It's so easy to learn how to make pesto and bring tons of flavor to your pasta dish. Enjoy the bright, refreshing flavor of our vegan basil pesto any time of year.
What Is Pesto?
It's a raw Italian green sauce made with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and aged cheese. It originates from the Italian city of Genoa. In Italy, it's traditionally made by hand with a mortar and pestle. But not to worry, the recipe below is made in the food processor ( because we're always looking for convenience and a way to save time!) Just make sure you pulse the pesto, to achieve a chunky texture.
If you would like to watch an Italian grandmother make pesto, we strongly recommend the Netflix mini-series Salt, Fat. Acid, Heat. In the fat episode, Chef Samin Nosrat travels to Italy and tastes what looks like the most heavenly pesto sauce ever.
Ingredients to Make Pesto
Making pesto is easy. and there are many variations to it. It requires very few ingredients and the result is a divine sauce that elevates any dish, or even something as simple as a chunk of sourdough bread. If you're feeling adventurous, you can try some of the alternative ingredients we suggest a little further down on this post.
Basil. This herb gives pesto its bright green color. Use fresh green leaves, preferably purchased the same day you're making your sauce.
Garlic. It is up to you how much garlic to add to your pesto. We recommend that you don’t exceed 3 cloves, or it will overpower the delicate herb flavor. We only used one clove of garlic for this recipe. For an even more subtle garlic flavor, you may use roasted garlic instead of raw.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Stick to this ingredient, there is no substitution. A good extra virgin olive oil will add tremendous flavor to your pesto sauce.
Lemon and/or Lemon zest. Lemon is not a traditional ingredient in pesto, but we love how it brightens the sauce, and we love lemons! We added lemon to ours, you can skip it if you prefer.
Pine Nuts. Pine nuts are a traditional ingredient in Italian pesto, but they can be quite pricey. We've listed several alternatives in the section below.
Aged Cheese. You may use Parmesan cheese and/or pecorino romano cheese. Freshly grated cheese is best. For a vegan option, you may substitute the cheese with a combination of nutritional yeast and salt or use a vegan Parmesan cheese.
Salt. Lack of salt can kill an otherwise perfect pesto. Salt to taste, but don't leave it out entirely.
Variations for Pesto Sauce
You can find endless variations on the classic pesto sauce. In non-classical variations, you may add or swap or the basil for other herbs.
Replace basil in pesto for:
- Baby Spinach
- Beet Greens
Replace the Pine Nuts in Homemade Pesto for:
For a Nut-Free Option
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
How to Make Pesto Sauce
You'll need a food processor for this recipe.
First, place all of your ingredients except for the olive oil in your food processor. Next, pulse the food processor while drizzling the olive oil until you obtain a chunky sauce. Do not over-process the sauce. You don't want a smooth paste, pesto should have some texture.
Taste the pesto and add more olive oil, salt or cheese to your taste.
How To Use Your Homemade Pesto Sauce
Homemade pesto can be added to any fresh pasta for a delicious meal. But don't stop there! Pesto sauce is delicious in so many different ways. You can use it as a sauce for dipping bread or as a white pizza sauce. In addition, you can add the sauce to any of the following dishes.
- Roasted potatoes
- Toasted sourdough bread
- Roasted vegetables
- Soup such as minestrone
- Homemade pizza
- Pesto rolls
- Salad dressing
- Compound Butter
How To Store Pesto Sauce for Later
- Store it in the fridge, in a glass jar fitted with a tight lid for up to a week.
- Make sure you add some extra virgin olive oil to the surface.
- Make sure to cover the surface with plastic wrap before closing the lid.
- The green pesto will turn an even darker green color with time, but it will still be good.
- Freeze it in silicone ice cube trays for later use. We like to make large batches of pesto in the summer when basil is in season, freeze it and use it in the winter to add to soups, pasta, and pizza. We like the silicone trays because it is very easy to remove just one cube of pesto as needed. It lasts in the freezer for up to a year. Make sure the silicone ice cube trays are covered with a freezer bag or with aluminum foil and plastic wrap.
Do I have to use fresh basil to make the sauce?
I've heard of people using a jarred spice to make a version of pesto sauce, but honestly, this is just going to convince you and your family that you don't like pesto. Dried, and jarred spices are severely lacking in flavor. There is no comparison. Purchase fresh basil from your local grocery store. During the summer months, it's very easy to grab a basil plant at your local garden center and grow your own.
Can I use cheap ground parmesan?
Again, this is a question of flavor. The finely grated parmesan sold cheaply in American grocery store chains is flavorless and often contains fillers that will gum up your sauces. Nothing beats the flavor of freshly grated parmesan. If you don't want to grate your own you can purchase a high-quality pre-grated parmesan and get much better results.
What should I serve with pesto on pasta?
Served on pasta, it is lovely with garlic bread. Potatoes and green beans are a fun traditional addition. Add pesto to your favorite protein, veggie burgers , grilled tofu, pizza, pasta, salads etc.
Did you enjoy this easy pesto recipe ?
If you enjoyed this recipe, it would help us tremendously if you left us a star rating in the comments below or on the recipe card. Do you have any questions about the recipe or do you need a swap for any of the ingredients? We are here to help, just leave us a question in the comments below.Print
Pesto is a divine, fresh, luscious green basil sauce that will brighten your pasta, pizza, roasted veggies and crostini.
- 5 cups packed basil leaves
- ½ cups chopped pine nuts, ( you may use any nuts you may like, pumpkin or sunflower seeds if allergic to nuts). See Note 1
- ¼-⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, to taste
- ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese OR ¼ cup nutritional yeast. See Note 2
- ½ tsp salt, skip if using parmesan cheese
- ⅛ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 clove of garlic or more to taste. See note 3
- The zest of one medium lemon and 2 tsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
- Combine all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in the food processor. Pulse while drizzling the olive oil until you obtain a chunky sauce (do not over process. You don't want a smooth paste, pesto should have some texture)
- Taste the pesto and add more olive oil, salt or cheese to your taste
- Pine nuts are our favorite nut to add to pesto, but they are expensive and sometimes hard to find. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, etc work well also. See a complete list on the post.
- If you are using Parmesan cheese, don't add the salt, taste the pesto and add more salt, if needed. For a vegan option use nutritional yeast or vegan Parmesan instead.
- We are not big fans of raw garlic, so we only used one clove of garlic for this pesto. Feel free to use more if you would like. We prefer the basil to be the predominant flavor in our pesto. Read the body of the post for more suggestions.
- Prep Time: 5
- Category: sauce
- Method: raw
- Cuisine: Italian
- Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
- Calories: 31
- Sugar: 0
- Sodium: 63.2
- Fat: 3.1
- Saturated Fat: 0.6
- Unsaturated Fat: 2.3
- Trans Fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 0.3
- Fiber: .1
- Protein: .6
- Cholesterol: 1.2
Keywords: how to make pesto, pesto sauce,