A delicious basic recipe for pesto made with fresh basil leaves, garlic, cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil.
The best pesto I’ve ever tasted was in Cinque Terre in Italy. Though it’s such a simple food to make, their pesto was like no other I’d ever had. So while I was there, I kindly harassed every pesto shop owner I encountered, hoping they’d reveal to me their secrets, but all I could get out of them was that it’s all about the fresh ingredients. I guess they didn’t fall for my charms.
There are so many ways to use pesto
My favorite is to toss it with pasta (I like to thin out the sauce with a few tablespoons of cream or water from the cooked pasta), but it can be served with potatoes, chicken, or fish. It’s also a common spread for sandwiches, bruschetta, and pizza.
The most common cheese you’ll find in pesto recipes is Parmesan, but there are other hard cheeses you can use, and each will yield a slightly different flavor. My favorite version so far is half Parmesan and half Pecorino, the latter of which is a more delicate cheese that pairs wonderfully with the saltiness of Parmesan.
Toasting the pine nuts helps to really bring out their flavor. Sometimes I skip this step if I’m being lazy, but if I want to impress someone (say, my mother-in-law), I’ll go for the toasting.
Fresh Basil Pesto
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves* (without the stalks)
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- ¼ cup pine nuts , preferably toasted**
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (or Pecorino cheese, or a combination)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper , to taste
Place basil leaves, garlic, and nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Add olive oil slowly in a steady stream while food processor is running (to help prevent separation) until you get a smooth paste. Add the cheese and pulse several time more. Don’t over process. You want each of the ingredients to retain their texture. Season with salt and pepper.
Place pesto in a jar and cover with lid.
Pesto will keep for a week in the refrigerator.
* Half of the basil leaves can be substituted with spinach.
** To toast the pine nuts, place them on a baking sheet and bake for 5-8 minutes in a preheated 350F/180C oven, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Allow to cool before using. Alternately, you can toast them in a skillet over medium-low heat for a few short minutes.