Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Pesto is a sauce originating from Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Italy, and is thought to have two predecessors going as far back as ancient Rome. However, the sauce did not become popular in North America until the 1980s and 1990s. Pesto recipes will often vary. Traditionally, the ingredients are fresh basil, pine nuts, mashed garlic, coarse salt, and hard cheese (like parmesan), all held together with olive oil. These are blended into a creamy consistency and the final product tastes fresh and bright. The gorgeous green color in itself is enough to draw me in. This is a perfect summer sauce that you can incorporate in many recipes so I recommend you try this recipe and see how versatile and delicious it is yourself.
5 to 6 ounces fresh basil leaves (3 bunches or about 6 cups)
1/2 cup pine nuts, or any other nut
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or any other hard cheese
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place 1/2 of the basil in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or blender. Add the nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt and process or blend until the ingredients are finely chopped.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl or pitcher and add the remaining basil. Process until a uniform paste has formed.
While pulsing the mixture, slowly stream in the olive oil. Less olive oil will make a paste good for spreading on sandwiches and pizzas; more will make a sauce better for kinds of pasta and to stir into soup.
Taste and adjust. Taste the pesto and add more salt, garlic, nuts, or cheese as needed.
Instead of blending the pesto mixture, you should use the "pulse" food processor setting to avoid a thin consistency. This will instead create a rough texture that clings wonderfully to dishes and imitates the traditional pesto made in a marble mortar blended in a circular motion with a wooden pestle.
Since pine nuts are expensive they are often substituted with walnuts, cashews, and even peanuts. If you would like a smokier depth you can toast the nuts before adding them to the pesto but the traditional recipe uses them as is.
Pesto will darken and brown very quickly, but will still be tasty and fresh for several days. For best appearance, use it right away. It will last in a sealed container for about a week.