How to Make Basil Pesto Sauce

Homegrown basil for basil pesto
Basil pesto is a treat and the best way to enjoy basil.  And I’m talking about homemade pesto sauce, not the shop bought one form the jar.  The fusion of flavours in it is a marriage made in heaven.

Basil is an annual herb that likes warmth.  It’s easy to grow your own in the garden during the summer or in pots indoors all year round.  Pick tender leaves regularly to prevent it from flowering and stems getting woody.  Leave one plant to mature and collect the seeds for the next season.  Alternatively, buy fresh basil in shops.

Pesto can be made using mortar and pestle, chopped with a herb cutting knife (takes a while) or in a food processor.

To make fresh basil pesto sauce you’ll need following ingredients:

  • A large bunch of basil (about 3-4 cups of leaves)
  • 3 cloves of garlic (add more or less depending on taste)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup roasted pine nuts (cashews, macadamia nuts or roasted almonds)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • Sea salt

Use the quantities as a guide only and don’t be afraid to experiment.  To be honest, I don’t follow the recipe anymore.   I just pick some basil leaves from the garden, add few cloves of garlic, salt, nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and some good olive oil.  Traditionally, pine nuts are used in basil pesto recipe, but I often substitute macadamia or cashew nuts for pine nuts.

Here is a step by step guide on how to make your own basil pesto sauce:

basil leaves for basil pesto sause

1. Pick the leaves and wash them in a bowl of water.  Dry immediately in a colander and then on a clean tea towel.  The leaves will turn black if left in the water for too long.

ingredients for basil pesto

2. Put basil leaves, nuts of your choice and salt into food processor.  Blend it until finely chopped.

add garlic

3. Add grated Parmesan and crushed garlic.  Whiz it until combined.

add olive oil

4. Add olive oil and process again.  For a smooth pesto, run the food processor for a bit longer.

homemade basil pesto

5. Voilá!

Basil pesto can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.  At my place it disappears mysteriously after a couple of days :-) !  Pesto is suitable for freezing.

Some ideas for basil pesto use:

  • spread it on a fresh crusty bread
  • great tossed with pasta
  • wonderful with tomatoes
  • top bruschetta with pesto
  • great alternative to butter or margarine in sandwiches
  • substitute basil pesto for tomato sauce on homemade pizza:
  • Gourmet Pizza

  • add pesto to Béchamel sauce when making lasagna
  • serve with grilled fish, chicken or mushrooms.

Bon Appétit

2010 Basil Pesto Update

This year most of our basil is coming from our container garden at home and from only two plants:

Green and Purple Basil in container

As you can see one is green and the other – purple!  Nevertheless, purple pesto has the same great taste.  I really love this purple variety.  Its gorgeous, strong colour is great contrast to green leaves and makes an  unusual garnish.

Purple Basil

So far, I’ve made about 4 batches of pesto from these two basil plants and they still keep on growing thanks to a sunny spot and homemade compost.

Green and Purple Basil Leaves

I have not attempted to make purple basil pesto yet.  I’ll give it a shot next time I make pesto to see the colour.  The pesto from green and purple leaves is still green (a bit darker green).  You can see small purple freckles:

Homemade Basil Pesto

Basil is one of the herbs that doesn’t like cold, so make the most of it while you have it in the garden. For the winter days, if you have oversupply of basil, freeze some. I usually put them into smaller containers or in an ice cube tray.

Freezing Basil Pesto

The best way to enjoy freshly made basil pesto is to put it on some crusty homemade bread.  Our daughter gives this batch of homemade pesto thumbs up!

Yummy Pesto on Fresh Bread

I do hope this guide has been useful, please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or tips on how to make basil pesto sauce.

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  1. monica says

    Now I feel confident about what to do with some of the basil growing overboard in my vege patch! I’ve been using it in sugo, salads & stir fries, but have never been game to attempt pesto. I thought there must be some mystery to it. The fabulous photos & clear guidance make it seem easy. Many thanks.

  2. Bridget says

    Hi Vesna

    I have made tonnes of your pesto recipe as it is great!! I have not roasted the pine nuts first before and use to add pepper, but yours is much better.

  3. Sarah Helland says


    Can you tell me what you freeze the pesto in? How long can it stay in the freezer? Do you have any idea on how to pesto?



    • Vesna says

      Hi Sarah,

      I freeze pesto in freezer safe glass or plastic containers. Fresh pesto is best consumed within a week and should be kept in the fridge. I haven’t tried to JAR it for a longer shelf life. I assume that shop bought jars have some sort of preservative in them.

  4. Bobbi says

    how did you keep your pesto so green? Mine always turns dark in the food processor – stays green when I use the blender, but it’s so much harder to do in the blender because of the narrow bottom

    • Vesna says

      Hi Bobbi,

      So far, I’ve never had a problem with pesto turning black. Basil leaves turn black if they are left in the water for too long or if bruised. Could it bee that the food processor blade is blunt?

      • Bobbi says

        Hmmm, I never thought of that. Can those blades be sharpened? The pesto turns dark green, not black, and I’ve even tried putting in some lemon juice, which helps but changes the taste. I read you should not even wash the basil, so it’s not water, and I process it shortly after harvesting.
        Re: freezing- I freeze just the basil and oil and make the final pesto when I defrost it.

        • Vesna says

          I believe you can sharpen the blade.

          The type of basil plant grown might produce different pesto colour, too. But honestly, if the taste is great, I wouldn’t worry too much about the colour.

    • Vesna says

      Hi Mavis,

      I haven’t heard of apple being added to pesto, but sounds interesting. I’m curious about the taste and will try it in summer. As for parsley, I’m often making parsley pesto during the winter when there is plenty of parsley but no basil in the garden. We call it our “winter” pesto.

      You can combine basil and parsley, sometimes I add rocket as well. Apple and parsley pesto – that could be a good match and plenty of each during cold months.

      To lower the calorie content, substitute one peeled fresh tomato for olive oil – it tastes great!

  5. Paul says

    Thanks for the recipe, For those that asked about freezing. I use freezer bags from the supermarket. Just put enough in each bag to make a pesto pasta (about the same amount as a store bought jar of pesto), tie a knot in each bag. I do about 5 or 6 basil plants at once which gives about a year or twos supply of basil pesto in the freezer. To use the bags, just put one in the microwave for a few seconds to soften and then tear the bag open to pour the sauce out.

  6. David says

    curious about the pine nuts. Is there a way to substitute the nuts for something if you are allergic to them?


  7. Adam says


    Thanks for the awesome recipe!

    For the record, I used 3 decent-sized cloves of garlic and the final result wound up being VERY spicy due to the abundance of garlic. This fortunately went over well with my dinner guests, but those with more sensitive palates (or less of a love affair with garlic) might want to cut it down to 1.5 cloves.

  8. Maz says

    Hi there, we tried your recipe and it was great. There is a big difference between fresh pesto sauce and pesto you buy in jars. The fresh pesto tastes stronger and has rich scent. I like the posts that mention other ingredients such as parsley and even apple. I will probably try some of those.

    Many thanks…



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