—  PESTO  --

Traditional pesto is a blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. With a food processor, it comes together in just a few steps:

  1. Pulse the nuts, lemon juice, and garlic in the food processor until they’re finely chopped.
  2. Add the basil and pulse again.
  3. Next, drizzle in the olive oil with the food processor blade still running.
  4. Finally, add grated Parmesan cheese and process briefly until combined. For vegan pesto, simply skip the cheese.

Pesto Recipe Variations

Once you’ve made the classic basil pesto recipe, try changing it up! You can make delicious variations with all sorts of nuts, seeds, veggies, and leafy greens. Here are some of my favorites…

  • Swap out the pine nuts for any nut of your choice! I particularly like walnuts and pistachios.
  • Make nut-free pesto by using pepitas or hemp seeds.
  • Use any herb or leafy green. I like a combination of parsley & cilantro, or use part basil and part arugula. Finely chopped kale leaves are also a great combination with basil!
  • Don’t let your veggie stems go to waste. Blanch kale stems and blend them into pesto with basil leaves or another herb.
  • Punch up the flavor! Add a roasted red pepper, sun dried tomatoes, a charred jalapeño, artichoke hearts, etc.
  • Traditional pesto alla Genovese is made simply with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, salt and olive oil. I often change up the nuts and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Read on to learn why!

  • Fresh Basil —  Pesto is the perfect use for your summer garden basil surplus. Don’t have a garden? My favorite sources for affordable fresh basil are the farmers’ market, Trader Joe’s, or those little basil plants (“living basil” or potted) from grocery stores.  Kenji from Serious Eats says you can use frozen basil leaves. If you ever have extra basil leaves—rinse, dry, and put them in a freezer bag for future pesto!

  • Pine Nuts or Other Nuts/Seeds  —  Pine nuts are the traditional choice (did you know they’re actually pine cone seeds?). Pine nuts are tender, buttery and high in fat, so they yield smoother, silkier pesto.  On the downside, pine nuts are prohibitively expensive. I save money by using raw almonds, walnuts, pecans or pepitas instead. Almonds are the most neutral option, so I used them for the pesto you see here. They’re all delicious in their own way, though.  I typically toast the nuts first to really bring out their flavor and add an extra-savory edge to the pesto.

  • Parmesan  —  Parmesan is salty and creamy, and tones down the anise flavor of the basil. You can use Pecorino Romano for a more prominent cheesy flavor. Technically,  Parmesans usually are not vegetarian (they contain animal rennet), but Whole Foods and BelGioioso offer vegetarian varieties.
    If you’re vegan or dairy free, you can use a smaller amount of nutritional yeast instead (see recipe note). Sometimes, if I’m in the mood for extra-bold pesto, I just leave it out altogether or sprinkle vegan Parmesan cheese on my finished dish, to taste.

  • Garlic  —  Garlic is a traditional component that livens up the pesto with aromatics and makes it taste a whole lot more interesting. Don’t skip it.

  • Lemon Juice — I always add a bit of lemon juice to my pesto to brighten up the flavor without adding more salt. It’s optional, but I think you’ll like it!

  • Salt  —  Salt amps up all the other flavors and reduces the bitterness of the basil.xtra-Virgin Olive Oil

  • Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest quality and comes from the first pressing of the olives. My favorite brands are California Olive Ranch and Trader Joe’s Kalamata olive oil.