This is one of our base recipes. Classic basil pesto is delicious, but did you know that you can make pesto with any variety of greens? We love using basil in the summer when it’s in season, but come fall or winter, we like to use heartier greens such as kale and arugula. This easy pesto recipe is great on pasta, vegetables, and fish, and is a perfect sauce to make and keep on hand! Use this recipe as a guide, then get creative customizing it to your taste!
Three Must-Know Cooking Skills
For recipe success, learn how to:
Culinary Tips for Making the Pesto Base Recipe
When measuring the greens, gently pack them into the cup, but don’t pack so much that the leaves fall out of the cup.
Depending on the size of your food processor or blender, you might need to double the recipe. The jar/bowl needs to be full of enough ingredients to properly blend.
For smaller nuts, like pine nuts, you will probably want to use closer to ¼ cup. For larger nuts, like walnuts, use ½ cup.
Be careful with the amount of fresh garlic – it has strong flavor! It’s better to start with less, then add more to taste.
Process until you reach your desired texture. For a smooth and creamy pesto sauce, process for longer.
Different pesto recipes may have slightly different ratios, but the ingredients will generally be the same: greens, olive oil, nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt.
- Greens: substitute any greens of your choice (spinach, arugula, kale, basil). Greens such as mustard greens, Swiss chard, and beet greens have a stronger taste, so consider using a milder green, such as spinach, for half of the recipe. You can also add green herbs such as fresh dill, mint, parsley, or cilantro to enhance the flavor, but don’t use them as the only green; their flavor is too strong. Choose herbs that compliment the other flavors in your dish.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: substitute infused extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. We don’t recommend using vegetable oil, as this is not a heart-healthy oil. If you want to enhance the pesto with a strongly flavored oil, such as walnut or truffle oil, use extra virgin olive oil as the base, then add the strong oil a little at a time, to taste.
- Cheese: use parmesan, Pecorino Romano, asiago, or aged cheddar. We think that cheese blocks taste best, but we also recognize the added convenience of pre-shredded cheese.
- Nuts: you can make this pesto recipe without pine nuts by substituting walnuts, cashews, pecans, or almonds. We don’t recommend using peanuts in pesto, as they have a very distinct taste.
- Garlic: substitute ½ teaspoon garlic flakes, ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic, or ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder.
We love getting our oil and vinegar from Enzo’s Table. Click on the picture below to try out dozens of different oils, vinegars, and more!
Base Recipe Variations
Remember that this is a base recipe, so the goal is for you to customize it to your taste!
To reduce the pungency of the garlic, roast it in the oven for a few minutes (keep the peel on).
For a more complex flavor, toast the nuts before adding them to the blender.
Add lemon zest and/or juice to brighten the flavor.
To make this pesto recipe vegan, leave out the cheese. To maintain some of the umami flavor, add 1 Tablespoon of nutritional yeast.
Are you nuts for pesto too?
Try out some of our favorite variations for inspiration, then have fun exploring other flavors, ingredients, and textures!
Use these kitchen tools for pesto recipe success!
Health Benefits of Homemade Pesto
Learning how to make pesto sauce from scratch is a great way to expand your culinary horizons! Pesto is a healthy sauce/dip/spread that can boost the nutritional quality and flavor of a dish. The featured ingredients in this recipe are greens, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
Leafy greens are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. They are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that promote health and help fight diseases. Blending leafy greens into a healthy pesto recipe is an easy way to incorporate them in your diet!
Nuts of all varieties contain plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fats. These nutrients help you feel satisfied until your next meal.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean Diet. It contains high amounts of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols which may reduce inflammation. Additionally, certain nutrients require fat for absorption; using extra virgin olive oil in pesto can boost the nutritional quality of a dish. (1, 2)
Serve pesto on top of fish, combined in meatballs or burgers, tossed in with a grain-based salad, or mixed in with noodles to make pesto pasta. These are some of our favorite recipes with pesto, but feel free to use it in whatever sound great to you!
Pesto oxidizes in the refrigerator which turns the bright green color to olive green. This doesn’t necessarily affect the flavor – it just doesn’t look as pretty! To help preserve some of the color, drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top of the pesto before refrigerating. Alternatively, cover the pesto with plastic wrap and let it touch the surface so that it doesn’t have any contact with the air.
Pesto also freezes well. For easy use and thawing, freeze in small servings (a silicone ice tray is great for this). When ready to eat, simply pop a cube or two out, thaw, and you’re ready to go!
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Pesto Base Recipe
- 2 cups packed leafy greens (~1 ½ ounces)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup shredded hard cheese (parmesan, asiago, aged cheddar)
- ¼-½ cup nuts*
- 1 medium garlic clove
- Salt & pepper to taste
Additions to YOUR taste
- 1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- Place leafy greens, oil, cheese, nuts, and garlic in a blender and puree until fairly smooth. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and optional lemon juice.
- To store, pour into a container and top with a little extra virgin olive oil to keep your pesto nice and green. Enjoy!