How to make a perfect Italian homemade pesto with pine nuts


I think that pesto sauce with pine-nuts, is one of the most famous Italian recipe after tomato sauce. Flavorful and pleasantly scented, it fits everything. Although the ingredients are simple, making it well is not so easy as it may seem. My recipe is super easy, and your pesto will be delicious.

Basil is an annual  aromatic herb, which has spread all around the world from Central Africa. In Italy it is used in countless recipes. Its several varieties of basil are composed of 40 different chemical elements which give the typical unique scent and flavor.

The botanic species, the plantation, the climate, the light exposure, the growing methods, and many other factors make the basil smell and taste different from one plant to another. Sometimes, it may resemble mint, often it has got a more floral or herbaceous scent.

Definitively, mint scented basil can’t be paired with garlic, Parmigiano, oil, and pine-nuts.

Which basil fits pesto best?

First of all, make sure you are not going to buy mint scented basil: it does not fit at all!

Choosing basil for pesto is not actually a kids’ play; the procedure guidelines about pesto state the following:

  • The basil twig must have no more than 4 pairs of leaves and must be shorter than 10-12 cm.
  • The twigs must be small with tender and young leaves.

If you prepare pesto quite often, you should buy a small plant and grow it in a vase in your kitchen. It will spread a nice scent around, and you may look after it easily. Trim it regularly, it won’t bloom: you will use its luxuriant leaves to prepare numberless dishes, not only pesto.

If you buy it at the supermarket, make sure the leaves are luxuriant, smooth, small, intact. If the leaves are wilted and dehydrated, basil was picked up for a few days before: it is not good to make pesto.

Take it home and look after it carefully: wrap the stems into a wet kitchen paper to keep it hydrated, until you use it.

How can you make a fresh pesto?

With a few tricks, making pesto is quite easy. Everyone in Liguria, has their own recipe. It is a fresh sauce which doesn’t need cooking-its name comes from the verb ‘pestare’-to crush- because the basil is crushed in a mortar with the pestel according to the following method (the quantities are approximate to taste)

How to make a perfect Italian homemade pesto with pine nuts

You might not believe it, but I first ate pesto sauce from Liguria when I was 25 years old: I was astonished at its taste: so fresh and delicious. Yes, I had never had it before! why? It is simple. My family and I don't like garlic very much (that's the reason why you won't find it in my recipes)-I can't digest it, I don't like its taste not even its smell. I had never felt like eating pesto before because if it. Then, some cooks decided to make pesto without garlic to meet the need of people like me. Delicious!
I know, people from Genova will hate me, but if you like garlic you may add it to your taste.
It is a light recipe, but it contains oil, so season your pasta in moderation. The best pasta for pesto sauce? Fresh pasta such as trofie or trenette (I am going to talk about it). Short kinds of pasta fit pesto the best. 
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword homemade pesto, italian pesto, perfect pesto, pesto
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people


  • 60-70 gr

    (about 4 small bunches) of fresh basil with small light-green leaves

  • 2 medium

    medium cloves of garlic 

  • 2 tbsp pine-nuts
  • 40 gr

    grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

  • 30 gr

    salted grated Pecorino cheese

  • 1 dl

    extra virgin olive oil 

  • coarse salt  


  • Remove the basil leaves from the stem;
  • Gently wash the basil leaves under cold running water; do not crease them, they turn black easily; spread the leaves onto a tea-towel and dry them with some kitchen paper. They must be perfectly dry to make pesto; 
  • In a mortar, crush the garlic with some grains of  salt;
  • Add the basil and, gradually all the ingredients except the oil;
  • (To taste: lightly toast the pine nuts in a pan for a nutty taste); 
  • Crush vigorously but gently with long circular movements until a smooth and even paste;  
  • Do not rush, work slowly: a bright green liquid will be released from the basil leaves; 
  • Eventually, add the oil to bind the sauce until the desired consistency; 
  • Be generous with oil, and season with salt to perfection. 

Why does my homemade pesto taste bitter?

You may have used darkened basil leaves, or you may have used the blender instead of the mortar, so its blades may have overheated the essential oils, hence the unpleasant taste.

Both heat and oxygen spoil and blacken the basil leaves.

So, be careful: if you want to make pesto with the blender, the ingredients have to be added according to the following:

  • Weight, wash, and dry the basil leaves perfectly. Remove any darkened leaves;
  • Put the pine nuts (lightly toasted to taste) into the blender with low blades;
  • Add the finely chopped the garlic;
  • Add a pinch of salt and the basil;
  • Pour the oil, and crush the basil as much as you can with a wooden spoon (make sure the blender in not plugged in the main); use cold oil (keep it in the fridge or in a cold basement) to prevent the basil from overheating;
  • Turn the blender to low and intermittently until a smooth and even consistency;
  • Now, add the grated Parmigiano and pecorino cheese (or only one type of cheese if you do not have both)
  • Turn the blender to low again until smoother or coarser to your taste.

How long can I store my homemade pesto for?

If you don’t use pesto as soon it is ready, prepare it without any cheese and freeze it in food containers:  you will add cheese when you defrost pesto. It is a matter of taste.

Store it in the freezer until 6 months or in the fridge for a few days in an air-tight containers making sure oil evenly cover the sauce. 

What can I replace pine nuts with?

Do not ask people from Liguria to replace pine-nuts, they would tell you that it is not genuine pesto, but theoretically, you may use cashews, almonds, nuts, or walnuts. The taste is  very different, of course, but delicious, believe me.

How can I choose the best store bought pesto?

If you do not have time to make pesto yourself, or you can’t find good ingredients, you may buy it at the supermarket. Be careful, bright tempting green color does not always mean high-quality.

Opt for a pesto sauce which recipe has been registered: for example, that I have written above, or one with a few ingredients similar to mine.

Make sure the basil is the first ingredient listed: it means high-quality product.

Sorbic acid, ascorbic acide (antioxidant) and citric acid (flavoring agent) are not part of the traditional recipe. They make the ingredients more stable so that they may be kept fresh for longer time and to preserve the bright green color. 

Choose “pesto alla genovese” from the refrigerated pasta area: it contains less preservatives, it is more genuine and aromatic than that you may find in the aisle of the jarred pasta sauces. 

What is pesto used for?

In Italy, pesto is only or mainly used to season both fresh and dried pasta, or gnocchi. Officially, it is not paired with anything else. Unofficially, it can be spread on toasted bread topped with oil and chopped tomato to make “bruschetta”, or it may also season tomato and mozzarella sandwiches.

It  also perfectly fits boiled asparagus, hard or fried eggs. 

Which pasta best fits pesto?

If you want your dish to be really from Liguria, you should opt for trofie or trenette, definitely. Trofie is short twisted spiral-shaped pasta which is made from flour and water and shaped by rolling and rubbing a small piece of dough between the palms of the hands. Trenette is dried narrow flat kind of pasta.

In any case, you may season any types of pasta to taste.

How to make a perfect Italian pesto
How to make a perfect Italian pesto

Can I just put pesto on pasta?

The true recipe of pasta with pesto wants other two ingredients: string beans, and potatoes.


  • Peel, wash, and dice two potatoes (2 medium potatoes for 4 servings);
  • Break off the ends of the string beans (60gr for 4 servings) and cut them into two three parts;
  • Cook the vegetables into salted boiling water;
  • When the vegetables are tender, pour the pasta (80gr per person) and cook it according to the package directions;
  • Drain and season with the pesto with a scoop of cooking water;
  • Serve very hot. Enjoy!

Does pesto make you gain weight?

Pesto is made of oil, and shell fruit, so it is quite rich in calories. The average serving is one tbsp and a half per person: plenty of taste, and contained calorie intake. Never exaggerate with the seasoning in your meal!


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