Basil Pesto Recipe

July 27th, 2009  | Category: Pasta, Preserving


It’s that time of year again. Time to turn the season’s juiciest and sweetest tomatoes into a homemade tomato sauce and preserving it for the winter months. It is also time to stock up your freezer with basil pesto sauce. I’ve managed to freeze ten cups so far. That is in addition to the batches I’ve gone through by tossing it with pasta, grilled vegetables, spreading it in sandwiches and even on a Margherita pizza I ordered yesterday.

Pesto means “pounded” in Italian as traditionally it is prepared by grinding the ingredients in a marble mortar &  pestle. I might have baked swan-shaped eclairs once, but pounding twenty cups of pesto by hand is beyond my patience, especially during a sticky summer day.


Preparing pesto is quite easy if you’re using a food processor like I do. I recommend that you mash the garlic with a fork (or a chef’s knife) instead of blending it with the rest of the ingredients. It has to have a smooth consistency in order for it to distribute evenly throughout the pesto. I always add a little bit of salt on top of the crushed garlic cloves. Salt absorbs the juice which would otherwise be lost and creates friction that speeds up the process.

Also, don’t skip on toasting the nuts, which brings out the flavor and provides a nice crunch. You can either spread them on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven or on a stove top in a heavy skillet without any oil. Make sure to shake the skillet constantly so that they don’t burn.

Pine nuts and walnuts

So, what else can you do with pesto? The simplest – and in my opinion one of the tastiest – way to eat pesto is to prepare a Caprese Salad. Instead of fresh basil leaves, I spread pesto between slices of tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese. I recall a commentor in one of the food blogs I follow calling a chopped version of pesto a “heresy.” I wonder what she’d call this version of Insalata Caprese. But I’ve never promised you authentic Italian dishes, right?

Raf de Casi Tomatoes

Well, someone does. I would like to introduce you to an amazing new food blog, launched just a few months ago by Rosetta Costantino. Her blog’s title says it all: Calabria From Scratch. She bakes bread in her wood-burning Mugnaini oven on her deck with the starter her mother bought from Calabria in her purse when they moved to California. How great is that? She teamed up with Janet Fletcher to write a book about the region’s foods and specialties, which will be published next year. Until then, you can try the recipes in her blog (these zucchini blossoms stuffed with Mozzarella would be a great start) or attend one of her cooking classes and culinary tours.

Pesto 2



Yields 5 cups of fresh basil pesto


  • A pound of basil leaves (2.2 pounds with the stems), washed and dried thoroughly
  • 10 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2.6 oz) pine nuts
  • 1+1/2 cups (5.3 oz) walnut halves
  • 2+1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3+1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic (10 cloves)


  1. Heat walnuts and pinenuts in a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes or until they’re golden brown and give off a rich, toasty fragrance. Stir or toss frequently for even toasting. Remove from pan to cool.
  2. Chop the garlic cloves finely, sprinkle a teaspoon of salt on top and mash to a fine paste with a fork.
  3. Place garlic and half of the basil leaves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds.
  4. Add the rest of the basil leaves and with the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed.
  5. Add the Parmesan cheese and toasted nuts and puree for one more minute.
  6. You can use it the right away. If you’re going to store pesto for a short period of time, place in a jar with a thin film of olive oil on top. You can also divide it into 1-cup portions and store in the freezer for a few months. Make sure to defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
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  1. 1 - Anh on July 27th, 2009

    Lovely photos and recipe. I envy your summer produces!

  2. 2 - Sean on July 27th, 2009

    How do you keep it so brilliantly green? The only way I’ve ever been able to keep the pesto from discoloring is to blanch the basil for a few seconds before grinding. It does wonders for the color, but it does bring down the basil flavor somewhat. I’m not sure which is worth sacrificing. 🙂

  3. 3 - Cenk on July 27th, 2009

    Sean – I think it’s the food processor (minimum contact with air). Do you grind in a mortar&pestle?

  4. 4 - Barbara Lilley on July 27th, 2009

    Hi Fernando,

    I have been enjoying your blog for a couple of months now and have recommended it to friends. A friend and I are going to be visiting Turkey in Sept. We are going to spend a few days in Istanbul and then travel to Izmir, Chios and perhaps do a little driving along the coast.
    Can you recommend a good place to shop for spices and perhaps a restaurant or two? I have been trying my hand at some Turkish dishes and would like to pick up a few spices and try a restaurant where the locals eat that is reasonably priced.

