Homemade basil pesto is an easy recipe to make with walnuts, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil & parmesan cheese. It’s perfect for adding to pizza, pasta or grilled chicken dishes!

Overhead shot of basil pesto in a small white bowl with a small gold spoon in the bowl

Basil pesto is so easy to make and one of my favorite homemade sauces. When you make it at home, it has such a fresh flavor, as opposed to what you can buy in a jar at the grocery store.

My first time making pesto was in a home economics class in high school. Did I just totally date myself because home ec is no longer a thing? No surprise here, but home ec was my favorite class.

I learned how to sew, not well, but I tried! And I learned how to cook new things, at a much higher success rate than my sewing.

When pesto was introduced to me in home ec, I’d never eaten pesto before, but I quickly fell in love! Now I make many different versions of pesto.

The fun thing about pesto is that you can easily make it your own based on what greens you have in your fridge or what dish you want to pair it with.

You can also mix up what kind of nuts you use! While pine nuts are the traditional nut used in basil pesto, I used walnuts instead. They’re much less expensive and still work wonderfully in this pesto recipe!

Basil pesto can be added to pizza, tossed with pasta, used as a marinade for chicken or as a sauce to top fish. It’s super versatile and so delicious!

Basil pesto in small white bowl sitting next to fresh basil leaves and a block of parmesan cheese

Ingredients you’ll need

  • Fresh basil – since this is the main ingredient in the recipe, you want to make sure you have fresh, bright green leaves of basil. You can also throw in the stems as well, since everything will be getting blended together.
  • Garlic cloves
  • Walnuts – almonds or pine nuts. I like to use walnuts because they’re much more affordable than pine nuts. But if you’re looking for a more traditional pesto and willing to shell out a little more money, feel free to use pine nuts instead! You can also use almonds for a great neutral flavor.
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese – you’ll want finely grated parmesan cheese, as it will not be blended with the other ingredients, it will be hand mixed in at the end for an extra creamy texture!

Step by step instructions

  1. Add fresh basil leaves and stems, garlic, walnuts, kosher salt and pepper to a blender or food processor.
  2. Pulse for 30 seconds.
  3. Drizzle 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil through the top of the machine while it’s turned on to low.
  4. Remove the lid and hand mix in parmesan cheese.
    • Quick tip! Hand mixing in the parmesan cheese gives it more texture than blending it into the pesto.
  5. Use immediately or store in a sealed container, such as a mason jar, in the refrigerator for up to a week.

How to freeze it

Homemade basil pesto can also be stored in the freezer for 3-4 months. I recommend leaving out the parmesan cheese if you’re planning to freeze the pesto, as cheese doesn’t freeze well. You can always stir in the cheese after you’ve thawed the pesto.

I recommend freezing the pesto in ice cube trays, that way you can just pop one serving out at a time. A standard ice cube tray holds one ounce or 2 tablespoons in each well. Once the pesto is frozen in the ice cube trays, pop them out and store them in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer for up to 4 months.

To defrost the pesto, transfer as many cubes as you’d like to thaw into a bowl, and place them in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours. Once thawed, feel free to stir in the parmesan cheese.

Frequently asked questions

  • Can you use basil stems in pesto? Absolutely! The great thing about making pesto is that you can use the entire herb in the sauce. If you get a bunch of basil with extra thick stems, you may want to trim those off, as your blender or food processor might not be able to handle them.
  • Can you use pine nuts in the recipe? For sure! Simply substitute the pine nuts for the walnuts in this recipe for a more traditional pesto recipe.
  • Is this recipe keto? This basil pesto recipe contains only 1 carb per serving, which is 1 ounce of pesto. This is perfect for those on a low carb or keto diet. Toss with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash for a low carb side. Or use the pesto to marinate chicken, steak or pork chops for a delicious, low carb main dish.
  • Is it gluten free? Yes, this pesto recipe is naturally gluten free.
  • Can you make this recipe vegan? Yes, simply use a vegan parmesan-style topping instead of parmesan cheese to make this pesto vegan.
  • Can I make spicy basil pesto? Yes! To kick your pesto up a notch, add 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or 1 teaspoon for a lot of spice!) to the pesto with the salt and pepper. This will give the pesto a fresh, spicy taste!

What pasta goes best with pesto?

I love to toss this basil pesto recipe with angel hair pasta, bucatini or fresh ravioli. You never want to heat up pesto like you would a red sauce. Instead, simply toss the pesto with the cooked pasta right after you drain the pasta. The heat from the pasta will heat up the pesto.

For every 4 ounces of dry pasta, you’ll want 3 tablespoons of pesto to toss with the pasta. Obviously, you can adjust to taste, but this is a good place to start.

Basil pesto in white bowl on wood cutting board

What else is it used for?

Basil pesto is most typically tossed with pasta, but can also be used in salads, chicken dishes or on pizza. Try this homemade basil pesto in these scrumptious recipes, or use it as a dipping sauce for breadsticks or arancini.

Basil pesto in white marble bowl with small gold spoon in the bowl
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Basil Pesto

Homemade basil pesto is an easy recipe to make with walnuts, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil & parmesan cheese. It’s perfect for adding to pizza, pasta or grilled chicken dishes!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Instructions

  • Add the basil, garlic, walnuts, kosher salt and black pepper to a blender or food processor.
  • Pulse for 30 seconds.
  • Drizzle the olive oil through the top of the machine while turned on to low speed. 
  • Blend for 30 seconds or until all of the ingredients are combined.
  • Add the parmesan cheese and use a spoon to mix it into the pesto.

Notes

  • Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or in the freezer for 3-4 months.
  • Basil stems can be used in the pesto, but make sure to remove any extra thick stems so that they don’t get stuck in your blender or food processor.
  • Pine nuts can be used instead of the walnuts for a more traditional pesto.

Nutrition Facts

Calories 158kcal (8%)Carbohydrates 1gProtein 1g (2%)Fat 16g (25%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Cholesterol 2mg (1%)Sodium 123mg (5%)Potassium 33mg (1%)Vitamin A 340mg (7%)Vitamin C 1.3mg (2%)Calcium 53mg (5%)Iron 0.4mg (2%)
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