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. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. 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?

      1. 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.

        1. 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…

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