Basil Pesto

Basil pesto is such a huge deal in my house. Mostly because my husband could eat it on ice cream, practically.

To me, pesto is an extremely versatile ingredient. This flavorful, emerald-colored paste can be added to soups, breads, meat, seafood, salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and so many other dishes.

The only thing is, you have to make it. You can buy prepared pesto, but it’s expensive; home made is better.

All you need are a few basil plants, some dirt, a little water, and lots of sun. I’ve been growing basil for over 35 years in Texas and Oklahoma, and I don’t end up with basil plants – I have basil bushes. And the weather in these states can be brutal. So trust me – there’s no green thumb requirement for growing basil.

Today I’m making a batch of traditional basil pesto based on how it’s made in the Ligurian region of Italy where basil grows in abundance, called pesto alla Genovese.

I’ve always heard that the best Italian pesto is made only from baby basil leaves, but I use the larger leaves as well, as long as they’re not “leathery.” And I just buy domestic basil plants locally.

The only other thing I do when I make a batch of pesto is not add cheese. Omitting cheese saves space in my freezer; it probably cuts the pesto volume by 50%. Then when I use pesto and want cheese, I freshly grate it.

Also, with having non-cheesy pesto, it is basically another ingredient than the cheesy version. For example, the non-cheesy pesto can go in soups, in a vinaigrette, or a marinade, where cheese isn’t a necessary component.

Here’s my recipe for a batch of pesto, when you have an abundance of fresh basil. There’s no exact recipe, and you’re welcome to alter it to your own tastes.

After I pick the basil branches in the morning, I set them outside to let the creepy-crawlers escape. I don’t know if it really works, but it makes me feel better.

Basil Pesto (Cheeseless)
Makes about 72 ounces

4 ounces of pine nuts, I toast mine
Approximately 10 ounces of good olive oil
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
Basil leaves – from a giant armful of branches

Place the pine nuts, olive oil, and garlic in a large blender jar. Blend until smooth. This is an important step so the rest of the pesto-making process is only about adding leaves.

Then begin adding leaves, making sure they are soft, and void of damage, bugs, or webs.

There’s a point when you can barely blend in the last leaves, as in the photo above. If you must, add a tablespoon of oil, and play with your blender to get the pesto nice and smooth. Then you will end up with this.

Spatula the pesto into sterilized jars. The pesto can be refrigerated but I freeze until needed, and thaw one jar at a time.

Now to the pesto pasta. Choose a 1-pound package of pasta, and cook it to the package directions.

Drain the pasta, then place it back the still-hot pot. Add some pesto, I used about 1 cup of what I’d just made, but we like it strong. Add about the same amount of grated cheese, or to your liking. Then gently stir.

Serve the pasta while it’s nice and warm and the cheese has melted. You can also add some evaporated milk, goat milk, or cream to the pesto for a creamier pasta dish.

If you’ve never made pesto, this one would be a good recipe with which to start.

Pesto oxidates easily, but just on the surface area. Stir it up and the pesto will still be emerald green.

To prevent this in the jar, pour a little olive oil on top of the pesto.

Once you get the hang of pesto, it’s fun and easy to switch out the herbs, and use different nuts and even seeds, to create unique pestos.

Here are some other ways I’ve made and used pesto.

By Published On: August 31st, 201876 Comments on Basil Pesto

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!


  1. Travel Gourmet August 31, 2018 at 6:15 AM - Reply

    Great idea to delay adding the cheese. I love pesto and truly the pesto I had in Genoa a couple of months ago was amazing; so different to what I’d had before. But like you I enjoy making it and it’s so easy and nicer than bought. Like your ideas for using it; it’s more versatile than we often think. I put some into a risotto last night.

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 6:18 AM - Reply

      Exactly. it’s just fabulous stuff. When we were in Cinque Terra we watched a woman make pesto with a mortar and pestle, then later enjoyed her white lasagna made with the pesto. Incredible.

