Basil … olive oil … garlic … Parmesan cheese … nuts … that’s half of my love language right there and virtually all of the ingredients in the Best Basil Pesto.
I grow a patch of a half dozen or so basil plants near my back door for ease of use in the summer. In addition to the back door patch, I sometimes keep an area in the vegetable garden of about 10 plants (my “pesto patch”) just for the purpose of making and freezing pesto for the winter. Hey, we’re serious about our pesto consumption in my house, it’s a happy hour staple here.
Just before the October frost I pull the basil plants out of my garden and use every bit of the leaves to make the Best Basil Pesto. I give them a wash and dry with towels. Fresh basil doesn’t keep more than a day or two in the refrigerator, so harvest it when you’re ready to make it.
I’ve made numerous recipes over the years, but we like this one the best as evidenced by my high tech recipe card marking system, which really is a system – those stars mean this is my tried and true.
While this recipe calls for specific measurements, you can make however much you can with what you have. Keep in mind that even a small bowl of pesto requires a good bit of basil. Adjust your ratios to what works for you. Adding some fresh parsley tastes terrific, too.
I prefer to use walnuts in my pesto for several reasons. While I love the taste of pine nuts, they’re not as readily available as walnuts and are much more budget-friendly. I also really love the walnut flavor in the pesto as well as the fact I usually have walnuts in my freezer. Toasting the walnuts in a 350° oven for about 5 minutes deepens their flavor beautifully.
The Food Processor is Your Friend
This is one of those tasks that make owning a food processor entirely worth it. Start making the pesto by pulsing the garlic and walnuts together to form a rough paste.
Add your basil in batches, pouring in a little oil with it to help it catch. Process only long enough so that the last leaves added have been chopped a bit. Here I’ve added the salt and pepper along with the basil.
After pulsing the basil, add the Parmesan cheese and lemon juice and pulse to combine. Bottled lemon juice is perfectly fine to use in this application, it’s there for the balance its acidity offers.
With the lid on and food processor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the chute or small hole in the lid. You want to form an emulsion. You can use either regular or extra virgin olive oil.
The finished pesto will still have tiny chopped herb bits, you don’t want it to be a smooth paste. Taste for salt and acidity and adjust as necessary. It needs a little time to marry the flavors, so it might have a bit of a dusty flavor to it. No worries, that will go away after some resting time. It’s better served the next day after all the ingredients spend a few hours together.
Storing Your Pesto
Refrigerator: You can store your pesto in the fridge for about a week. Basil pesto tends to oxidize (darken with exposure to air) quite easily. It doesn’t affect the flavor in any way, just the look. Pressing a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pesto inside its plastic container greatly inhibits
Freezer: This pesto freezes beautifully! It will stay happy in the freezer for six months or more. Simply thaw on the kitchen counter or place the container in some warm water.
I like to bag my pesto in my Food Saver vacuum sealer and freeze in flat packages, stacked up. Here’s a similar model to the FoodSaver vacuum sealer I have. I use it several times a week for freezing all kinds of things.
Serving Ideas for Best Basil Pesto
- Delicious as a dip with crackers, chips or vegetables
- Sauce for pasta
- Dollop on eggs, frittata, fresh tomatoes or crusty bread
- Makes a terrific spread on a white pizza
- Set a dish of pesto on a charcuterie (sausages like salami and pepperoni) tray with cheeses and nuts
Best Basil Pesto
- Food Processor
- 1/2-1 cup walnuts, toasted in oven and cooled
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- 5 cups fresh basil, packed in measuring cup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups olive oil
- Place walnuts and garlic cloves in the workbowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until they're well chopped.
- Add the basil leaves in 2 or three batches. Pulse with a little of the oil until they are all caught in the blade. Pulse a few times until there are no whole leaves left.
- Add the salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Process 5-10 seconds.
- With food processor running, slowly pour in olive oil through the chute in the lid. Process until relatively smooth.
- Allow to rest at least one hour, preferably overnight. Store in refrigerator.
- Resting allows flavors to marry, will taste very different the next day
- Store in refrigerator with plastic wrap pressed to surface to inhibit browning
- Freezes beautifully