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.–David Leite

Should I 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.

Three glass jars partially filled with pesto Genovese.

Pesto Genovese

4.67 / 3 votes
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.
David Leite
Servings8 servings | 1 cup total
Calories143 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Total Time15 minutes


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


  • 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.
Cook Italy

Adapted From

Cook Italy

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Serving: 2 tablespoonsCalories: 143 kcalCarbohydrates: 1 gProtein: 2 gFat: 15 gSaturated Fat: 2 gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4 gMonounsaturated Fat: 8 gCholesterol: 2 mgSodium: 51 mgPotassium: 54 mgFiber: 0.3 gSugar: 0.3 gVitamin A: 106 IUVitamin C: 0.4 mgCalcium: 42 mgIron: 1 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2010 Katie Caldesi. Photo © 2010 Lisa Linder. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This pesto Genovese makes a very mild, nutty-flavored pesto. 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 thinner than most pestos I’ve had, but it was still very good and very easy.

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…

This 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!

This is the way to make pesto Genovese! Get out that mortar and pestle and have some fun. Genovese 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 even thinking of trying it on ice cream, it is so good!

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.

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.

A classic recipe that is always seamless and tasty. 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. The toasted pine nuts were indeed a nice touch.

This is a good starter recipe for those new to creating pesto Genovese. This makes a great topping for pasta or bread.

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.

I suggest toasting the pine nuts; although you CAN leave them raw, toasting enhances their flavor, much like cooking flour removes the raw flavor.

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!

This makes a very nice pesto for pasta.

Preparing it with a mortar and pestle is probably more work than it requires. 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.

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

This is a very nice pesto, but I found it somewhat lacking in the basil department. I found that an extra 1/4 to 1/2 cup basil leaves really brought out the best this pesto has to offer. When adding the oil, I would suggest starting with 1/3 cup and adding until the desired consistency is achieved.

If someone has never made pesto, or hasn’t made good pesto, then they could use this very basic pesto recipe. I must admit that I was lazy and I made this in our food processor. I, like the author, always like to toast my pine nuts when I make pesto. When I make pesto, I don’t follow a recipe exactly. I taste and add a little bit extra of this and that, whatever the pesto needs to taste the way that I want it to at the time. I also never use the whole amount of olive oil in a recipe. I only add enough to get the consistency I want at the time. This recipe should be used as a guide. You can add more later depending on your specific use of the pesto.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 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. 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….

      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.

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

    1. 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….

    1. 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.