Pesto Genovese (Classic Basil Pesto)

5 from 2 votes
30 minutes
Jump To Recipe

Pesto Genovese is an Italian culinary masterpiece that has stood the test of time. It’s the perfect way to use a summer abundance of basil. However, there’s a right and wrong way to make this simple sauce. Read on for the best tips to make classic basil pesto!

Jar of Pesto Genovese with spoon.

Why This Recipe is a Keeper!

Although pesto can be made with many things, including radish greens, Pesto Genovese made with fresh basil is the quintessential pesto.

The best classic basil pesto recipe balances the proportions of fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil so the ingredients create a smooth, emulsified texture.

Traditionally, Pesto Genovese is made in a mortar and pestle. But who has time for that? My food processor pesto-making method ensures a creamy, luxurious result that will elevate any dish, like tossed with pasta, in lasagna, sauces, or soups.

This classic Italian basil pesto recipe is:

  • Easy because you make it in your food processor!
  • Flavorful and balanced!
  • Versatile! Pesto can be used in so many ways. Toss with pasta, spread onto crusty bread, or swirl it into soup.
  • Freezer-friendly for a taste of summer all winter long!

Let’s make it!

Jar of Pesto Genovese with spoon.

What is Pesto Genovese?

Traditional Pesto Genovese is a raw herb sauce made from fresh basil with minimal yet flavor-packed ingredients in addition to the basil: Olive oil, cheese, garlic, and pine nuts. The word “pesto” is the past tense of the Genoese verb “pestare,” which means “to crush.” Traditionally, pesto was made with mortar and pestle.

How to Make Pesto Genovese:

Recipe Ingredients:

Here’s everything you’ll need to make this Pesto Genovese recipe, along with how to prep the ingredients. See the recipe card below for the exact quantities.

Ingredients for Pesto Genovese on marble countertop.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions:

  • Basil: Fresh basil is an aromatic herb with a robust, almost spicy flavor with hints of mint and anise. Even with the bold flavor, basil is quite delicate and bruises easily, and why the color deepens when crushed or chopped. If the flavor is too strong for your taste, substitute spinach or parsley for half of the basil.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano: True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese only comes from Parma, Italy. Aged for at least two years and up to three, it has a crumbly texture with a rich, nutty flavor. Domestic Parmesan cheese, which is lower in price, will also work. Parmigiano-Reggiano is NOT a vegetarian cheese. To be considered Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, it must contain animal rennet. To make Pesto Genovese vegan or vegetarian, use a vegan, animal rennet-free cheese product.
  • Pecorino Romana: Pecorino Fiore Sardo is traditionally used in Pesto Genovese but can be difficult to find so I use Pecorino Romano. In Italian, Pecorino stands for “sheep”, meaning it’s a sheep’s milk cheese. It’s a firm, salty cheese, and a little goes a long way. Because Romano cheese is salty, taste for seasoning/salt before adding more.
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Olive oil from the Liguria region of Italy is traditionally used. Use it if you like, but a decent olive oil you enjoy will work fine.
  • Pine Nuts: Pine nuts, also called pignoli, are the edible seeds found in pine cones that grow on particular varieties of pine trees. They are pricey, so if you wish, use walnuts or almonds.
  • Garlic: This is your pesto, so use less or more garlic.

Step-By-Step Instructions:

