A classic green Basil Pesto recipe. Perfectly balanced for flavour and texture, with tips for making and ideas on how to use it.
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An easy, delicious Basil Pesto Recipe in just 10 minutes
If you love Pesto, then having an easy classic Basil Pesto Recipe is a must. Because homemade Pesto is honestly way better than the jarred stuff. And given that it can be made in just 10 minutes, you’ll kick yourself for not trying it sooner.
Don’t get me wrong… There are days when 10 minutes count and like everyone else, I am grateful to reach for a jar to save the effort. But there are also days when the superior taste and texture from Homemade Pesto make the effort beyond worth it.
What is Pesto?
Most of us will be familiar with Pesto as a bright green, very distinctive sauce that goes perfectly with pasta, or mixed with chicken. But what exactly is it and where does it originate?
Well… It started its much-loved life in Italy… Genoa to be specific. Indeed, the word ‘pesto’ actually originates from an Italian word ‘pestare’, meaning ‘to crush’.
Classic Pesto is generally made with a combination of fresh basil, pine nuts, Italian Parmesan cheese, a little garlic and olive oil. And traditionally, it is made by hand using a Pestle and Mortar.
No doubt you’ll be pleased to hear that for this particular Basil Pesto recipe, I have ditched the Pestle and Mortar in favour of the much speedier blender option… But don’t let that stop you. If you want to stay with tradition, feel free to do it the Italian way!
How does this homemade Basil Pesto Recipe compare to Pesto from a jar?
Like me, you probably already have a favourite ‘go to’ brand of jarred Pesto. But here’s the thing…
The consumer group ‘Which?’ did some research back in 2018 that showed just how far from the real deal many supermarket Pestos are. Ingredients such cashew nuts were used in place of pine nuts (because they are cheaper). Olive oil was frequently substituted with sunflower oil. Authentic Parmesan cheese was replaced with less expensive alternatives. And in some cases, sugar was added alongside various thickeners and fibres (such as potato flakes, bamboo and vegetable fibres)… used to stretch ingredients further. Other research has also indicated excessively high salt levels.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that homemade Pesto is superior. There’s honestly no comparison for quality and flavour. Make it and you’ll find that my Basil Pesto Recipe brings a freshness that will wake your taste buds from a long sleep. It’s…
- Heady with the aroma and flavour of fresh basil.
- Rich and earthy with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
- Sweetly nutty with lightly toasted pine nuts.
- Carefully balanced and seasoned and not over-‘garlicky’
- Not at all vinegary. Instead, this recipe offers a gorgeous, but gentle back-hit of lemon.
- Creamy and measured with all the above and not over-oily.
How to make my Basil Pesto Recipe – Tips for Pesto perfection
Okay… So what do you need to know about making my Basil Pesto Recipe, to reach Pesto perfection?
Use real Parmesan
Although any Parmesan cheese will work well in making Classic Basil Pesto, be aware that there is a difference between authentic Parmesan and generic alternatives. Not all ‘Parmesan’ is created equal. Genuine Parmesan will be labelled ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’. And this will tell you that the cheese is not only authentic, but rich and complex in flavour and with a depth that comes only from the maturity of the real deal. Using it whether for making Pesto or in any other recipe that lists Parmesan as one of the ingredients will make all the difference to the end result.
Check out this article to read more about the difference betweeen Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parmesan.
Fresh basil all the way…
Don’t be tempted to use either frozen or dried basil to make Pesto. Dried basil won’t work and frozen basil will not offer the pungency, texture or flavour that classic Pesto demands.
Fresh basil is widely available in supermarkets and greengrocers in the ‘fresh herb’ section either in bags, tied together in a bunch, or in a pot as a ‘growing herb’.
Lightly toast the pine nuts
My Basil Pesto Recipe is specific in its use of pine nuts that have been lightly toasted. Don’t skip the toasting, even to save time. Toasting the pine nuts brings an enhanced nuttiness, richness and flavour to the pesto that cannot be gained from raw nuts.
But… Be careful when toasting to avoid them browning too much. Over-coloured pine nuts can become dry and a little grittier in texture. So… a maximum of 5 minutes under a heated grill (turning frequently) should be ample.
Only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil
When making my Basil Pesto Recipe, it is important to only use olive oil that is graded ‘extra virgin’. This is the true oil that is gained from cold pressing the olives without any chemicals, heat or impurities. Not only does it tastes better, but it maintains its nutritional qualities and is far more natural for dishes that don’t need to be cooked. Using standard cooking-grade olive oil may add a slight bitterness.
Go easy on the garlic
Pesto recipes vary in how much garlic they use. But I speak from experience when I say ‘go easy on the garlic’… Add too much and your carefully crafted Pesto will taste harsh and overpowering. Remember that the garlic in Pesto is raw and hasn’t been ‘tamed’ by heat. Thus, it can quickly crowd the balanced blend of cheese, pine nuts and basil to the extent that it is quite unpleasant to eat.
Start low at a maximum of ½ a clove (less if the clove is very large). You can always add more to taste later if needed.
Season to taste
Seasoning of anything is a personal thing. Some people like a little less or more salt and pepper… Others prefer a hint of acidity or greater sweetness…
When making this Basil Pesto Recipe therefore, make absolutely sure to taste the final mix before it is ‘signed off’ from the blender and to adjust the level of seasoning (along with garlic and lemon juice) to taste.
Don’t skip the lemon
Although not all recipes use it, I add a little lemon juice when making Pesto for the following reasons. Lemon…
- Gives the pesto a light freshness. The citrus acidity is (and should be) subtle, but will ‘brighten’ the flavour on the tastebuds and offer a ‘cleanness’ that enhances the experience of eating it.
