- Dish type
- Side dish
A classic that never dates. I make this in my trusty, big & bonkers (seriously heavy) pestle and mortar but you can always be more practical than me and use a mini chopper.
Kent, England, UK
1 person made this
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1 good pinch sea salt
- 1 heaped tablespoon pine nuts
- 1 good handful fresh basil leaves
- 2 to 3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2 level tablespoons finely grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
MethodPrep:5min ›Ready in:5min
- In the pestle and mortar or your mini chopper, add the garlic, salt and pine nuts. Smash down really well and mix into a coarse paste.
- Add the basil leaves and smash these into the nutty mixture. Mixing really well and then adding the cheese. Give it all a really good stir and then little by little, add the olive oil to make the mixture more wet.
- Place onto a small dish, cover and chill until ready to use. Great stirred through spaghetti, used as a dip, spooned over a tomato salad or dolloped on chicken or fish.
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Combine basil, oil, pine nuts, and garlic in a blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add both cheeses and salt blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl.
Do Ahead: Pesto can be made 1 day ahead. Top with ½" olive oil and chill.
How would you rate Classic Pesto Sauce?
This is a really simple, quick way to use up a harvest of basil! I just made the entire recipe twice and followed the instructions exactly and it's perfection. One recipe also fits perfectly into one Bonne Maman jam jar, if you're the sort who keeps those handy.
Delicious pesto. So easy and you can use in lots of ways. My fave is a simple whole wheat pasta with mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes. So yummy!
Recipes you want to make. Cooking advice that works. Restaurant recommendations you trust.
- About 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces
- About 1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces
- About ¼ cup pine nuts, raw
- 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 4 to 5 cups "Holy Basil" or small leaves of basil, buy 2 large bunches and pick smallest leaves (about 2½ ounces)
In a food processor, pulse the cheese into coarse sand. Transfer to a bowl. Add nuts, garlic, zest of 1 lemon and salt to a food processor and pulse into a fairly smooth paste. Add cheese to nut paste and add about 3 tablespoons EVOO process until smooth. Pulse process basil into sauce until fairly smooth, adding juice of 1 lemon and remaining EVOO.
The World’s Best Basil Pesto Recipe (Yes, It Won)
You don’t have to go to Italy to enjoy the best basil pesto recipe in the world. You can eat it right in your kitchen! This recipe, from an Italian chef, won the basil pesto world championships in Italy. And now, it’s all yours. With Genovese basil, good olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a secret technique.
Food and recipe writing is full of hyper-enthusiastic hyperbole, bluster, and puffery. You know what I mean: “Guaranteed the best, most delicious [insert food] ever!” That kind of thing. Except sometimes, it is an actual fact. Sometimes, you really do get the world’s best basil pesto recipe. The one that actually won the award in Italy, at the World Pesto Championships. And now it’s yours.
Winning the World Pesto Championship in the Liguria region of Italy — the birthplace of Genovese basil — is like winning the World Cheesesteak Contest in Philadelphia. (Which, to my knowledge, does not exist, but should.) In other words, if you win it there, you really are the world’s best. Now you can make this silky, fresh, absolutely delicious pesto at home.
A Little Background on the World’s Best Pesto Recipe
This recipe’s origin story gets a little muddled, but here are the answers. In 2008, up-and-coming (now famous, and controversial) American chef Danny Bowien worked at Farina restaurant in San Francisco. Italian chef Paolo Laboa owned Farina. Paolo made his mother’s pesto recipe in the restaurant, which Bowien entered in the pesto championships and won, under the umbrella of working at Farina. So, though Bowien was the technical winner, the recipe belongs to Laboa and his mother.
Discovering this pesto was like getting hit with a bolt of lightening, in a good way. Fast forward to today, and you will find Chef Laboa in the kitchen of unassuming, but amazing, rustic Italian restaurant Solo Italiano in Portland, Maine. I ate at Solo Italiano last summer, tasted the pesto, and needed to know more: Why is this so smooth and silky? How is it possible for pesto to taste this good? Why am I finding this in Portland, Maine and not some obscure trattoria on the northern Italian coast?
The answers lie in a combination of some cool — literally — techniques, and the use of the very, very best ingredients: the right basil, the right olive oil, and the right cheeses.
