how to make pesto, pesto recipe, pesto sauce

Scroll down for the recipe and instruction on how to make pesto

One of my favorite times of the year is when basil plants are exploding with fresh leaves that need to be used before they turn. This is pesto season!! I like to get the whole family together for making pesto from scratch. Not only are they extra hands in processing the ingredients, it’s a great time to hang out with a captive audience who may have ideas to make a different kind of pesto. I made my first sun dried tomato pesto as a result of one of our “basil bashing” sessions.


basil sauce, cream basil saucePesto, as we know it, originated in Genoa, Italy, and consisted of basil, garlic, olive oil, Parmigiano cheese, and pine nuts being crushed together with a mortar and pestle. The word pesto is from the Genoese “pesta”, which means to crush or pound. Other common ingredients are spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, and watercress to name a few.

I like to use alternative ingredients whenever I can. As always, quality ingredients are the most important part of the recipe. Basil that goes into your pesto brown will make a brown pesto, and using canola or soybean oil instead of good olive oil will leave an oily taste in your mouth.


A great thing about pesto is it’s many uses. When I think pesto, a dozen ideas pop into my head immediately. Pesto cream sauce, dipping fresh bread in pesto, eggs Florentine with pesto instead of spinach, pizza (or focaccia) with pesto and fresh heirloom tomatoes, I can go on for days! I like to make a ton of pesto and use it where ever.

‘The Basil Bash’

basil dip, basil dip recipesWhen we have the family “basil bash” I try to make enough to freeze a lot. One problem with freezing pesto is that it turns an undesirable color. I personally don’t mind, but you can freeze in small batches and use directly from frozen. This works great for sauces and by using it when it’s still frozen it doesn’t have time to oxidize.There are many ways to make pesto but let’s start with a basic pesto recipe, and we will move on from there.

Traditional Basil Pesto Recipe

2 cups basil leaves, packed tightly
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts, I prefer to toast them
3 tablespoons minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

How to make Pesto – the procedure

mortar and pestle, making a pasteYou can use a blender, food processor, or go old school and use a mortar and pestle. If you do use a mortar and pestle start out by making a paste with the garlic and pine nuts, then add the leaves, adding the oil once the leaves are pretty well crushed. Then finish with the cheese.

If you are using a blender or food processor, start with the basil, pine nuts, and a little bit of oil. I use just enough oil to make the basil wet, this helps the leaves grind with out becoming too stringy. Once the basil seems like it’s grinding well, add the rest of the ingredients, pouring the oil in slowly. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides or you will have a lot of stringy basil leaves. Make sure you have a piece of bread or 3 on hand to taste the pesto and check the salt levels.

Now let’s mix it up a bit. I like to make arugula pesto, but I usually use half arugula and half basil as my kids don’t really like straight arugula. I also omit the pepper as arugula is pretty peppery already.

arugula sauce, arugula dip

How to Make Arugula Pesto

1 cup arugula leaves, packed tightly
1 cup basil leaves, packed tightly
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Salt to taste

Notice I cut the garlic down, arugula has a pretty strong flavor and garlic can make it overpowering. Some people also add a squeeze of lemon juice as it helps brighten the pesto and helps preserve it. I have never frozen arugula pesto, but I imagine the arugula doesn’t lend itself to freezing.

sun dried tomato sauce, creamy sun dried tomato sauce

How to Make Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, strained
2 tablespoons minced garlic
¼ basil leaves
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup fresh grated cheese
1/3 cup olive oil, or the oil from the tomatoes themselves
Salt and pepper to taste

The tomatoes will need to be blended well before adding other ingredients. It is very important to taste this recipe as you go because sun dried tomatoes can be salty.

Get Creative

Now that I’ve given you the basics, and some variations, get creative. Try making a spinach or watercress pesto. The recipe would be the same as a basil pesto, but substituting the other leaves. You can also try substituting all or some of the pine nuts with walnuts. No matter what kind you make, have fun! Enjoy!


Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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