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How to Make Classic Basil Pesto

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Basil pestoClassic pesto is made with fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, walnuts, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and salt.

Pesto is the traditional pasta sauce. Pesto is also a flavorful addition to grilled vegetables, grilled chicken, salads, sliced tomatoes, pizza, bean and vegetable soup, and as a vegetable dip.

Pesto—which is essentially a pureed herbal mixture—can also be made with cilantro or tarragon.

For a less oily pesto, substitute orange juice for the olive oil.

This recipe will make about 1½ cups.

Ingredients for Basil Pesto

  • 1 cup loosely packed basil
  • 1 or 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese or shredded romano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons walnuts or pine nuts lightly roasted
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons, extra-virgin olive oil
  • A squeeze or two of lemon juice

Pesto makingDirections to Make Classic Basil Pesto

  1. Peel and slice the garlic and put it in a large mortar. (The garlic should flavor the pesto not overwhelm the basil.) Add a pinch of salt and nuts and pound the mixture to paste.
  2. Add the basil leaves to the garlic and nuts and continue pounding and grinding the leaves until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add the cheese and continue pounding as you gradually add the oil. Add more oil or less oil depending on the thickness desired. Alternatively, you can whirl all ingredients in a blender until smooth.


Also of interest:

How to Grow Basil

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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