How to Make Pesto


Wondering if you need a mortar and pestle to make pesto? The answer: no. Thanks to Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything, we’ve been using a food processor for years. It couldn’t be easier to make this no-cook sauce.

Pesto recipe

If your family really enjoys pesto, then it makes sense to grow your own basil. If you are limited on garden space, it only takes one pot of basil to keep you in pesto throughout the growing season. Harvest just enough for the recipe below, then when you are ready to make pesto again, it will have grown back.

Basic Pesto Recipe

Once you have the basic pesto recipe down — basil, olive oil, garlic, nuts, cheese — then you can play with various ingredients and amounts based on your preferences or the dish you plan to make. This recipe makes enough for 1 pound of pasta.


  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans

  • 1/2 clove garlic, or more to taste

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup good, mild extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheeses like Pecorino Romano


  1. Put the basil, nuts, garlic, and pinch of salt into a food processor or blender. Add 1/4 cup olive oil. Process, stopping to scrape down the side of the container if necessary.

  2. If desired, add the rest of the oil gradually. Using the pesto as a spread? Limit the oil to the initial 1/4 cup. Making pesto pasta? Add additional oil.

  3. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese just before serving.

Pesto Variations

  • Pine nuts are traditional in pesto. But if you don’t stock pine nuts in your pantry, or you are leery of “pine mouth”, it is also traditional to use walnuts. Or use pecans if you have these on hand.

  • Add a squeeze of lemon.

  • If you are running short on basil, you can add in almost any other tender green or herb: arugula, parsley, baby spinach, etc.

  • Want your pesto to be a brighter green? A little flat-leaf parsley can help. Or blanch the basil before using.

  • Like your pesto with a bit more texture? Add more nuts.

  • Try toasting the nuts.

  • Don’t care for raw garlic? Substitute roasted garlic for a mellower flavor.

  • Sub a couple of tablespoons of butter for some of the oil.

  • Try a mix of different hard cheeses to vary the flavor.

Pesto Pasta Recipe

Pesto pasta

Combine pesto with pasta for an instant dinner, add in chicken or tomatoes for a more robust meal:

  • 1 lb. pasta, cooked al dente — any shape will work: farfalle, fusilli, bucatini, orecchiette, penne, or tortellini

  • 1 recipe prepared pesto (above)

  • If desired, add 2 lbs. cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces — you can use grilled or sautéed chicken breasts, rotisserie chicken, or easy slow cooker chicken

  • If desired, toss in cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes

  • Top with additional parmesan cheese and fresh cracked pepper

Other ways to use pesto

  • Use pesto as a pizza topping

  • Spread it on sandwiches or wraps

  • Drizzle pesto over fish, chicken, steak

  • Add it to hobo dinners for a flavor boost

How to freeze pesto

If you have a bumper crop of basil, consider making pesto in bulk. Follow the instructions above, but don’t add the cheese. Freeze for up to several months, then just add the cheese before serving.

For smaller portions, you can freeze pesto in ice cube trays or as spoonfuls on a sheet tray, then store in freezer-safe baggies.

Want help with family dinner?

Get more tips, tricks, recipes, and how-to’s over on The Smart Slow Cooker blog.

Need slow cooker inspiration? See the collection of 8+ hour slow cooker dinner recipes.