Basic Basil Pesto

by Valerie on September 3, 2008 · 6 comments

Update June 2010: in June 2009 I switched to eating gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free refined-sugar-free and nearly vegan, so this recipe predates the switch (by almost a year).  That said, it is naturally gluten-free, and is just as delicious by veganizing it by omitting the cheese.


The end of summer is really getting to me this year. And one of the things I know I will miss is the abundance of fresh, fragrant and gorgeous basil at all the farmers’ markets. So, I decided to celebrate my love for basil by making a couple of batches of pesto. I used the first batch promptly for last Saturday night’s dinner, but the other batch is happily sitting in my freezer, for a day when I need an edible reminder of summer.

Pesto is one of those very personal recipes — everyone seems to have a slightly different twist. Some go for the very basic Genovese and Ligurian approaches (here is another Genovese approach), some like more nuts in their pesto, some like more cheese in their pesto, some more olive oil. Nigella Lawson completely deconstructs it — she tosses all the components of pesto with the pasta, without ever pureeing the ingredients.

Me? I like my basil pesto with a touch of lemon. I know, I know — the Genovese are probably gasping in horror — but I really mean just a touch of lemon. I find it brings out the delicious basil warmth out even more. Below is my basic approach to basil pesto, adapted from many recipes and tweaked and re-tweaked.

Basic Basil Pesto

Makes about 3/4 cup pesto

1/4 cup pine nuts

2 garlic cloves, peeled

3 cups (loosely packed) basil leaves, washed

1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano

1 tablespoon lemon juice (about half a lemon)

1/4 cup olive oil

First, toast the pinenuts until fragrant and golden — I usually toast them in a pan on the stove, but the oven is fine too. The toasting takes just a couple of minutes — your nose will tell you when the pine nuts are ready. Set pine nuts aside the let cool.

Puree the 2 garlic cloves (CGL Note: I use a food processor, but a blender or mortar/pestle work equally well), then add the toasted pine nuts and puree the two ingredients together. Add the basil and puree again. Add the grated cheese, the the lemon juice and olive oil. I don’t puree much more after that — I like my pesto not too smooth. but it’s really up to you.

And that’s it!

I usually use the full 3/4 cup of finished pesto for about 1/2 pound of pasta. To incorporate the two together, I usually put some of the pesto in a bowl, and pull out the pasta directly from the boiling water into the pesto. I find that by not draining the pasta, the excess cooking water helps the pesto and pasta come together. Then I add more pesto, some olive oil, maybe a bit of cheese, maybe a bit of pasta cooking water, and I taste as I go along.

You will note that I use only about half of the amount of olive oil I saw in many recipes using the same amount of basil. That’s because I like to add a bit of olive oil when I am mixing the pesto into the cooked pasta — I find the olive oil retains a stronger favor that way, especially if I froze the pesto for a while before using it.

And I prefer to salt and pepper my pesto after incorporating it into the final dish. There are so many strong flavors from the cheese and the olive oil, I often just add a mere pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. The key is really to taste as you incorporate the pesto into the pasta.
Finally, as Bleeding Espresso writes, there is no reason to eat pesto solely with pasta While I had wholegrain spaghetti and yummy bread with the first batch of pesto last Saturday, there are endless ways to eat pesto.

Be sure to check out Tales from the Fairy Blogmother, aka the home of What’s Cooking Wednesday. You will see this week’s participants and links to their recipes in addition to Shan’s recipe.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 michelle of bleeding espresso September 3, 2008 at 6:18 am

YUM! I’m sure P would like pesto with lemon. He likes everything with lemon đŸ˜‰


2 Cherrye September 3, 2008 at 6:56 am

I’ve never made pesto, but been anxious to. Thanks for the recipe.


3 Norma-ann at The Mommy Project September 3, 2008 at 7:21 pm

I’ve never made pesto either. I’ll have to try this (plus…I’ll put it on my list of reasons why I need a new food processor). Thanks!


4 City Girl September 4, 2008 at 3:20 am

Michelle — I made a lemon pesto once (lemon + basil + parsley) and I thought it was too much lemon, even though I love lemon. But the lemon in this recipe is more of an accent than an overwhelming flavor, and I find it truly lovely

Cherrye — pesto really is one of the easiest things to make IMO, especially because everyone I know has their own twist on it :)

Norma-Ann — as much as I love the idea of using mortar and pestle, I don’t own one, and I love how fast the food processor makes this recipe. It’s just zip zip, stir, some more zip zip and done.


5 Shan September 6, 2008 at 7:42 pm

Mmmmm pesto. I’m with Normie. A great reason to get a food processor!

Thanks for the recipe.


6 Widney Woman September 11, 2008 at 3:33 am

I have basil plants I am trying to keep alive. I think I’ll make this recipe. Husband loves him some pesto!! Thanks new blogger friend!


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