This classic basil pesto recipe, aka Pesto Alla Genovese, comes together in a matter of minutes with a short list of simple ingredients. All you’ll need is fresh basil leaves, creamy pine nuts, garlic, TWO types of fine Italian cheese, and rich extra virgin olive oil. This is a tried-and-true formula for the BEST homemade basil pesto!
If you ask me, classic basil pesto makes everything better. This nutty and garlicky sauce screams fresh Italian flavor.
This classic pesto recipe is inspired by the original pesto alla genevose and it’s at its best during summer months when grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and gardens are booming with fresh basil.
It freezes exceptionally well, so you can make a big batch and have flavorful fresh summer basil all year long!
Plus, I will share plenty of tips on the best quality ingredients you should use and how to keep the color bright green (and no, it’s not by using lemon juice).
What is Pesto Alla Genovese?
There are wide varieties of pesto, but Pesto Alla Genovese specifically refers to the bright green basil sauce originally from Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Italy. Pesto Alla Genovese couples with red sauce as one of the most popular sauces in homemade Italian cooking.
This Pesto Alla Genovese guide is here to teach you how to recreate authentic basil pesto and answer all your questions.
Let’s get started!
Ingredients You’ll Need
I can’t say this enough: simple recipes, like this basil pesto, get all their deliciousness from the ingredients they are made with. Buy the best possible ingredients you can find, and your pesto will be incredible.
- Fresh basil leaves: If possible, you’ll want to use the freshest Italian sweet basil (Genovese basil). It has tender, petite, light green leaves that are most flavorsome when picked immediately before making pesto.
- Garlic cloves: Since we’re using raw garlic, try to use a sweet variety. It’s best to cut the cloves in half and remove the germ (the center of the garlic clove), as it can develop a bitter flavor and isn’t as easy to digest.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Use quality, delicate, and light Italian extra virgin olive oil. If you can find it, Ligurian olive oil is best for pesto.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: Make sure to use high-quality Parmigiano Reggiano DOP (protected designation of origin). Real Parmesan cheese from Italy is made from grass-fed cows without any additives.
- Pecorino: Traditionally, basil pesto is made with Sardinian pecorino, a hard cheese that is made from whole sheep’s milk. You’ll want a ripe version, which is firmer and easier to grate. If you can’t find it, you can use extra grated Parmesan.
- Pine nuts: They are naturally soft, sweet, and creamy, so they’re the perfect nut for pesto!
- A pinch of coarse sea salt: For authentic Italian pesto, use grainy, coarse sea salt. If you can’t find it, use fine sea salt.
- Ice cubes: To slow oxidation.
The Best Tricks to Keep Pesto Bright Green
If your pesto develops a brown layer on top, have no fear! This is normal oxidation. However, you can slow down oxidation and prevent discoloration by:
- Adding ice cubes. When pulsing basil leaves in a food processor, the warmth from the blades can cause oxidation. Adding ice cubes slows oxidation and preserves the bright green color of your pesto!
- Adding a layer of oil. Store pesto in a glass jar with extra-virgin olive poured over the top.
- Don’t warm your pesto, ever! Heating speeds up oxidation, so always add it to dishes at the last minute.
Some people add lemon juice or lemon zest to slow oxidation, as it contains citric acid and it can help to keep the color brighter for longer. I tried this method, but I feel the lemon juice changes the flavor of pesto too much. Plus, I find that the ice cube trick works much better.
How To Make the Best Basil Pesto
This recipe yields 1 cup of classic basil pesto (about 4 servings). Here’s how to make it in less than 10 minutes.
- Wash and dry the basil leaves: First, wash the basil leaves and dry them with a kitchen towel. Do not press too hard as you blot, or else the basil will begin to oxidize and turn brown.
- Pulverize nuts, cheese, and garlic: Add the pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse into a finely minced consistency. Next, add the Parmesan, Pecorino, and garlic, and continue pulsing until fully incorporated.
- Blend in remaining ingredients: Next, add the basil leaves, ice cubes, and salt, and blend well. Then, slowly drizzle in the EVOO while pulsing until the mixture is creamy. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice to ensure every bit of basil, cheesy, and garlicky goodness is nicely pulverized. Adjust salt to taste.
Yes, it’s that easy.
How to Store
Refrigerator: Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and cover with a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto. Keep the jar in the fridge, and use the pesto within a couple of days.
Freezing: To further extend the shelf-life, freeze pesto in an airtight container or in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes to a zip-top bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Let it thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
What Pairs Well With Pesto
Make a big batch because this versatile basil pesto sauce pairs well with many dishes. These are my favorite ways to use fresh basil pesto:
- Pasta Sauce: Toss cooked penne, spaghetti, ravioli, tortellini, zucchini noodles, or any pasta with basil pesto. Then mix in a splash of hot pasta water at a time until creamy.
- Roasted Veggies: Let veggies cool slightly, then toss with pesto.
- Salads: Thin it out and use it as a dressing for salads.
- Bruschetta, Crostini, and Flatbread: To dip directly into pesto or spread on top.
Like guacamole, pesto undergoes a reaction called oxidation, so it turns brown when exposed to air and heat. When this happens, I like to toss it with pasta to disguise the discoloration. As long as the pesto is fresh, oxidation doesn’t affect the flavor.
Pine nuts make an incredible creamy pesto, but there are less expensive types of nuts you can use, like walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and macadamia nuts.
Parmesan and Pecorino Romano are neither vegetarian nor vegan. However, you can use a dairy-free parmesan alternative, add nutritional yeast, or bulk the sauce up with veggies like asparagus, spinach, kale, and arugula to make it vegan.
When stored in an airtight container, homemade basil pesto lasts 2-3 days in the fridge.
Why I Love This Basil Pesto Recipe
- It’s made with authentic Genovese Pesto ingredients.
- This is my favorite way to use a ton of fresh basil.
- There are many ways to use homemade pesto, and it’s much better than store-bought.
- It freezes well so that I can enjoy year-round summer basil.
Other Pesto Recipes You’ll Love
If you try this basil pesto recipe, please leave a comment and a rating and let me know how much you liked it!
Basil Pesto Recipe (Pesto Alla Genovese)
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves - note 1
- 2 garlic cloves
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil - note 2
- 4 tablespoons grated parmesan - note 3
- 2 tablespoons grated pecorino - note 4
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts - note 5
- A pinch of coarse sea salt - note 6
- 3 ice cubes - or 3 tablespoons icy water, note 7
- Wash the basil leaves, and dry them with a towel, making sure not to press too hard to avoid causing oxidation.
- In a food processor, add the pine nuts and pulse until minced. Add the grated Parmesan, pecorino, and garlic, and blend again.
- Add the basil leaves, ice cubes, and salt, and blend. Slowly add the extra virgin olive oil and blend until creamy. If needed, scrape the side of the food processor to make sure everything is nice and smooth.
- Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
- Transfer in a jar. Top it with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent it from browning. Refrigerate until ready to use. It can last in the fridge for a couple of days (note 8). If you want to keep it for longer, you can freeze it for up to three months.
Did you make this recipe? Tag @gatheringdreams on Instagram. I want to see it!