Fast and Easy Basil Pesto

As an Amazon Affilate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases.

Basil pesto is a vibrant and fresh herb sauce, made with pesto, pine nuts, and olive oil. Purchased ready to eat, jarred pesto can be expensive, but fresh, homemade basil pesto is much cheaper to make, and it tastes better, too.

Fresh Homemade Basil Pesto | Recipe on

I grow a lot of basil in the summer. Trader Joe’s has big plants for sale for $3 and I can’t resist buying a new one every couple of weeks to stick somewhere in my garden. You can read more about basil here.(This post was originally published on July 31, 2011 and has been updated to contain nutritional information. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases)Basil is great in and on so many of the dishes I make in the summer, but nothing beats pesto! Pesto is so fast and easy, you can pretty much make it while waiting for the water to boil for the pasta. It’s a favorite in our house during the summer.

Pesto with rotini.

What is pesto?

Pesto is a traditional Italian dish from Northern Italy. Genoa gets the credit for this delicious concoction. The word “pesto” means “to crush or pound”. Hence the similarity to the word “pestle”. The pestle is the object used to crush seeds, nuts or herbs. The authentic and traditional way to make pesto is with a mortar and pestle. I’m all for traditional methods, but it’s just not super practical. Because it’s so much faster and easier, I use a food processor. While there can be other types of pesto, like this one made with Sundried Tomatoes and Pistachios, the pesto we’re most familiar with is Pesto alla Genovese, or what we know as “basil pesto”. In addition to basil, pesto requires a good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts.

What course is pasta?

While we tend to think of pasta as an entire meal in America, pasta in Italy is served before the main meal. The pasta course is referred to as “primo piatti” or first plate. The pasta course is served after the antipasto, and before the secondo piatti“. A typical second course would be this Pollo al Limone or Porchetta. Here’s a guide to a traditional Italian meal structure.

Can you make pesto dairy free?

Sure! You can certainly omit the Parmigiano-Reggiano when you make pesto, but then you’ll have pistou. (Read on)

What is the difference between pistou and pesto?

The French or Provençal version of pesto is called “Pistou“. Pistou is usually added into soups just before serving, for a little blast of flavor. Pistou is a little different, in that it doesn’t usually include pine nuts or cheese. This Mediterranean Soup with with pistou is perfect when the weather turns colder.

How to freeze pesto

To save your summer basil, make pesto or pistou. Freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, then place the cubes inside baggies, for use later in the season.

What can you do with pesto?

Besides putting it on pasta, pesto is great on pizza, in sandwiches or tossed with veggies and quinoa. For a low carb version, toss with spaghetti squash.

pesto ingredients.

How is pesto made?

Traditionally pesto is made with a mortar and pestle. For a truly authentic version, you can use one. There will be a difference in texture and taste, but I like the ease and speed of the food processor.

How to make pasta with pesto creamy

On a recent trip to Tuscany, we took the opportunity to eat as much pasta as possible! The Italian version of “fast food” can be a slice of pizza, a panino or a visit to a pasta bar. I loved watching they toss the pasta with the pesto and slowly add a same ladle of pasta sauce. Magically the pesto sauce becomes so creamy!

stirring the pesto with pasta water.

When incorporating any sauce with pasta, you probably already know to reserve some pasta water to add to the sauce. Pesto is one of those sauces that definitely becomes more creamy when the water is added. You’ll want to take out about a cup of the water, just before draining. While you can toss it back into the pot you made it in, I notice that the cooks use shallow skillets, which I think helps meld the sauce and the pasta better. Divide between six plates and garnish with more fresh cheese.

pesto top shot.

Fresh Basil

Fresh Homemade Basil Pesto

A classic summertime pasta sauce. Adjust to your own taste by adding more garlic or cheese. Please use real cheese and not the "green box"! Serves 6 as a "primi" or 4 as a main course.
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 people
Calories 277 kcal



  • In a food processor fitted with blade, process basil leaves, and pine nuts with a few pulses.
  • With food processor running, add chopped garlic, and slowly drizzle olive oil, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add cheese, and pulse for a few seconds, taste and adjust seasoning, adding black pepper and salt if necessary.
  • Fill a large pot with salted water, and bring to a boil. Add fusilli.
  • Cook pasta a minute or two LESS than the package directions. You do not want to over-cook the pasta as you will finish cooking it on the stove with the sauce. Just before draining pasta, reserve about 1 cup of pasta water.
  • Toss the pasta with some of the sauce and a small ladle of the pasta water, gently stir the pasta and swirl the pan until the sauce is incorporated, adding more pesto and pasta water until the sauce is creamy and smooth.
  • Store any leftover pesto in the refrigerator, covered with a thin layer of olive oil, for up to a week.


For pesto, use the best quality ingredients you can afford. If Parmigiano Reggiano is too expensive, use a good quality Pecorino Romano. (not the green cylinder!)
Walnuts can be substituted for pine nuts.
Store leftover pesto in the fridge in a jar with a thin layer of oil on top.


Serving: 1personCalories: 277kcalCarbohydrates: 44gProtein: 11gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 93mgPotassium: 220mgFiber: 2gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 889IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 111mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Fast and Easy 5 Minute Homemade Basil Pesto. Perfect on pasta or spaghetti squash for a low-carb dish! | Recipe on

Similar Posts


  1. 5 stars
    This is all time classic and you made one fine pasta dish! Thanks for coming and linking up at The Weekend Social. Please be sure to come back next week starting Thursdays at 9PM EST on ! I hope to see you there!

  2. Congrats Cynthia!!! Your Pesto is this week’s feature in MUNCHING MONDAYS!!! Super exciting! Make sure to spread the great news and can’t wait to see what you bring this week 🙂 xo Nic

  3. I just made some pesto the other day with the basil from my garden. So delicious! I froze the rest of it for later but I think I will pull it out of the freezer for this recipe! Awesome picture. Thank you for sharing with us at the Motivational Mondays Linkup Party!

  4. 5 stars
    I love pesto and we make it all summer long! When it’s garlic scape season, we use those, and I switch up the pine nuts with pecans and walnuts and we’ve tried others too. Haven’t had a batch I didn’t like yet! And we freeze it too! Thanks for linking it up with us at #FoodieFridays!

  5. 5 stars
    This is my go-to pesto recipe. It’s quick, easy and very tasty. I’ve made it 3 times now (once with lemon basil and walnuts instead of pine nuts) and it’s reliable, too. Love it!

  6. We have pine nut allergy in our house. What but would you suggest to use? I have used walnuts and pecans in the past when we have made other pestos.

  7. My husband loves pesto, and we grow basil every summer. I’ll definitely be trying your recipe. Thank you for posting it.

    Entering for the gift card.

5 from 6 votes (1 rating without comment)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating