Homemade Basil Pesto

closeup of homemade basil pesto on a spoon
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Nothing heralds the arrival of summer quite like the scent of fresh basil—vibrantly green and fragrant, it begs to be made into a batch of nutty, rich homemade basil pesto sauce.

What Is Pesto?

Simple, seasonal, aromatic and with a excellent flavor-to-effort ratio—something as ingenious as this pesto recipe could only be Italian in origin. Originating in Liguria, a coastal region of Italy, basil pesto is most strongly associated with the port city of Genoa. It’s fitting that such a summery sauce hails from Italian riviera, since it pairs beautifully with fish and seafood—not to mention an icy Aperol spritz.

ingredients for homemade basil pesto; parmesan cheese, fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic

What Is Pesto Sauce Made Of?

Rich, golden extra virgin olive oil and pine nuts give pesto its heft, garlic lends bite, and parmesan brings plenty of umami, but the summery, sun-soaked herbaceousness of fresh basil is the defining flavor of our basic pesto recipe. As with so many Italian recipes, this pesto recipe relies on just a few key ingredients, meaning that any substitutions or swaps will dramatically alter the final product. You’ll need:

  • Fresh basil. Sweet, pungent and aromatic, pesto is a celebration of this summery herb. Pluck off any leaves that look like they’re browning or withering—just use the shiny, green, healthiest ones.  
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. A cup of freshly grated Parmigiano sounds like a lot, but it only takes about 30 seconds to grate it, even by hand. Use the real Italian Parmigiano, if you can but domestic parmesan is fine in a pinch.
  • Extra virgin olive oil. Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil—the flavor of the oil really comes through, so use something with a flavor you enjoy, something you’d dip bread into.
  • Fresh garlic cloves. If you see that the garlic cloves are sprouting (look for a little green shoot coming through the middle of the clove) just remove that green sprout and only use the white part of the clove. According to the Italian nonna I learned this trick from, those pesky green sprouts can give off a bitter flavor, and can upset tummies.
  • Pine nuts. Taste your pine nuts (they have a high fat content and so can easily go rancid) before adding them to your food processor, but no need to toast them.

How To Make Pesto Sauce

While store-bought pesto is fine in a pinch, in the middle of summer when fresh basil is abundant—either at your local market or in your own backyard—whipping up homemade pesto sauce couldn’t be easier. Dazzling in its bright, sunny flavors and no-brainer prep—this pesto recipe is made quickly and easily in the food processor—our basic pesto sauce recipe is sure to become a summertime staple. Here’s how easy it is to make the best pesto sauce ever:

  1. Gather your pesto ingredients.
  2. Put everything except for the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend.
  3. Slowly pour in the olive oil.
closeup of homemade basil pesto on a spoon

How To Use Pesto:

A slather or spoonful of simple basil pesto makes just about anything taste better. We love to use pesto on:

  • Pasta! Maybe the most classic use. Simply cook the pasta of your choice until it’s al dente (just done) and toss with pesto.
  • On a sandwich. Spread some homemade pesto on a simple turkey sandwich, and thank us later. Or, when tomato season hits, try it on an heirloom tomato BLT.
  • Or, our pesto chicken bruschetta is a cheesy, delicious perfect low-carb way to enjoy this pesto recipe.
  • Eggs! Whip a spoonful of pesto into your eggs and then scramble them—turns out green eggs are delicious.
prepared homemade basil pesto stored in a silicone ice cube tray

How To Freeze Pesto

There’s quite a bit of debate here in internet-land about how to best freeze pesto. Should you freeze it in ice cube trays, or on sheet pans? Should you just freeze the basil as-is, for making batches of future pesto? Our favorite method for freezing basil pesto is ice cube trays.

jar of homemade basil pesto with a spoon in it

Tools You’ll Need:

Presto Pesto!

That was easy, right? Snap a photo of your gorgeous homemade pesto sauce and maybe even a video of the beautiful people you feed it to. Tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper. Happy eating!

Homemade Basil Pesto

Serves 1

Ingredients

2 cups basil leaves, packed
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup parmigiano-regggiano

Method

Add everything except olive oil into the food processor and blend. While on low, slowly pour olive oil into the food processor.

Note: This recipes yields about 1 cup of basil pesto.