The best homemade basil pesto recipe is all about ingredients. Be forewarned that things get pretty specific today, down to a particular type of garlic. I never thought I’d share a pesto recipe, but twenty years of making it have led me to 8 distinct tips for what I believe to be the very best homemade basil pesto recipe. I love to toss this with veggies, pasta, spread on pizza, or mix with water as a salad dressing.
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My first experience with basil pesto was, wait for it, the Pesto Cavatappi from Noodles & Co. Sophisticated, I know. I was on the school tennis team, and eating at Noodles while traveling for matches was about as cultured as it got for a midwestern teenager 20 years ago. Not exactly a poetic memory, but certainly a noteworthy one.
Luckily, my mom was a fabulous cook who continuously delighted us with her uncanny ability to not only replicate but vastly improve upon the dishes we encountered on our adventures. If you think you like take-out or store-bought pesto like I did, prepare to be blown away by fresh, homemade pesto. I most certainly was.
Since then, we’ve made our fair share of pesto, learning how to make it just right. Honestly, I never thought I’d share a pesto recipe here because there are so many great recipes out there. And I don’t add any unique or secret variations. But I use pesto a lot during the summer, and ahem, in an upcoming recipe. And when I went to link to pesto recipes, nothing was quite right. I could find recipes where the ratios seemed close, but then again making pesto is a bit more art than exact science in my opinion. I kept wanting to add little notes and tips, because those bits of information are what make good pesto great.
And although I like to think of myself as go-with-the-flow, my other half often reminds me that I can be a bit particular when it comes to cooking. It’s not so much the ratios (though sometimes it is), it’s more about the ingredients. I’ve been known to stop at 5 different grocery stores just to get that one specific ingredient, or order food from all over the world. Wanting particular ingredients is how I ended up growing my own food, after all. So, here I am, once and for all, putting pen to paper with 8 tips for the very best homemade basil pesto recipe, in my humble opinion.
Best Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe: 8 Tips
Fresh is best, of course, but if we’re getting into the real nitty-gritty, homegrown ‘Genovese’ Basil is my favorite for pesto. ‘Genovese’ is a sweet Italian basil with superb flavor. Growing basil is ridiculously easy, scouts honor. In fact, ‘Emily’ Basil is a compact Genovese type basil that’s superior for container growing, so all you really need is a windowsill. Emily is also my sister’s name, which makes it even better. However, if growing plants aint your thang, there are farmers and market gardeners growing beautiful basil, so check out the farmers’ market. ‘Genovese’ Basil is a popular variety, so they’re likely growing it.
2. Olive Oil
Traditionally, use a combination of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano (or Fiore Sardo, if you can find it). But if you guys have been around here for a while, you know I’m a WI girl who loves her WI cheeses. Two of my favorites are American Grana and SarVecchio Parmesan, which has won multiple awards including Super Gold at World Cheese Awards. Whatever you choose, just please don’t use pre-shredded cheese. The options above have so much flavor. Since you’re already getting the food processor out, just cut a few hunks, and give them a whiz in the food processor before you start.
I typically use pine nuts, which I lightly toast. However, I’m not as big of a stickler here as one might think. I enjoy switching it up and have recently really enjoyed macadamia nuts.
Start with your local farmers’ market for great garlic. If you can find a hardneck variety, even better, as they typically have a more-complex flavor profile. If you grow your own, and want a really esoteric choice, try Georgian Crystal. When raw, it has a robust, but not super hot, flavor that’s great for pesto. My mom has been known to make the 30-minute drive from her house to pick garlic. Text: “If there’s a weirdo in your garden after dark, it’s just me picking garlic, tomatoes, and basil. I’m making caprese salad for work tomorrow.” Clearly, this is where I get my ingredient neuroses from 🙂
For the love of all that’s delicious, use enough salt. Add some, taste it. Keep adding until you can’t stop eating it. I prefer Maldon course salt.
I always add a little bit of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, because I love it.
8. Food Processor or Mortar & Pestle?
Daniel Gritzer makes a great case for mortar and pestle pesto. Such a great case, that I’ve done it. And while it’s delicious, I almost always go for the food processor. I prefer a smoother pesto, and for whatever reason, I prefer my mini food processor over my large food processor.
Alright, that wraps up my 8 tips for the very best homemade basil pesto recipe. I sincerely hope it was helpful.
The Very Best Homemade Basil Pesto
- 1/3 cup pine nuts lightly toasted
- 2 garlic cloves peeled & chopped
- 3 cups packed basil
- 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup freshly-grated parmesan
- 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
- Course Salt
- In a food processor, add the pine nuts and garlic, pulse a few times. Add basil and pack it down. Add lemon juice and pulse until finely minced. Add parmesan and pulse until mixed. Add olive to desired consistency and pulse to mix (trying not to over-blitz the olive oil, which can become bitter). Stir in course sea salt to taste. Enjoy!