How to Make Pesto

Two Parts:Pesto GenoveseVariations

What to do with all that basil at the end of summer? Homemade pesto is versatile and simple, yet tastes very gourmet and will add kick to many of your favorite dishes! "Pesto" literally means to pound or crush, a reference to the original way pesto was prepared. This article will teach you how to make the classic pesto genovese as well as some other variants


  • 3 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Italian cheese (Parmesan, Romano, etc.)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (depending on taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Part 1
Pesto Genovese

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    Spread pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown. Place the pine nuts underneath a broiler until golden brown or simply bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 5-10 minutes, checking often.
    • Alternately, toast the pine nuts in a pan over low or medium-low heat on a burner. Stir often.
    • Pine nuts burn very easily, making them somewhat finicky to work with. When toasting pine nuts, pay attention closely and move them around often. The difference between perfectly toasted pine nuts and burnt pine nuts is often a matter of seconds.
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    Chop garlic, cheese, and nuts (optional). Chopping before they are put into the food processor makes a finer ground pesto in the end.
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    Add the chopped ingredients and basil into a food processor. Add the extra virgin olive oil in the spout gradually as the food is being processed.
    • If you don't have a food processor, you can also use a blender in a pinch. (Pesto will turn out finer and less grainy when using a food processor.)
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    Add salt and pepper to taste. Give the food processor one or two more pulses.
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Part 2

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    Make pistou. Pistou is a french (Provence) variation of pesto made in a similar fashion, except without pine nuts. It consists of basil, garlic, olive oil, and sometimes cheese. Pistou is generally used in vegetable soup.
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    Add mint leaves and almonds. To the original pesto genovese recipe, add a bit of fresh mint leaves and substitute almonds for pine nuts. The almonds may or may not be toasted.
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    Make pesto alla siciliana, or red pesto. Red pesto is like traditional pesto, except it has tomato, much less basil, and substitutes almonds again for pine nuts.
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    Make pesto alla calabrese. This pesto incorporates grilled red bell pepper, black pepper, and sometimes eggplant and ricotta cheese to go along with the basil and tomatoes. It has a distinctly spicy taste to it.
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    Make pesto with sun-dried tomatoes instead of basil. For a very rich, sweeter pesto, combine sun-dried tomatoes along with pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil.
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    Substitute other green herbs for basil. Although basil is the traditional ingredient in Italian pesto — and almost religiously used in authentic Italian recipes — you can experiment a bit with the green herbs you put into the food processor. As a substitute for basil, try:
    • Arugula. Makes a very nutty pesto.
    • Cilantro. Makes a light, fresh, and clean-tasting pesto.
    • Ramson leaves. This makes for a German variety of pesto.
    • Parsley. Makes a light, clean pesto.
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    Substitute other nuts for pine nuts. Because of the cost of pine nuts, many people have taken to substituting other nuts into the original recipe in lieu of pine nuts. Substitutes often include:
    • Walnuts.
    • Cashews.
    • Chinese pine nuts.
    • Almonds.


  • Try using roasted garlic cloves rather than raw for a milder and sweeter flavor. To roast a bulb of garlic, heat oven to 350 degrees, cut the top off a full bulb of garlic, so the tops of the cloves are exposed. Place the bulb on a sheet of tinfoil, drizzle olive oil over the bulb, wrap it up in a tinfoil "tent", and roast in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes. You will know it's done when your whole house smells like garlic, and the cloves are soft to the touch. They will pop out of their skins when squeezed gently.
  • Roasted walnuts can be used instead of pine nuts. They are much cheaper and when roasted give a very nice nutty flavor similar to pine nuts. Almost any type of nut can be used - be creative and experiment!
  • Recipes for pesto are usually guidelines...and should be adapted to your taste. Try adding more or less olive oil, garlic, or cheese. Also try using other nuts such as walnuts.
  • Pesto can be made with any of a number of herbs. Try arugula or cilantro.
  • Pesto can be frozen and thawed for later use. Make sure to freeze in an airtight container. It will keep for months. To freeze individual sizes, try freezing it in an ice cube tray. A "pesto cube" can be popped into a bowl of hot pasta.
  • Serve pesto as a spread with fresh bread, crackers, bread sticks, on pizza, or in pasta, chicken dishes, or add a few spoonfuls to homemade salad dressing. Let your creativity run wild!
  • Add fresh parsley with the basil as a way to make your pesto a brighter healthier green color.
  • When toasting the pine nuts, make sure to watch them carefully, as they go from perfectly toasted to burned in a matter of seconds. You will know they are properly toasted when you can smell them, and they are lightly browned.

Things You'll Need

  • Food processor

Article Info

Categories: Pesto | Pasta Sauce Recipes | Italian Cuisine