The Technique: The World’s Best Basil Pesto Recipe
A couple of interesting techniques happen here, which I have never seen before.
- First, this recipe calls for soaking the basil in cold water for 15 minutes, with several rinses. This adds weight to the leaves. The water that clings to the leaves when they go into the blender helps emulsify the pesto.
- Second, get your blender ice cold to reduce oxidation of the basil leaves. Oxidization can cause bitterness.
Chef Laboa suggests freezing the bowl of the blender. I do not have room for a big blender bowl in my freezer. Instead, I add ice cubes and water to the bowl and chill it that way until it is time to blend.
The Ingredients: The World’s Best Basil Pesto Recipe
As noted above, this recipes uses the very, very best ingredients: the right basil, the right olive oil, and the right cheeses.
- Chef Laboa uses young Genovese basil. This is the most common type of basil you see in the store. But he makes sure to use only young, bright green leaves, and not the large, tougher leaves. He says that these have a different, less delicate flavor.
That said, not everyone can source cold-pressed Ligurian olive oil and Italian pine nuts. I will say that this recipe will still taste very, very good with even regular, above-average olive oil, regular-sized basil leaves, commonly-available pine nuts (likely from China), and authentic pecorino-Toscano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses.
The cheeses are the two ingredients you definitely cannot cut corners on.
- Do not use regular parmesan. Use the real-deal, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. And pecorino-Toscano — don’t tell Laboa I said this — can be substituted with the more common pecorino-Romano cheese, which you may see branded as Locatelli at the store. This tastes saltier, though, so use a pinch less salt.
Sourcing the Pesto Ingredients
If you want to go for the gold and make this recipe to the exact specifications, here is where you can source the ingredients:
Classic Basil Pesto (Pesto alla genovese)
Basil is abundant in summer's last gasp, and if you are looking for a way to preserve it, then making a large batch of pesto and freezing the extra is a great way to extend this rich, summery flavor into the start of chilly autumn days.
The pesto that most of the world knows as the one-and-only "pesto" is, in fact, just one of endless kinds. "Pesto" means "pounded," from the verb pestare ("to pound"), because the old-fashioned way to make pesto (and the one that many cooks still swear by) is to pound the ingredients -- a mixture of aromatic herbs, salt, garlic, olive oil, cheese, and sometimes nuts -- with a mortar and pestle to form a paste, which could then be thinned with some water, vinegar, broth or verjuice to form a sauce. And not just a sauce for pasta, but for all kinds of foods. The origins for such a condiment date back at least as far as the ancient Romans, who made a pesto called moretum to eat with bread.
The most famous of all pestos, Genoese-style pesto, originates from the coastal region of Liguria, where traditionally this fresh-basil pesto is made with a mixture of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Pecorino, and eaten with either dried trenette (a long, thin, flattish pasta similar to tagliatelle) or fresh trofie, a short, chewy twisted pasta -- with chopped potatoes and green beans cooked together with the pasta and all tossed together with the pesto sauce.
In the southern French region of Provence, a similar sauce called pistou is made -- the main difference being that it does not contain pine nuts or cheese.
Naturally, as with any classic Italian recipe, there are probably as many versions as there are cooks, but I personally prefer a half-half mixture of Parmigiano and Pecorino for the nice balance that gives between the tangy-tart Parmigiano and the salty, pungent Pecorino.
With such a simple, uncooked sauce, it's of course important to use the freshest and highest-quality ingredients possible -- a very good, extra-virgin olive oil, good pine nuts (avoid short, round, dark-tipped pine nuts from the Chinese species pinus armandii, which can cause the short-lived, but distressing, "pine mouth" syndrome, which can leave a bitter, metallic taste in your mouth for up to two weeks, and look for longer, thinner, evenly-colored pine nuts, such as American-grown and Italian-grown varieties, which do not cause "pine mouth"), genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano (see this article for tips on how to spot the real deal) and Pecorino, and fresh garlic.
As for equipment, I do not belong to the "mortar and pestle or die" camp of pesto-makers. I have tried making pesto in a mortar and pestle, with a mezzaluna, with a food processor, and with a handheld immersion blender, and I prefer the latter two methods. The mortar-and-pestle version was just too chunky for my taste. I like the way a smoother pesto emulsifies and gives a silky feel to the final dish.
How To Make Pesto
To begin, combine the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper.
