How to Make Pesto!

The first time I ever made pesto, it turned out great but I really could have used step-by-step visuals to ensure I was doing it right. Thus, I bring you — my pesto recipe, with step-by-step images and lots of tips.

Pesto is the most versatile sauce/condiment/spread ever. Spread it on a sandwich, use it in a sauce for Italian-style pasta, use it as a marinade in grilling, fill stuff a mushroom with it. Get creative! One year for Christmas I bought about 2 pounds of basil and some canning jars, and gave everyone I knew the gift of pesto.

This recipe is adapted from madame Ina Garten’s method. The woman really can do no wrong. Because my food processor is a bit tiny, I halved the recipe. With this batch, I used some for a shrimp grilling marinade, for pesto pasta, spread it on many slices of bread, and then made pasta again. And I still have some left over.

Ingredient list: a lemon, fresh  basil, good olive oil, salt and pepper, freshly grated parmesan, an air-tight jar for storage, garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt and pepper again.

Begin by picking all the stems and brown parts off of the basil. Don’t skip this step — if any brown or wilted leaves make it in, the pesto will turn brown very quickly. Next, chop the garlic and toast the pine nuts. This is most easily done in a nonstick pan on LOW LOW heat. Pine nuts are so tricky. They take forever to toast, but will burn in a half second. Therefore, you can never ever take your eyes off them, and keep them moving in the pan. When they start to brown (after about 5 minutes), pour them out of the pan immediately because even with the stove off, the pan is hot enough to burn them.

In a food processor or blender, add in the garlic and pine nuts. Pulse until they look like the picture above.

Next, add in the basil, salt and pepper. Pulse until the leaves are pureed. Then slowly pour the olive oil in a little at a time through the feed tube, pulsing the food processor until evenly mixed and it looks like the green mixture in the next photo.

Next, pour in the parmesan and pulse for about a minute.

This last step is key — take a half of a lemon and squeeze a good amount of juice into the pesto. Mix it in, and you will instantly see the green color become brighter and more vibrant. Lemon juice does a really great job of preventing the pesto from becoming brown. When you store the leftover pesto in an air tight container, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top to keep air out. If you do both the lemon juice and the oil layer, your pesto will last over a month in the fridge.

Pesto Recipe
Makes 2.5-3 cups, cook time 15 minutes

  • 2.5 cups packed fresh basil (3 large plastic packages, or 6 small, from the grocery store)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • Lemon juice of 1/2 a lemon
  1. Remove the stems and brown leaves from the basil, chop the garlic, and grate the parmesan.
  2. Place the pine nuts over the stove in a non stick pan. Turn the stove on to the lowest setting. Continuously move the pine nuts around, and never take your eyes off them. After about 5 minutes, they will start to brown. When they are toasted, remove them from the pan immediately.
  3. In a food processor or blender, add the garlic and pine nuts and pulse until finely chopped. Add in the basil, salt and pepper, and pulse until pureed.
  4. Pulse on low and slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube.
  5. Add in the parmesan and pulse until the mixture is evenly pureed.
  6. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and mix. Serve or store in an air tight container. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto jar before storing.