Our Best Basil Pesto

May 12, 2020
6 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 3 minutes
  • Makes about 3/4 cup
Author Notes

“Pesto may have become more popular than is good for it,” wrote Marcella Hazan in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This Italian nut-cheese-and-herb sauce was created with pasta in mind—but, if you ask us, is just as good for swirling into hummus, folding into grain salads, and dolloping onto pizzas.

Pesto gets its body from nuts (while pine nuts are traditional, any variety works), savoriness from garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino, greenness from greenery (while basil is classic, other tender herbs like parsley and cilantro are pesto-friendly too), and buttery spiciness from olive oil. This is the time to break out a really tasty one—I used Wonder Valley’s , but use whichever extra-verdant, fruity oil you’ve got.

How you manipulate the ratio between these five ingredients is up to you, the season, and the dish at hand. My summer tomato salads are slicked with basil-heavy, cheese-light pestos. Holiday hummus and crudites welcome the toastiness of well-darkened walnuts and the substitution of wintry kale, as springy basil feels out of place. Take this classic pesto recipe below and run with it—stretch and push it, make it your own.

One note about the toasting method: Toasting nuts, especially small, fatty ones, in oil leads to evener browning, compared to dry-toasting. It happens suddenly though, slow to start, then all at once—this is one of those times where you actually must stop and stare and not do anything else for a few minutes. Don’t try to grate the clove of garlic or unwrap the cheese. Just focus on the task at hand, and be okay with it. Be one with the nuts.

The recipe below comes together in a food processor, because I have neither patience, nor a mortar and pestle large enough. But it’s certainly doable: First, pound the garlic and salt to a paste. Then pound in the basil leaves, a small handful at a time. Next, the toasted nuts; and finally, slowly, the cheese. Pound in a third of the oil, until the consistency is fairly smooth, then top off with the remaining oil. —Coral Lee

What You'll Need
  • 1/4 cup raw pine nuts
  • 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/2 ounce)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 loosely packed cups basil leaves (from a 2-ounce bunch)
  1. Set a small strainer over a small bowl. Combine the pine nuts and 4 tablespoons of oil in a small pan set over medium-low heat. Swirling occasionally, toast the pine nuts until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the pan’s contents into the strainer. Let nuts cool completely.
  2. Once the nuts are cool, combine them and their oil, the cheese, garlic, salt, and remaining olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped, scraping down as needed. Add the basil leaves and pulse just until the pesto becomes smooth, again scraping down if needed. Use immediately, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks (though, the sooner you use it, the better-tasting it will be), or the freezer for up to 3 months.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sharon
  • vickie
  • eveross
  • Nic

4 Reviews

Sharon June 26, 2022
I've perfected my own recipe over the years. I swapped out the pine nuts for toasted hazelnuts decades ago and my pesto has rocked ever since. There are SO many better choices than pine nuts. All in all, this recipe strikes me as just plain strange and doesn't look very good. The "Best" Basil Pesto? Hmmm. That's a hard sell.
vickie June 26, 2022
I have made pesto for over 30 years. All kinds. My favorite is using walnuts instead of pine nuts.
eveross June 27, 2021
Agreed - so wish I’d read this review before I added the salt! And don’t add the toasted oil regardless of what the recipe says….it was so oily I added an entire additional bunch of basil to try to remedy and even twice the basil didn’t cut down the saltiness……this gets a Zero on a 5 star scale!
Nic April 19, 2021
For some reason this pesto was as salty as the ocean when I made it and was unedible. 3/4 tsp of salt for 3/4 of a cup of final pesto is wayy to much, was it supposed to be 1/4 tsp of salt?