- Lemon is a natural preservative that helps to improve the storage and shelf-life of the Pesto.
- Because it is a preservative, it will also help the Pesto to maintain its beautiful green hue (in the same way that adding it to fruit salad keeps the apples from going brown).
Is Pesto gluten free and safe for Coeliacs?
Yes absolutely. There should never be anything in genuine Basil Pesto that is not safe for people with Coeliac Disease (Celiac Disease). Although of course, it’s always wise and important to check any ingredient labels to be sure there are no hidden gluten ingredients or ‘may contain’ warnings.
Is this Basil Pesto Recipe Vegetarian?
Like many kinds of cheese, Parmesan is made using rennet. This is an essential ingredient in cheesemaking that enables the milk to coagulate and form curds. However, rennet comes in two forms and may be animal-derived or plant-based.
Traditional Parmesan is made with animal-based rennet and thus would not be classed as vegetarian. As such, if needing a vegetarian cheese to make this Basil Pesto, I would advise using an alternative Italian-style hard cheese that is clearly labelled as vegetarian. Many supermarkets now stock them (often under own labels).
Can I make Basil Pesto Vegan and dairy free?
I have never tried making my Basil Pesto Recipe without standard cheese. However, it is still possible to make it Vegan. There are now an increasing number of vegan cheese alternatives available, including ones that aim to mimic the flavour and texture of Parmesan. The Violife Prosociano Wedge is one such option.
To be clear though… I have not personally tried the Vegan cheese option as Pesto, so it’s up to you if you wish to give it a whirl.
How to use homemade Basil Pesto
While the most familiar way to use Pesto is probably in pasta, it is so much more versatile than that. So, here are a few ideas for using your Basil Pesto more adventurously…
- The standard Pasta Pesto with added chicken, prawns, tuna, white fish or crunchy walnuts.
- Use as a marinade to coat chicken, fish or tofu before cooking (or drizzle over the top once cooked as a dressing).
- In sandwiches or on toast with chicken, prawns or slices of fresh mozzarella.
- Used to make 2-ingredient Pesto Roasted Chickpeas.
- Mixed with chunks of fresh Mozzarella and served as a cold salad or on Bruschetta.
- Used to make Pesto Pizza in place of the standard tomato version, or as an additional topping for a tomato pizza.
- As a dip served with toast, gluten free artisan rolls, crusty baguette or crackers.
- Drizzled or dolloped over salad as a dressing.
- Mixed into mash or Hasselback potatoes as a tasty Pesto potato side.
- Used to flavour (gluten free) Italian Foccacia.
- Stirred through cooked rice, quinoa or buckwheat to add flavour.
- Swirled into bread dough to make a Wholemeal Gluten Free Pesto Babka.
- To make the most divine gluten free Pesto Rolls.
- Or added into Chicken-Pesto Mini Picnic Pies.
How long does fresh Basil Pesto keep?
Once made and provided it is stored in an airtight jar or suitable container, homemade Basil Pesto should stay good for at least 1 to 2 weeks. To keep in the freshness, it helps to add a very thin additional layer of extra virgin olive oil on top before sealing. Store in the fridge.
Ready to make this Basil Pesto Recipe?
And that’s it! Thank you for reading. I hope that’s all you need to get the best from my homemade Classic Basil Pesto Recipe. If you have any further questions, you can get in touch via the comments box at the bottom of the post, by email, or via social media…
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest (#glutenfreealchemist).
If you do make this Pesto… Let me know what you think… And don’t forget to rate the recipe ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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Inspired recipe ideas for using Pesto…
Classic Basil Pesto
- heat-proof tray/dish
- oven or grill
- fine grater
- food processor/blender
- ½ clove garlic or less if the clove is very large
- 70 to 75 g fresh basil leaves (coarse stems removed) – 3 to 4 large handfuls
- 50 g pine nuts very lightly toasted
- large pinch fine sea salt to taste
- large grind fresh black pepper to taste
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil approx
- 50 g Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano) approx weight – finely grated (or an alternative Italian-style hard cheese)
- 1 to 2 tbsp lemon juice to taste
- Lightly toast the pine nuts in a heat-proof dish/tray either under the grill or in a pre-heated oven at 200 C for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cold dish and set aside to cool completely.
- Weigh the garlic, basil, cooled pine nuts, seasoning, olive oil, half of the Parmesan and half of the lemon juice into a food processor/high-powered blender.
- Pulse until the ingredients have broken down into a coarse paste, intermittently scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure an even blend.
- Add the rest of the parmesan and lemon juice a little at a time, pulsing between each addition, until happy with the flavour and texture of the Pesto.
- Transfer to a bowl and taste again, adding extra seasoning, oil and lemon juice as required (to desired flavour).
© 2019-2023 Kate Dowse All Rights Reserved – Do not copy or re-publish this recipe or any part of this recipe on any other blog, on social media or in a publication without the express permission of Gluten Free Alchemist
Classic Basil Pesto Recipe shared with
- Cook Blog Share 2022 Week 22 & 23 with Tin and Thyme
- Fiesta Friday #435 with Angie
- What’s for Dinner #369 with The Lazy Gastronome
- Full Plate Thursday #591 with Miz Helen’s Country Cottage
Previously shared with Eat Your Greens with Allotment to Kitchen
I adore homemade pesto and your basil pesto looks ace. Can’t wait for our basil crop to grow. I’ve never yet found a commercial brand that I’d even contemplate buying. Apart from anything else, why bother when it’s so easy?
Thank you. I totally agree Choclette. There is simply no comparison. x