Process until finely chopped.
Then, with the food processor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Process again until smooth. That’s your sauce!
This Genovese specialty bursts with the summery flavor of basil, and we love it for way more than just pasta. (Though that's pretty great too!) Try tossing your roasted potatoes with a couple tablespoons, or mix a spoonful into mayo for a ridiculously addictive dipping sauce.
How long will it last after I make it?
Fresh pesto will last 5 to 7 days in the fridge, or up to 8 months in the freezer! We love freezing our leftover pesto in ice cube trays so we can pop out a single serving any time we're craving a bowl of pasta.
Can I do the whole recipe in the food processor?
Totally! We like stirring the cheese at the end for texture, but if you like a smoother pesto feel free to throw everything at once!
Can I make this recipe without a food processor?
Absolutely! Traditionally pesto was made using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle, so if you happen to have a mortar and pestle you're in business. You can also chop everything by hand, just make sure your knife is nice and sharp to minimize damage to the basil.
What's a good replacement for pine nuts?
You can use pretty much any kind of nut you like. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, or even pecans are all great substitutions. You can even use seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds!
Can I use a different cheese instead of Parmesan?
Absolutely! Any hard, salty aged cheese would work best. We like Pecorino or Manchego, but even Gouda would work if you're a fan!
The Best Pesto alla Genovese (Classic Basil Pesto Sauce) Recipe
Why It Works
- Using a mortar and pestle creates a luxurious sauce with a rich, deep flavor and a beautiful, silky texture that's superior to what a food processor can do.
- Pecorino Fiore Sardo is a slightly milder sheep's-milk cheese, and creates a more balanced, less harsh pesto sauce.
- Mild olive oil results in a more balanced, less aggressively spicy sauce.
This pesto sauce, through rounds and rounds of testing, has been honed to the perfect ratio, ingredients, and method. And, while a mortar and pestle requires a bit of work, the superior sauce it produces compared to a food processor can't be argued with. This is the true, best pesto. Still, if you want to use a food processor, you will end up with a very good pesto using this ratio of ingredients. (Just pulse the garlic, salt, and pine nuts together first, then add the cheese and follow with the basil stir in the oil.)
Pesto alla Genovese is the most recognisable variation of this symbol of Italian cuisine. Originating in Liguria, this classic pesto sauce recipe combines the intense flavours of basil, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano with the more delicate notes of pine nuts and olive oil. This king of basil recipes exemplifies Italy’s bountiful larder of superior ingredients, but it is not the only version. The name pesto is derived from the Italian word pestare meaning ‘to grind’ or ‘to crush’, and as such it can refer to a cornucopia of sauces made by grinding and crushing ingredients together. In Sicily, pesto alla trapanese is a popular pesto recipe made from almonds and tomatoes to create a pesto rosso (red pesto). Pesto alla calabrese, a speciality of Calabria, combines sweet red peppers with smooth ricotta for a deliciously creamy pesto sauce.
Whether you prefer pesto alla Genovese or a sun dried tomato pesto, browse this collection of homemade pesto recipes that range from the authentic to the cutting-edge. Andrea Migliaccio’s traditional Basil pesto recipe is a must for your Italian culinary repertoire and is perfect in any pesto pasta. Andrea Migliaccio also pairs his pesto with the equally iconic Italian ingredients of tomato and ricotta in his recipe for Passata of San Marzano tomatoes with buffalo ricotta and pesto, while the Costardi Brothers omit the Parmesan for a dairy-free pesto in their striking aubergine recipe.
It's easy being green, especially with this one-step, 5-minute recipe for everyone's favorite herby condiment.
- In food processor or blender, pulse basil, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts, lemon juice and black pepper until smooth.
- Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Looking to spice it up? Try out these variations.
Smoky Almond: Replace basil with parsley, pine nuts with blanched almonds and Parmesan with grated Manchego. Add 1/2 cup roasted red peppers and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika.
Spicy Cilantro: Omit cheese and lemon juice. Replace half of basil with cilantro and replace pine nuts with roasted unsalted peanuts. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 small serrano chile (seeded and chopped) and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Hazelnut-Arugula: Replace basil with 2 1/2 cups arugula and 1/2 cup parsley, and replace pine nuts with hazelnuts. Add pinch nutmeg.