The BEST Homemade Pesto Sauce

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This delicious homemade pesto is bursting with basil leaf flavor balanced by buttery pine nuts, fresh garlic, and earthy olive oil. Here is everything you need to know to make the best basil pesto sauce in just a few minutes! It’s the perfect addition to all of your favorite Italian dishes.

If you’ve never tried making pasta sauce from scratch before, here’s your sign to give it a go! Making pasta sauce from scratch allows you to have more control over the ingredients, tastes better, and is free of preservatives! A few more recipes I recommend you try are homemade marinara, Bolognese, and alfredo. (It’s a reader favorite!)

Basil pesto in a pottery bowl with a silver serving spoon.

The Best Basil Pesto Sauce Recipe

Memorizing simple sauce recipes I can whip up in minutes is one way I save time in the kitchen. This basil pesto sauce is not only fresh and delicious but doubles as the perfect spread or sauce for many recipes. You can spread this over just about any meat or fish, or use it as a marinade for vegetables. Personally, my favorite way to enjoy pesto is tossed with some freshly cooked noodles. Tagliatelle, anyone?

So what is pesto anyways? You make authentic pesto by pounding the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle, which is also where it gets its name. Traditionally, you make the sauce with fresh basil leaves, garlic cloves, pine nuts, and a dry-aged cheese such as parmesan. Once the ingredients are crushed together or pulsed in a food processor, you mix them with olive oil to make it nice and smooth. It’s earthy, savory goodness and you are going to LOVE making it from scratch!

What Does Pesto Taste Like?

The strongest flavors in this sauce come from the basil and garlic, which is then balanced by the olive oil and pine nuts. Since pine nuts are an oily type nut they bring a buttery taste to the sauce. Depending on the type of cheese you use, you’ll also have hints of salt. It’s absolutely divine!

Ingredients You Will Need

Making homemade pesto sauce is incredibly easy, thanks to its short and sweet list of ingredients. With just a food processor or a mortar and pestle, you can blend them up in a snap to create a delicious sauce perfect for pasta, vegetables, or meats.

  • Fresh Basil Leaves: These give homemade pesto its signature color as well as earthy, herby taste. Not a basil leaf fan? No worries! You can easily swap out the peppery plant for your favorite leafy greens. A few great substitutes are spinach, kale, mint, and arugula.
  • Pine Nuts: Pine nuts have a delicate, buttery flavor and a slightly sweet taste. In homemade pesto, they add a rich, creamy texture and a subtle sweetness that complements the strong flavor of the basil. They’re also a great source of healthy fats and protein!
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese: Adds a tangy, salty flavor to the sauce that helps to balance out the sweetness of the pine nuts and the earthy flavor of the basil.
  • Garlic Cloves: Add the perfect savory, subtly spicy flavor to the pesto.
  • Kosher Salt: Kosher salt is coarsely-grained and made without additives. I prefer using it in the majority of my cooking because it doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste.
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Be sure to use high quality olive oil for best results. Olive oil adds a bright earthy flavor and helps the pesto turn out nice and smooth.

How to Make Homemade Pesto

For this easy homemade pesto recipe, you only need a food processor and spatula to prepare it. You will also need a small, airtight container for storage. Trust me, you’re going to love having it on hand because it’s extremely versatile!

  1. Prepare Pine Nuts: Place the pine nuts in a small frying pan over medium heat. Cook, occasionally tossing, until light golden brown, toasted, and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. 
  2. Add Ingredients to Food Processor: Add the basil leaves into a food processor with all of the nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt. Then pulse the ingredients until finely chopped.
  3. Mix in Olive Oil: Remove the lid and then slowly pour in the olive oil while continuing to pulse the ingredients together until it’s mixed well.
  4. Adjust Flavor to Taste: Taste the sauce and then adjust the seasoning as desired.

Adjusting the Consistency

To create a thicker sauce for sandwiches or meats only use half the olive oil in the recipe. For a thinner sauce typically used for marinating vegetables or for pasta, add all of the olive oil.

Collage of ingredients being blended together.

How Can I Use My Homemade Pesto?

Pesto sauce is one of those amazing recipes to always have on hand for quick dinners or marinades. It makes a good dinner great! Use it as a pizza sauce, drizzled on meat or fish, spread onto a sandwich, mixed into a salad dressing, or for marinating vegetables. The options really are endless. Get creative and incorporate this delicious sauce into all of your favorite recipes!

Top-down view of basil pesto in a food processor.

How to Store Basil Pesto

Homemade pesto can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week if packaged properly. Place the sauce in a small container and fill it to the brim, making sure to pack it down and remove any air. Pour an additional small amount of oil on the very top to maintain freshness. You can also freeze pesto sauce for several months if placed in an airtight container or freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the fridge and give it a mix before using!

Top-down view of pasta served on a white plate.

  • Place the pine nuts in a small frying pan over medium heat. Cook, occasionally tossing, until light golden brown, toasted, and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Allow them to cool slightly and place them in the food processor.

  • Add the basil leaves into a food processor with all of the pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, and salt. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped but not quite a paste.
  • Remove the lid and slowly pour half in the olive oil and pulse the ingredients together until it’s mixed well. For a more liquid style pesto add the remainder olive oil and pulse again to mix.

  • Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Originally posted April 30, 2020
Updated January 25, 2023

Serves: 12

Serving1tablespoonCalories139kcal (7%)Carbohydrates1gProtein3g (6%)Fat14g (22%)Saturated Fat2g (10%)Cholesterol4mg (1%)Sodium162mg (7%)Potassium81mg (2%)Fiber1g (4%)Sugar1g (1%)Vitamin A784IU (16%)Vitamin C3mg (4%)Calcium73mg (7%)Iron1mg (6%)

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods and portion sizes per household.

Course Sauce

Cuisine Italian

Keyword homemade pesto, pesto sauce

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