Make Ahead

Danny Bowien's World Championship Pesto

September  7, 2016
9 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Makes almost 2 cups of pesto, enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta with some left over for other meals
Author Notes

Future Mission Chinese Chef Danny Bowien won the title of 2008 World Pesto Champion, which has since become the subject of internet legend. But none of the versions published under Danny Bowien's name look quite like the smooth, creamy, bright green substance that won him the gold.
Here we've attempted to recreate it, adapted from ACHICA Living and Lucky Peach's 101 Easy Asian Recipes. —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
  • 3 cups packed basil leaves (100 grams, from 2 large bunches)
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts (untoasted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Romano (using a Microplane grater, 12 grams)
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano (using a Microplane grater, 12 grams)
  1. Wash the basil leaves in a big bowl of cold water, changing out the water as needed if the leaves are sandy.
  2. Add the pine nuts and salt to a blender, along with 1/2 cup of the olive oil, or enough to cover the blades. Blend briefly, then add the basil to the blender, shaking lightly but leaving a bit of the cold water clinging to the leaves. Add a small clove of garlic—Bowien says good pesto doesn’t need too much garlic—and the remaining olive oil. Gently pulse this all together in the blender, letting the ingredients mix with each other organically. The mixture should be smooth and bright green.
  3. Add the cheeses and blend the mixture one final time, just until the cheese is evenly dispersed. The result should be a fresh, light pesto in a vibrant shade of green. Taste and adjust the salt, cheese, and consistency to your liking.
  4. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for no more than four days or freeze (in ice cube trays or flat in freezer bags).

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Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

23 Reviews

salena September 13, 2021
Delicious pesto. However, my blender did not get it to the creamy texture I wanted even after I added a bit more oil. Next time, the food processor.
And, I always add a layer of olive oil on top of the pesto prior to storing in frig and/or freezer and that helps keep the color.
The M. September 16, 2018
The original recipe comes from chef Paolo Laboa's grandmother in Genoa. The chef is now owner of Solo Italiano in Portland Maine, where the pesto with handkerchief pasta is always on the menu.
Duane S. August 25, 2018
This recipe is waaaay too salty and runny. Less salt and gently add olive oil to achieve desired consistency.
les C. May 30, 2018
By using a mortar and pestle the texture is much better than when using a blender or f/p as they incorporate to much air which is the cause for brown pesto.
Ellen May 30, 2018
My secret for keeping it green is blanching the basil in boiling water and quickly dropping it into icewater to stop cooking, then drying it in a tea towel. Works like a charm.
bas26 June 24, 2018
I agree with blanching the basil. The pesto never turns black and it freezes nicely. No need to omit cheese before freezing. This method never fails.
Mary K. March 9, 2018
I thought you couldn't freeze pesto with the cheese in it (an Italian friend says she adds it after defrosting). I'm guessing this isn't true?
Barb January 20, 2019
I do it all the time, in ice cube trays, so I can pop out a cube or two for a single serving of pasta. Basil, pine nuts and parm, with a bit of olive oil.
Rose L. October 11, 2017
My secret to keeping it green is a squeeze of lemon juice.
Liza S. October 11, 2017
If I want to use a mortar and pestle do I follow the same instructions?
Sarah January 25, 2017
Ok, I'm confused - weigh out 12g of cheese - this is nowhere near 1/2 cup. So, do you think I should go with the former or latter amount?
Kristen M. January 25, 2017
Measuring cheese by volume can vary so much, depending on the fineness of the grater and how much it gets packed into the cup. I'd go with the 12 grams, but it can also very much be to taste, so do what tastes good to you!
Deanna F. November 21, 2016
How do you defrost it?
Barb January 20, 2019
I take it out of the freezer and leave it on the counter.
MBW October 12, 2016
For those who don't weigh in grams: 100 grams of basil = 3.5 oz. 12 grams of cheese = 0.423 oz.
Hand M. September 13, 2016
Yes it's fantastic to have fresh pesto! especially in ripe tomato season... But it certainly 'keeps' longer than 4 days in the fridge! Identical to my gramma's recipe (no, hers is a little less cheese)....colour darkens on top but a thin layer of olive oil on the surface will prolong the 'green'...
petalpusher September 23, 2016
No matter the amount of pesto made, it is gone within 4 days. Pesto only lasts in the freezer. Out of sight out of mind. But we do string it along during the dark winter months and have passionate pesto nights longing for warm winds and cricket chorus. Usually pesto swirled into a toothsome minestrone, polenta or both!
This pesto recipe/ method is the best. Than you for sharing.
cucina D. September 11, 2016
I love this article. Danny Bowien's recipe is true to how my Italian famiglia in Rome taught me to make real pesto. The garlic was always subtle and the mixture was always pulsed quickly and served immediately for optimum color and freshness. I love the idea of chilling the blender to ensure no discoloration. My Nonna was also famous for using other herbs (like parsley, mint etc.) and she made versions I still recreate using fresh arugula, spinach or even pre-sauteed broccoli rabe with a different mix of cheeses) grazie for this wonderful share :)
Jessica September 9, 2016
Will this pesto stay green while it's being served (or on pasta), or will the color turn? If it does turn, any suggestions to keep it green without changing the flavor?
Kristen M. September 12, 2016
It will stay green longer than pestos where the cut basil is exposed to more oxygen (with less oil to protect it) but eventually any surfaces exposed to air will start to turn more of, let's say, a muted split pea green, instead of a bright spring pea, so it shouldn't be plated or set out too far ahead. There are other tricks for keeping pesto green longer, like cutting with spinach or other less volatile greens, and blanching and shocking, though both dilute the basil flavor.
Jessica September 29, 2016
Thanks so much for the clarification! I made the pesto and it is wonderful.
Neha A. September 8, 2016
Can this be frozen?
Kristen M. September 8, 2016
Yep! Check out the tips in step 4.