  2. Adrianne - Sweet Caramel Sunday August 31, 2018 at 6:19 AM - Reply

    Oh yum Mimi!! This looks good. I especially like the top photo of the plate with the pesto and pasta – delicious, great work!

  3. Chef Bill, Suppertime Blues August 31, 2018 at 7:59 AM - Reply

    A classic staple in the summer where I can make it on demand. I haven’t frozen it before but for the life of me I don’t know why not. And yours looks delicious!

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 8:04 AM - Reply

      Small batches are great. Even a leftover tablespoon can be made into a vinaigrette. But with large batches, tedious as they are to make, you end up with jars of it. I label mine with the date, and if they’re not traditional pesto (pumpkin seed plus basil plus cilantro plus jalapeño) and I always have at least a dozen jars through out the winter.

  4. Frank Fariello August 31, 2018 at 8:12 AM - Reply

    I love pesto, too! How doesn’t, really? Good idea to freeze it without the cheese. Adding the cheese later not only saves on space, it gives pre-frozen pesto a freshness it wouldn’t otherwise have.

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 8:33 AM - Reply

      And sometimes you want a different amount of cheese, so it allows you to do that. Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. Robin at Haphazard Homemaker August 31, 2018 at 8:47 AM - Reply

    I haven’t made it before, because I didn’t know how to use it. Thanks for the ideas!

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 12:52 PM - Reply

      Oh, well that’s the easy part! Pasta, of course, slather on bread for a panini, slather on pizza, add to white sauce, add to soups, I’ve even added it to ranch dressing for a lovely dip! Start with a small amount; you can always add more. It’s pretty garlicky!

      • Robin at Haphazard Homemaker August 31, 2018 at 5:18 PM

        Awesome! Thank you! I forgot we ordered a white pizza one time at an Italian restaurant and we both liked it.

      • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 5:46 PM

        It’s amazing, isn’t it?!! So is white lasagna!

      • Robin at Haphazard Homemaker August 31, 2018 at 5:58 PM

        I bet it is!

  6. Gerlinde de Broekert August 31, 2018 at 9:16 AM - Reply

    I have tried growing basil for many years in my coastal garden without any luck. But I love pesto and make it all the time. Last night I put some leftover pesto on some sliced tomatoes topped it with fresh mozzarella and drizzled it with balsamic vinegar. I love your idea of freezing the pesto without the cheese.

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 12:52 PM - Reply

      Yum. So really? Too. Much rain I suspect? Not a problem in Texas and Oklahoma!

      • Gerlinde de Broekert August 31, 2018 at 5:20 PM

        No, it’s the salty air and bad soil. We don’t have much rain,

      • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 5:46 PM

        Oh, okay.

  7. August 31, 2018 at 10:44 AM - Reply

    Making pesto is a summer ritual for me – I will try leaving out the cheese before freezing!

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 12:53 PM - Reply

      It truly becomes like a different food/seasoning than pesto with cheese. In fact I think it’s more versatile.

  8. Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward August 31, 2018 at 11:22 AM - Reply

    May be my all time favorite post…
    No photo of pesto Brie? 😍

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 12:49 PM - Reply

      Nah, I forgot. Plus the Brie was bad – fortunately Igourmet refunded my money.

  9. Our Growing Paynes August 31, 2018 at 11:48 AM - Reply

    It’s amazing how much flavour can be had with just a few ingredients.

  10. Sippin Hannah August 31, 2018 at 12:29 PM - Reply

    I feel like I learned so much. I can’t wait to try & make this!

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 12:55 PM - Reply

      Oh I’m so glad! I almost didn’t post on pesto, but I’m glad I did. I’m old so I’ve been making it for a long time, but there are young cooks just getting into cooking (yay!) who haven’t made it, so it’s a good thing!!!

  11. Linda August 31, 2018 at 6:45 PM - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe. I have never made it, but I am sure it beats any store bought pesto. I hope it share it with our readers on Sunday afternoon at Dishing It & Digging it Link party.

