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.
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?
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!
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.
Fresh Homemade Basil Pesto
- 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.