The Best Classic Pesto Recipe

classic pesto recipe
This is the Best Classic Pesto recipe. With pine nuts, basil, garlic, pecorino, and Parmesan, this pesto is easy to make and full of flavor.

Pesto is one of my favorite foods.

That’s right, favorite foods.  Not just sauces.

I’ve tried countless pestos and variations over the years.  But the pesto recipe I share today is for the Best Classic Pesto.

classic pesto recipe

Pesto Facts

Most of us know pesto as a green sauce made from pine nuts, garlic, hard cheese, and basil.  (Known as Genoese pesto.)  

But the definition of “pesto” is actually much broader.  

Pesto describes any sauce made from pounding or crushing.  According to an Italian friend of mine, the word “pesto” is derived from the way this sauce was traditionally prepared—with a mortar and pestle.

The Best Classic Pesto Recipe

My classic pesto recipe is of the Genoese style.  The ingredients of my pesto are simple: olive oil, garlic, sea salt, basil, Parmesan, and pecorino.  It’s reminiscent of the pesto I enjoyed on my first trip to Italy.  

At lunch one day, I ordered pesto gnocchi.  And that’s all it took.  For every remaining meal on that trip, I made sure that pesto was a component. 

classic pesto recipe

Make This Classic Pesto Recipe!

I’ve gone back to Italy a few times since, and my pesto habits remain the same: come mealtime, I search the restaurant menus for pesto.  

Hopefully another visit to Italy is in my near future.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this classic pesto.

A Few Things

One day I’ll go all out and prepare my classic pesto with a mortar and pestle [aff. link].  Until then, I’ll use my food processor.  Use your favorite blending/processing device for this pesto recipe.

Don’t limit your pesto consumption to pasta.  Check out my other recipes where pesto plays an important role.  I love to use pesto as an aioli on sandwiches, as a dip for chickpeas and roasted potatoes, and as a pizza sauce.

classic pesto recipe
classic pesto recipe
5 from 2 votes

The Best Classic Pesto

This is the Best Classic Pesto recipe. With pine nuts, basil, garlic, pecorino, and Parmesan, this pesto is easy to make and full of flavor.
Prep Time10 mins
Total Time10 mins
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup pine nuts
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 4 cups basil, rinsed
  • cup Pecorino, freshly grated or ground
  • cup Parmesan, freshly grated or ground
  • ¾ cup olive oil

Instructions

Process the pine nuts and garlic

  • To the bowl of your food processor/preferred processing apparatus, add the pine nuts and garlic cloves.
  • Pulse a few times, then process until the pine nuts and garlic are smooth and combined.

Add the basil, sea salt, and cheese

  • Now add the basil and sea salt to the pine nut/garlic mixture.  Process again until a mostly smooth green paste forms.
  • Now add the Pecorino and Parmesan. Process again until the cheese has completely incorporated.

Add the olive oil

  • Last, add the olive oil to the food processor. Process until the olive oil incorporates completely into the rest of the ingredients.
  • Pesto is done. Enjoy as a pizza sauce, dipping sauce, on sandwiches etc. Or follow my recipe below for pesto pasta.

Make pesto pasta

  • Bring 12-14 cups of salted water (I use scant 1 Tbsp sea salt) to a boil.
  • Cook 1 pound of pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta, and put it back in the pot.

Add the pesto and pasta water

  • Quickly add ½ cup of pesto to the pasta. With tongs or a spoon and fork, toss the pesto into the pasta.
  • Now add about ⅓ cup of the reserved pasta water to the pot. Toss the water into the pasta. The water will help spread and incorporate the pesto into the pasta.
  • Taste, and add more pesto and pasta water as desired. I usually end up adding about 1 cup of pesto and ½-¾ cup water, but use more or less according to your own preference. The more pesto you use, the stronger the flavor will be. The more water you use, the thinner the pesto will be.

Serve and enjoy!

  • Serve the pesto pasta with freshly grated Parmesan. Add tomatoes and chickpeas to the pot to make it a one pot meal. Or serve the pesto pasta with your favorite meat substitute and a salad like this one.

Notes

This recipe makes about 1 ½ cups pesto.
This pesto is vegetarian.
This pesto is gluten-free.
If your grocery budget is tight and you simply must have pesto (I speak from experience), substitute the pine nuts in this recipe with cashews.  They're cheaper and the pesto will still taste great.

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10 Responses

  1. 5 stars
    Ah, you’ve touched on a recipe that’s near and dear to my heart as well! I loved reading this post, Shannon. First of all, I love all things Italian…so, of course, pesto ranks pretty high up there on my list. Second, pesto has such great flavor! We often make a huge batch at the end of the summer. I’ll buy several basil starter plants, and by end of September they are huge. Perfect for a round of pesto-making! (I’d let them go longer, but there’s always a chance of freezing after late September here and I don’t want to run the risk of losing my basil!) Have you ever tried freezing pesto? We freeze it in ice cube trays. The next day we pop out the cubes (sometimes with a butter knife) and then freeze them in a big bag. Then you have pesto “bombs” for easy meals or to drop into soup. Now that I’ve talked your ear off, I’ll stop here. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

    1. Thank you so much David! Isn’t Italian food the best?!! Freezing pesto sounds like such an amazing idea, I so need to try that! And what an excellent idea to use ice cube trays to make pesto bombs, absolutely genius!

  2. You are adorable! This made me laugh because it’s my husband’s favorite food as well. I’ve always said that he could eat pesto on ice cream! A friend of mine who blogs and is very scientific about cooking compared mortar and pestle made pesto vs that made in a food processor, and there is supposed to be a significant difference! But I will continue to make it in my food processor because in the summer I make huge batches of it, without cheese, and freeze in jars. It works really well. I will never make it by hand….

    1. Haha that is so awesome!!! Your husband has excellent culinary tastes! Always happy to find a fellow pesto lover. 😃 And that is so interesting to hear about the mortar and pestle vs. the food processor. Just makes me want to try making pesto with a mortar and pestle even more! But you are so so right, you just can’t beat the food processor when it comes to quantity! I love the idea of making huge pesto batches in the summer and freezing it. So so great for months when basil is harder to come by, or on a night when you want a quick meal without sacrificing flavor!

  3. Ahh, a fellow pesto lover! Firstly, those pasta swirls look AMAZING! I don’t know how you did it and how much patience that required but it was absolutely worth it. And thanks so much for sharing your pesto recipe, I am definitely going to be trying this one out!

  4. 5 stars
    This pesto recipe is THE BEST pesto recipe out there! The flavor is perfectly rich. I make a full batch once a month and freeze extra servings! My family of 3 enjoys about 4 pesto pasta meals during the month with just one batch, and we look forward to each and every one! Thank you, Shannon!

    1. That is so awesome!! Thank you so so much for your kind words MacKenzie. I am so happy to hear that you and your family enjoy this recipe, and that it’s a repeat recipe in your home! ♥️

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