    Thank you


  5. 5 - Gera @ SweetsFoods on July 27th, 2009

    Cenk craving pasta like fettuccini topped with this marvelous pesto 🙂
    Enjoy the summer here is freezing…brr…



  6. 6 - Janet Fletcher on July 27th, 2009

    Cenk, thanks for the generous mention of Rosetta’s blog. You two must meet some day. She is leading a culinary tour of Calabria this fall (details on her web site). Perhaps some of your fan club might be interested. Your pesto photos are wonderful and I, too, wondered how you kept it so green.

  7. 7 - Cenk on July 27th, 2009

    Barbara – The list is too long. Let me get back to you via email.

    Janet – I am not sure about this, but it might be the food processor as the process takes only a minute and the leaves aren’t exposed to air. I also immediately topped them with a thin film of olive oil right after I transferred them into the jars. The basil leaves were exceptionally lively as well.

  8. 8 - joey on July 28th, 2009

    What gorgeously green pesto! It looks so brilliant! I think your version of the caprese salad sounds delicious…I will try it the next time we have it 🙂

  9. 9 - Rosetta on July 28th, 2009


    Thanks for mentioning my blog on your pesto write-up. You did a great job with making pesto. Let me know when you will be here in the Bay Area so we can finally meet.


  10. 10 - susan on July 28th, 2009

    for the love of fresh basil pesto!

  11. 11 - clementine on July 28th, 2009

    This is my first time at your blog and I am very impressed. Lovely post… will keep on coming.

  12. 12 - M.N. on July 28th, 2009

    This looks incredible. I’ll enjoy it with some grilled vegetables this weekend.

  13. 13 - Michela on July 29th, 2009

    The real italian pesto is absolutely ONLY with pine nuts, but ok, if you’ve never promised authentic Italian dishes… 😉
    Michela (from Italy, of course)

  14. 14 - Hillary on July 29th, 2009

    What a beautiful green pesto! Serve your pesto on this Salmon with Pesto and Puff Pastry recipe.

  15. 15 - Lori @ RecipeGirl on July 30th, 2009

    So pretty! I agree, toasting the nuts is key… just gives it that extra flavor that intensifies the end result. Love that you tried mixing the nuts.

  16. 16 - Hugging the Coast on July 30th, 2009

    I like this twist on classic pesto. It’s gourgeous looking too!

  17. 17 - Cynthia on July 31st, 2009

    Only you can make pesto look this good!

  18. 18 - hilal on July 31st, 2009

    hi..looks very delicious…can we also make this using the basil in purple colour…? here in my city we have them more than the pure green ones. green ones are sold in tiny little bunches and expensive.

  19. 19 - Hamiyet on July 31st, 2009

    Just happens that I was eyeing my basil plants in my backyard and wondering whether I would have enough to make pesto. I am on it. Thanks for the recipe.

  20. 20 - Caroline on August 1st, 2009

    hi cenk! just wanted to tell you that you are an amazing photographer – your photos are truly gorgeous. i love your blog, i’ve been a long time fan!

    also was wondering if you’ve been to NYC and if you have a favorite Turkish restaurant? my sister is coming for a visit and we adore turkish food, and we’d love a recommendation if you have one…

  21. 21 - Adriana on August 1st, 2009

    When I first grew basil many years ago, it was with the idea for having fresh basil to use when I was canning my tomatoes (also grown in my garden). Fortunately, I grew too much and the basil was ready to “harvest” long before my tomatoes! That’s when I started making basil pesto. When the basil plants sprout their flowers, I pinch off the stem down with a lot of basil leaves. Of course there are so many beautiful leaves to simply throw into the compost, so I make basil pesto. Wonderful stuff…can be used in so many ways. And, of course, I give my daughters and daughter-in-law some!!!

  22. 22 - hattie on August 4th, 2009

    i am looking for a recipe telling how to can pesto recipes–can you help?????thanks

  23. 23 - Hannah on August 5th, 2009

    I love your pictures! I agree that I like to put walnuts in my pesto as well. I think it adds an extra depth of flavor! If you like pesto, though you should check out this awesome dip with cream cheese and goat cheese… you’ll never go back!

