Pesto Genovese

This pesto Genovese is a classic Italian tradition that’s simple to toss together and has countless uses that extend way beyond tossing it with pasta.

Three glass jars partially filled with pesto Genovese.

This pesto Genovese is a spoon-it-straight-from-the-jar-and-slather-it-on-everything sorta sauce that boasts all the taste of tradition and all the seduction of sophistication. You can toss it with pasta, natch, although let’s see how many other uses we can think of for it. Let us know your faves in a comment below. Originally published July 18, 2012.Renee Schettler Rossi

Should You Use A Mortar and Pestle Or A Food Processor?

Many of our recipe testers swooned over the rustic and imperfectly uneven texture lent to the pesto by making it in 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 let you figure out whether you should use a mortar and pestle or a food processor for yourself.

Pesto Genovese

  • Quick Glance
  • (3)
  • 15 M
  • 15 M
  • Makes 8 (2-tbsp) servings | 1 cup
4.7/5 - 3 reviews
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Place the basil leaves in a mortar and crush them with a pestle until they collapse into a pulp or toss the leaves in a food processor and process until they’re finely chopped.

Add the garlic and pine nuts and crush or pulse repeatedly until combined. Transfer everything to a bowl if you’d like a little more elbow room as you stir.

Using a metal spoon, as slowly as you can, add the 1/3 cup olive oil into the mixture 1 spoonful at a time. Then add the Parmigiano-Reggiano. If a more drizzle-friendly consistency is desired, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil; otherwise, leave it as-is. Taste and, if you feel it’s necessary, season with salt to taste, although given how salty Parmigiano is, you may not need any added salt. Use immediately or, to store the pesto for later, pour it into a clean jar, top with just enough olive oil to completely cover the surface, screw on the lid, and tuck it away in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

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, I don't know, but 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. And, it seemed fussy when I read it, but adding the olive oil by spoonfuls 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.

Here’s another deceptively simple recipe for a classic most of us have made many times.

This pesto genovese 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. I really packed the basil leaves into my 1/2-cup measure. 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. I’m looking forward to using the leftover pesto later this week. And actually, now I might go to the fridge and take another bite of leftover pasta...


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  1. On the off chance that you still have some leftover pesto: cut some tomatoes in half, top with pesto & roast them in a hot oven ’til bubbly & fragrant.

  2. Suggestion for using pesto? Schmear it all over a pork tenderloin before roasting in the oven. Yummmmm. No other ingredients. Just the pesto. Easy? Tasty on lamb and chicken, too.

  3. My daughter works as a geologist at a remote mine site in the far north of South Australia. Fly In Fly Out (FIFO). I had bags of basil this year and made several batches. Ran out of pine nuts so I used walnuts in their place. Daughter gave some to the resident chef and I got a thumbs up. A different flavour but basil is the hero here.

    1. 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!

  4. 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! 🙂

      1. 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. 😉

        1. 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.

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