the flavor of the fresh basil between the slices of mozzarella and tomato.

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Do I need a food processor to make pesto? 

No. You can make pesto in a blender (even in small ones like the kind intended for on-the-go smoothies) or by hand, using a mortar and pestle. 

Can I make allergen-free pesto if I can’t eat nuts? 

Plenty of other nuts can act as substitutes for pine nuts in pesto like walnuts, pecans, and cashews. However, if you can’t eat nuts at all, you can try using seeds like pepitas or hemp. Can’t do seeds either? No problem. Many recipes omit the nut or seed component entirely and adjust the ratios of other ingredients to replicate the thick texture of the original pesto recipe with pine nuts. Pesto is also gluten-free, so long as you serve it with foods that don’t contain wheat. 

Is all pesto made with basil? 

While basil is traditional in pesto, you’re not required to use it, but basil has a distinct bright flavor that’s tough to recreate. There are delicious recipes that make use of spinach, kale, or even other fresh herbs, like parsley. To keep the unique flavor of basil in this dish, you can even mix and match, using half of the quantity of basil recommended above and substituting the other half for another leafy green. 

Can pesto be made vegan? 

Absolutely. Simply omit the cheese entirely or replace it with a vegan variety with a similar texture. There are some very convincing plant-based parmesan substitutes on the market. Alternatively, you could add a few dashes of nutritional yeast, which gives off a slightly sweet, slightly tart cheesy taste, and is packed with vitamins. 

What is pesto’s origin? 

Pesto is an Italian, Genoese dish originating in the Roman Age in the city of Liguria, Italy. Its name hails from the verb pestâ, which describes the pounding action of making the sauce with a mortar and pestle. Contemporary versions of this dish are made almost exactly like their predecessors, so pesto is a dish that lives up to the saying: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. 

If you’re short on basil or out of pine nuts but craving pesto for dinner tonight, let Gopuff lend you a helping hand. You can order everything you need in seconds and have it at your door in a matter of minutes. It’s time to put the pasta water on.

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