  • Gather and prep all the ingredients.
  • Place the bowl of your food processor in the freezer. A cold food processor bowl will help keep the pesto bright green.
  • You’ll need approximately four cups of fresh basil leaves. You can measure, but I usually eyeball it. I have small hands, so one good handful is approximately a cup.
Colander full of fresh basil.
  • Wash the fresh basil leaves well. I fill my kitchen sink or large bowl with water and immediately immerse the basil–stems and all–in the water so insects don’t have a flying chance in my home.
Fresh basil submerged in water in stainless steel bowl.
  • Then, remove the leaves from the stems and discard or compost them along with any flowery tips.
  • I wash the fresh basil leaves three times before I place them in my salad spinner. Be careful not to soak the leaves too long because that can leech the flavor.
  • Ensure no dirt particles are in the bottom of the sink or the bowl before placing them in the salad spinner.
  • Spin two to three times or until little to no water is in the bottom of the salad spinner.
  • As an extra drying step, I place the leaves on a clean, lint-free kitchen towel and spread them out to air dry a bit more before placing them in the food processor. Remember, oil and water don’t mix, so you don’t want wet basil leaves.
Fresh basil in salad spinner.
  • Combine the basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, and the two cheeses in a food processor, not the oil.
Ingredients for Pesto Genovese in food processor before being pureed.
  • Place the top on your food processor and process on high until everything is finely chopped.
Chopped basil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese in food processor.
  • Then, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the food processor while it’s running (similar to what you’d do to make mayonnaise). This step is crucial to achieving a creamy, emulsified pesto sauce as shown below.
Finished pesto in food processor.
  • Taste for seasoning. Add salt, black pepper, or more garlic to taste. Because the Romano cheese is salty, you may not need any additional salt.

That’s it!! Classic basil pesto done right. To serve immediately, toss with drained pasta off the heat. Add a small amount of reserved pasta cooking water to help bind it together and smooth out the sauce.

Jar of Pesto Genovese with spoon.

Chef Tips and Tricks:

  • A cold food processor bowl will help keep the pesto bright green, so place the bowl of your food processor in the freezer.
  • After drying the basil in a salad spinner, place the leaves on a clean, lint-free kitchen towel and spread them out to air dry more before placing them in your food processor. Remember, oil and water don’t mix, so you don’t want wet basil leaves.
Jar of Pesto Genovese with spoon with fresh basil leaves scattered about.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What kind of basil is best for pesto?

Genovese basil, a type of sweet basil, is traditionally used in Pesto Genovese and is the best basil to use.

Can I use the stems of basil in pesto?

You don’t want to use the stems because they are tough and can be bitter. Just use the leaves and compost the stems.

Can you freeze basil pesto?

Yes, you absolutely can! You can freeze it in ice cube trays to add small amounts to sauces and soups, in small plastic containers, glass jars, or freezer bags for up to six months.

Storage:

  • TO SERVE LATER: Transfer to a jar or other container and drizzle olive oil over the top.  Keep refrigerated until you wish to use it. It will keep for up to five days.
  • TO FREEZE:  Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months.

How to Use Pesto:

More great green sauce recipes you’ll love!

Get all my sauce recipes at Sauces, Dressing and Marinades – From A Chef’s Kitchen.

Want to save this recipe?
Enter your email and I’ll send it to your inbox. Plus, get great new recipes from me every week!
Save Recipe
* By submitting this form, you consent to receive emails.
Logo for From A Chef's Kitchen with gray oval border and green knife.
Jar of Pesto Genovese with spoon.

Pesto Genovese (Classic Basil Pesto)

5 from 2 votes

Click to Rate!

By: Carol | From A Chef’s Kitchen
Pesto Genovese is an Italian culinary masterpiece that has stood the test of time. It's the perfect way to use a summer abundance of basil.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Sauces Dressings and Marinades
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 (1 1/2 cups)
Calories 449 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves - packed or 4 good handfuls, washed and dried
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (mildly flavored) - or as needed
  • 4 cloves garlic - coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste

Instructions
 

  • Place the bowl of your food processor in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  • Combine the basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, and the two cheeses in a food processor, not the oil.
  • Process on high until everything is finely chopped.
  • Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the food processor while running until you have a smooth, emulsified sauce.
  • Taste for seasoning. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Notes

TO SERVE IMMEDIATELY:  Toss with drained pasta off the heat. Add a small amount of reserved pasta cooking water to help bind it together and smooth out the sauce.
TO SERVE LATER:  Transfer to a jar or other container and drizzle olive oil over the top.  Keep refrigerated until you wish to use it.  Will keep for up to five days.
TO FREEZE:  Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months.

Nutrition

Serving: 4 | Calories: 449kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 29g | Cholesterol: 12mg | Sodium: 248mg | Potassium: 148mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1382IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 238mg | Iron: 2mg

These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment, star rating or post your photo on Instagram and tag @fromachefskitchen.
5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating