Pesto Genovese

Originally pesto was a sauce made from basil leaves during summer that, when sealed with oil, would last until winter. Over the years, chefs have adapted the recipe to use different ingredients. Even within Liguria, where Pesto Genovese originated, Ligurians argue over the best way to make it. Purists use a pestle and mortar, but if your kitchen doesn’t have one, use a food processor or blender instead. I prefer to lightly toast the pine nuts to make their presence stronger, although it’s fine to leave them raw.–Katie Caldesi

LC Pesto Made With A Pestle? Note

We find ourselves at something of a crossroads in terms of this recipe. Many of our recipe testers swooned over the coarse, uneven texture lent to the pesto by a mortar and pestle. Others found it quite cumbersome to make this pesto in anything but a food processor. You know your technology threshold and your desire for rusticity better than anyone. We’ll just let you figure that part of the recipe out for yourself.

Pesto Genovese Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 15 M
  • Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup really tightly packed basil leaves, stems removed
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled
  • 6 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  • 1. Place the basil leaves in a mortar and crush them with a pestle until they become a pulp or process the leaves in a food processor until finely chopped.
  • 2. Add the garlic and pine nuts and crush or pulse repeatedly until combined.
  • 3. Using a metal spoon, stir in 1/3 cup olive oil followed by the Parmigiano-Reggiano. (You may need to transfer the mixture to a bowl to easily mix the ingredients.) If a more unctuous consistency is desired, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Taste and season with salt if required, but remember that Parmesan is quite salty. Use immediately. (If you wish to instead store the pesto, pour it into a sterile jar, top with just enough olive oil to cover the surface, screw on the lid, and tuck it away in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.)
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Comments
Comments
  1. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Megan M.] This pesto is delicious. My friend and I couldn’t stop eating our pasta with pesto for lunch today. I made it with my blender, as I don’t have a mortar and pestle. Because of the saltiness of the cheese I didn’t add too much salt to the pesto but cooked the pasta in very salty water. When I made the pesto I really packed the basil leaves into my 1/2-cup measure. I’m looking forward to using the leftover pesto later this week and now I might go to the fridge and take another bite of leftover pasta.

  2. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Lori Widmeyer] This recipe makes a very mild, nutty-flavored pesto that is thinner than most pestos I have had. I was originally going to toss it with pasta, but ended up making two versions of pesto pizza and both were delicious. I do not own a mortar so I ended up making this in my food processor, which may be why mine was thin, but still very good and very easy.

  3. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Marilyn Canna] Here’s another deceptively simple recipe for a classic most of us have made many times. However, whether it was the fresh-from-the-farmers’ market first basil of the season (with roots still on the stems!) that I mashed by hand, the richness of the lightly toasted pignoli, or the quality of my oil, this was the sweetest, brightest-tasting pesto I’ve ever made or eaten. While I eventually used the food processor, I started by crushing the basil leaves in the mortar with a pestle and tried to do the same with the garlic clove and a few nuts (my mortar holds only about a cup). And, it seemed fussy when I read it, but adding the olive oil by spoonfuls (at least that’s how I first understood the directions) allowed incorporation into the emulsion without the basil–oil separation that sometimes occurs when you make the whole thing in a processor. After stirring in the Parmesan, a few grains of salt was all it took to bring all the flavors together.

  4. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Sandy Hill] Pesto Genovese was a delight to make, smell, and devour! We loved the rustic, slightly chunky texture the pestle and mortar gave it. The pesto did not last 3 weeks for us! We enjoyed it over grilled breads, on pasta, with cheese, and over grilled salmon. It has so many uses. I will keep this recipe around for a long time, especially when my basil is plentiful!

  5. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Karen Depp] This is the way to make pesto! Get out that mortar and pestle and have some fun. This is quick, easy, and delicious. And it is NOT that thin kind of pesto where everything is all mashed up together, but rather a pesto with some substance. I can see using this on just about everything; I am thinking of trying it on ice cream, it is so good!

  6. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Sita Krishnaswamy] I quite enjoyed making this pesto with a mortar and pestle. Loved the texture of it. The toasted pine nuts add a new depth of flavor to the pesto. This will be a favorite even through the winter months.

  7. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Jennifer V.] I always look forward to the summer, for summer to me means that it’s finally warm enough in the mid-Atlantic to grow basil plants. I love using them in pesto, and this recipe is a tried-and-true classic. I used a little less olive oil than the amount called for, since I like to have the option to make it “looser”" depending on its intended use. I used a food processor rather than the traditional mortar and pestle since it’s faster. The pesto is wonderful with pasta, of course, or just drizzled over some tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. When left slightly thicker, it makes an excellent spread for bruschetta.

  8. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Sofia Reino] A classic recipe that is always seamless and tasty. The toasted pine nuts were indeed a nice touch. I did use the traditional pestle and mortar to create the paste, as there is something special about making it this way. We served it over some pasta with lots of extra-virgin olive oil and some smoked sausage.

  9. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Joel Jenkins] This is a good starter recipe for those new to creating pesto. This makes a great topping for pasta or bread. I suggest toasting the pine nuts; although you CAN leave them raw, toasting enhances their flavor, much like cooking flour removes the raw flavor. Good olive oil is critical to the final flavor of this, or any other, pesto. The same goes for the cheese. Parmesan from a can will not give you the same depth of flavor that freshly grated Parmesan will.

  10. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Pat F.] This makes a very nice pesto for pasta. Preparing it with a mortar and pestle is probably more work than it requires or deserves. I would use a food processor to make this again, unless I was going for a very rustic look. If it had been made with a food processor, the amount of olive oil would probably be okay. With the elbow-grease mortar and pestle version, I thought there was a bit too much oil.

  11. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Anne Leslie] I think a classic pesto is a great summertime dish. I normally like to include any green herbs I might have to give it a unique flavor. This is such a great recipe to put over pasta, mix with grilled vegetables, or eat with tomatoes and mozzarella on bruschetta!

  12. Veena says:

    Love that pop of color! Looks like I should use more basil and less nuts. Though I love to use my mortar and pestle, given its size, I’d have to make this quantity of pesto in a few batches. So I’ve always used the food processor. I think I’ll make a half batch and use the mortar and pestle next time.

    • LIndsay Myers says:

      I agree, Veena–it’s the most astounding color! I think testing out a batch with the mortar and pestle would certainly be worth your while, even if only for that rustic appeal. Pesto is one of my favorite spreads, I’m so happy to see another fan here.

  13. Kim Bee says:

    This is one gorgeous pesto. Love the color. I have to admit I’d probably go the food processor route. If mine wasn’t broken.

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Well, Kim Bee, pull out that mortar and pestle, you must give this a try!

  14. Joan Picone says:

    This is exactly the recipe I use, but with cilantro…. Or cilantro/ parsley mix. Also try it with walnuts. My favorite way to enjoy is mixed with yoghurt for lunch! I’m so busy and always use my food processor!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      We’re tremendous cilantroheads over here, Joan, so we appreciate the suggestions, Joan.

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Sounds wonderful, Joan! I love cilantro so I need to give your version a try.

  15. Lauren says:

    Pesto will always remind me of summertime when our garden had so much basil we would make batches and batches! It is such a fresh combination but something I haven’t made since moving to Spain. I don’t know why basil isn’t too common in Spanish cooking. What a shame!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Lauren, I have a hunch that those memories will serve you well until you can manage to obtain a fresh bunch of basil. I’m curious, what herbs do you have in abundance at your local markets?

      • It’s funny, Renee, but I don’t see too many fresh herbs here. I’m now living in Madrid, so I can find just about anything (including basil), but in your average corner “frutería” parsley is the only herb they are sure to have fresh. In the bigger supermarkets you’ll find basil, cilantro, rosemary, and thyme fresh but in tiny prepackaged packets. I’ve never seen an enormous bushel of basil here like I would see in Western Mass. farmers markets. Spearmint can sometimes be found fresh as well, but it isn’t too common in the average Spanish kitchen either.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          Lauren, I suppose there are so many other spices and flavorings in so much of Spanish cooking that the presence–or lack thereof–of a few fresh herbs is diminished. And yet when one grows accustomed to cooking with them, it’s hard to bear their absence. Here’s wishing you a sunny windowsill on which you can grow some…

  16. Tim says:

    The best pesto comes in using a mortar and pestle. You have to be very careful to not overblend the pesto when using a food processor because it can make your pesto bitter because you over bruise the basil. I know it’s easier to use the food processor, but the mortar and pesto route is so much tastier…and definitely toast the pine nuts a bit.

  17. Pat says:

    I love pesto and make several versions. I love using a few roasted cherry tomatoes and peppers in the usual mix. Walnuts are also good as well as toasted almonds. A good combination of hard cheese is also good.

  18. tc says:

    for those of us with nut allergies, any substitute pine/tree nut suggestions?

    • Beth Price says:

      Hi TC, you can certainly leave out the pine nuts and add a bit more parmesan. Or you might try sunflower seeds or toasted pumpkin seeds. Let us know if you try any of these variations.

  19. jacqueline says:

    Just this year I learned about blanching basil before making pesto. Really makes the basil retain color! No going back…

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      I love when the teensiest trick or technique seems to turn the world upside down for all the difference it makes. Many thanks for taking the time to comment, jacqueline. Look forward to hearing which recipe you make next….

  20. ruthie says:

    When I was a teenager I used to do the M&P thing, then put it through a Chinoise. Boy was that smooth! A few years down the road and I had a food processor. Less work, but I don’t like the grassiness that it brings out in the basil. So, I went back to the old way and think it’s worth the extra effort.

    However, I started making an early spring pesto using nice tender grape leaves from my garden in place of basil, and that I like more chopped and do it in the food processor. I love the almost wine-y flavor the leaves give it. I especially love it on flatbread, with strips of roasted red pepper or on a pizza with just some fresh Mozz and Kalamata olives. By the time the grape leaves are getting tough, there’s basil in the garden. Streeetch the season. ;)

    Oh, and I use Vella Dry Mozz with my grape leaf pesto instead of the Parm. Eat local! :)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Love it, Ruthie. Just love it. I’ve been having a hankering for spring garlic pesto myself. I fear it’s going to be a long eight or so months….

      • ruthie says:

        Ooh! Spring garlic that’s really “spring garlic”! When I lived on the East Coast, I was lucky enough to live in Baltimore, which has had thriving farmers markets like forever. Spring garlic was one of my favorite things at the start of the season. And freshly baked croissants from the French baker who had a booth there. I miss it, but here in Sonoma we do pretty well, too. I’m a lucky woman. ;)

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          Yup, ruthie, that’s the spring garlic I had in mind. It’s sorta lovely to have something that is truly ephemeral in this world that’s so accustomed to instant gratification; it reminds me that there is a lot to be said for anticipation and patience. And yes, ruthie, you are a lucky woman…although I do think we do make our own luck.

  21. pfrank says:

    Can we leave out the pine nuts? They are hard to get.
    Thanks

    • Beth Price says:

      Sure pfrank, or you could add in a different nut, or a bit more basil. This is one of those recipes that you can make to your liking. Have fun!

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