Every week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.

Today: Jodi Moreno of What's Cooking Good Looking shares her mother's recipe for pesto, one that's been a lifelong favorite.


Growing up with an Italian mother, you can only imagine the amount of homemade Italian food and pasta I haven eaten over the years. Even though my mom was a nurse and often worked late hours, she still managed to have a home cooked meal on the table every single night. Going out to eat or ordering in was a rare occasion at our house, and having one of my mom's classic dishes was the usual on the weeknights. On Saturdays, my brother and I would alternate on who would get to choose what our mom would cook that night. Matt always wanted either shrimp or alfredo. But when it was my turn, I almost always requested something with pesto -- it's always been my favorite. 

Chances are that you have eaten or even made pesto before. Probably many, many times. It's easily one of the most common things to make with basil, and it has so many uses besides serving over a big bowl of pasta. Even though you've likely made it dozens of times, there are a few rules that I have learned about making pasta and pesto that have come from years and years of eating, making and perfecting my favorite dish.  While my recipe has changed ever so slightly since my mom and grandmother used to make it for me, I think that they would approve of my improvements. I even have a few rules of my own that I follow every time I make my pesto and pasta: 

  • When it comes to garlic in pesto, less is more. Trust me on this.
  • Many recipes might call to add parmesan into the pesto. I prefer to leave it out of the pesto and add it over the pasta later. I like the way it tastes better, and the dish does not become too salty. 
  • I always add a handful of arugula to my basil pesto because it gives it a nice kick. Then I always add another handful or two to the finished dish. 
  • Use really good olive oil, always. 
  • When cooking the pasta, salt the boiling water like the ocean (several tablespoons of sea salt). It is your only opportunity to season the pasta.  
  • Always reserve a small amount of pasta water. This way you can adjust the consistency with starchy pasta water if need be.    
  • Cook your pasta for 1-2 minutes less than what it calls for on the package to get that perfect al dente texture.   
  • Never, ever rinse your pasta with tap water after cooking. 
  • When making pasta with a thick sauce like pesto, always chose a short pasta that has creveces to grab the sauce.  

I would love to hear if you have any pesto pasta rules of your own. Unlike some of my stubborn Italian relatives, I am always open to new ways to make my favorite things even better. 

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Pesto Pasta

Serves 4-6

2 cups basil, packed
1 cup arugula, packed
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
A pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup really good olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

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  • Cristina
  • Nitzan Zohar
    Nitzan Zohar
  • dymnyno
  • healthierkitchen
  • Jodi Moreno
    Jodi Moreno
Jodi Moreno is a Natural Foods Chef, Photographer, and creator of the blog What’s Cooking Good Looking where she shares her healthy, clean, seasonal recipes and photographs. She’s passionate about showing people that vegetables can play a main role on the plate.


Cristina December 17, 2013
Great to read you. So I will give my personal pesto rule: I add some walnuts. I will try to add a few drops of lemon juice, it's the first time I read it and it sounds fascinating.
Nitzan Z. December 16, 2013
Sounds amazing! Why wouldn't you rinse your pasta with tap water? Just wondering..
Cristina December 17, 2013
I rinse it with tap water in summer time when I am preparing a pasta salad to keep pasta al dente. Yet the problem is that in this way you wash all the salt away and pasta tastes very sad and forlorn. So you have to add stronger tasting flavors afterwards.
Jodi M. December 17, 2013
Hi Nitzan! Cristina is right ... when you rinse the pasta with tap water, you are washing away the seasoning from the salted water, as well as the starch coating on the pasta which helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
dymnyno December 16, 2013
I agree with you about the amount of garlic. The sweet fragrant basil should shine.
healthierkitchen December 16, 2013
Yes, love pesto too! I also like a version from Marcella Hazan which uses goat cheese as the primary cheese. Also delicious!