  24. 24 - altaf on August 5th, 2009

    my 2 favourite: basil pesto & insalata caprese

  25. 25 - cherie on August 5th, 2009

    Love pesto. Everything about it. So fresh and delicious. I could have it straight out of the jar.

  26. 26 - ben on August 8th, 2009

    it looks delicious,but my only eat chinese

  27. 27 - Noah Body on August 11th, 2009

    ‘ ‘ Sean on July 27th, 2009

    How do you keep it so brilliantly green? ‘ ‘

    A shot of lemon juice (ascorbic acid / Vitamin C) is what I use. You can also use it to keep apples from browning when cut :o)

  28. 28 - Dragon on August 19th, 2009

    I love the vibrant colour of your pesto. 🙂

  29. 29 - Cenk on August 19th, 2009

    Caroline – I’ve been to NYC but stayed for only two days. I don’t know of any Turkish restaurants there.

  30. 30 - lisa on August 22nd, 2009

    Love that you toast the pine nuts. I am definitely trying this today. thanks!

  31. 31 - kellypea on August 23rd, 2009

    I love pesto — perfect green on yours. Wish I had a jar myself ; )

  32. 32 - Q. on August 24th, 2009

    Oh heresy shmeresy! It sounds delish and your photos are so lovely!

  33. 33 - The Hungry Mouse on August 26th, 2009

    Yum! (And gorgeous pictures, as usual!)

    I have three basil plants on my deck right now. I know what I’m doing with them. 😉


  34. 34 - Leonk on August 28th, 2009

    Hey man nice pics and recipes, but i suggest do not roast the nuts as it will take some of their oils out, which greatly add to flavor, of course the nutty flavor is also good, but try once without it!!!!

  35. 35 - Leonk on August 28th, 2009

    If there were shortage of it…. i could kill for such a sexy Basil…oh man its just freaking awesome!

  36. 36 - Alessandra on January 22nd, 2010

    Hi! I’m from Genoa and I can tell you that the recipe is fine but please no walnuts. Absolutely not, not in true Genoese Pesto. We use walnuts for another very good sauce, “salsa di noci” but that’s another story. Compliments for your blog!
    Bye. Ale

  37. 37 - patrizia on June 15th, 2010

    i agree with Alessandra and add that you need also another kind of cheese to mix with the parmesan: it’s pecorino sardo.
    Besides YOU WILLL NEVER obtain the real pesto with the food processor, you must use the marble mortar and the wooden pestle to do it and follow a certain order in adding the ingredients.
    first garlic and raw salt, second add the basil leaves, then the FRESH pinenuts (no need to heat), and then the 2 grated cheeses. at the end add enough olive oil to have a smooth compound.
    try this way and you will see the difference.
    it only takes 10 minutes of work.


  38. 38 - Traci Bradstreet on October 5th, 2010

    Love your photos and thanks for the recipe. I would like to make this in quantity and preserve it for gifts to family at the holidays. Have you done this and can you recommend the method for successfully preserving pesto sauce?

  39. 39 - Cenk on October 5th, 2010

    Traci – Glad you liked it. The only way I know how to preserve pesto is to freeze it. I usually pack it in 1-cup portions in freezer safe bags (since you’ll be giving them as gifts, you can also try 6 oz jars). If you’d like a more versatile sauce, you can omit the cheese. This way you can enjoy it in soups as well. Hope your family likes it.

  40. 40 - Piero on January 7th, 2011

    please, don’t toast pine nuts! Don’t add walnuts. Add a bit of pecorino (seasoned sheep or goat cheese) to parmigiano.
    You’ll appreciate the difference

  41. 41 - Cacau on January 12th, 2011

    Cenk, for how long the pesto sauce can be on the freezer? And after defrosting?
    Thanks for sharing … I am a big fan of you blog, but I had never wrote a comment.
    I am from Brazil, and have tried lots os your recipes! Thanks again 😉

  42. 42 - Cenk on January 14th, 2011

    Cacau – You can keep the pesto in the freezer for up to 6 months. After defrosting (in the refrigerator overnight), it will keep fresh for 3-4 days.

  43. 43 - שף בבית on July 31st, 2011

    Have to say that i love the photos. You have a real talent in food photography.

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