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 6:46 PM - Reply

      Like anything, home made is always better. You don’t have to make as big of a batch, but it freezes beautifully!

  12. camparigirl August 31, 2018 at 8:09 PM - Reply

    It’s a staple at my house too as it is the most effcient way to use all the basil I have. And it is delicious. I often make crostini with pesto, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella.

    • chef mimi August 31, 2018 at 9:34 PM - Reply

      Yes! Fabulous!

  13. 2pots2cook September 1, 2018 at 4:56 AM - Reply

    Oh dear ! Top of the pops it is ! Thank you and enjoy the week end !

  14. FoodBlogger September 1, 2018 at 6:44 AM - Reply

    I would add a bit of mint to give it that twist. Mint and it would be perfect for me.

    • chef mimi September 1, 2018 at 8:10 AM - Reply

      Interesting! My brain tends to not go to mint, so I would never have thought of that!

      • FoodBlogger September 2, 2018 at 8:25 AM

        Yeah mint guess it a bit of kick although I don’t know if it would be nice with pasta

  15. David September 1, 2018 at 9:50 AM - Reply

    I am a pesto lover, too… but have to make it garlic free! No one ever misses the garlic, though, because “it’s all about the basil” (apologies to Megan Trainor). The nonna I met in Vernazza who taught me to make it (in a mortar and pestle) gave me her secret – add a “nit of butter” at the end to keep it creamy and smooth. :)

    • chef mimi September 1, 2018 at 12:23 PM - Reply

      Fascinating! I would never have thought to add butter. She must have been part French! Actually to me pesto is about basil AND garlic; I used two heads in my one batch. But without garlic, it’s certainly all about the basss…il!

  16. Kiki September 1, 2018 at 1:14 PM - Reply

    Only after you mentioned it did I realise that cheese does indeed increase the volume, nevert thought of that before. Also, most people make basil pesto with parmesan cheese, which is too sharp for me, so this cheese-free version is something I will definitely make.
    Luckily on my balcony creepy crawlies can not get into my basil plant, so that’s one thing I’m being spared :-)

    • chef mimi September 2, 2018 at 8:28 AM - Reply

      Hahahahaha! Nice. It really seems like if I set the branches out for a while I have less spiders and other bugs… Have you ever used goat cheese with pesto? It’s outstanding.

      • Kiki September 2, 2018 at 9:19 AM

        Oh, no I haven’t! I’ve used many different hard cheeses for pesto but never a soft cheese. I’ll have to try that! Do you mix that into or add it afterwards?

      • chef mimi September 2, 2018 at 10:21 AM


  17. My Little Italian Kitchen September 1, 2018 at 2:08 PM - Reply

    You have made it to perfection Mimi. I like your version without cheese.

    • chef mimi September 2, 2018 at 8:29 AM - Reply

      Thank you Alida!

  18. Healthy World Cuisine September 2, 2018 at 6:32 AM - Reply

    Wow! Is this your garden Mimi? Super impressive, you have quite the green thumb. We love pesto and this time of the year with basil in prime season, plan to make the most of it. Love all of your recipe ideas.

    • chef mimi September 2, 2018 at 7:23 AM - Reply

      Thanks so much Bobbi!

  19. annika September 2, 2018 at 7:53 AM - Reply

    Love pesto! I omit the cheese as well as a certain someone here does not like it. Is that your garden? Stunning photos!

    • chef mimi September 2, 2018 at 8:26 AM - Reply

      Thank you! One photo was from a few years back, but it’s basically the same thing every year, except for what vegetables I plant. Wait, someone doesn’t like cheese???

      • annika September 4, 2018 at 10:39 PM

        haha… my 10 yr old only likes Parmigiano by itself, not with other food???

      • chef mimi September 5, 2018 at 7:05 AM


  20. Solveig September 2, 2018 at 2:00 PM - Reply

    Miamm! ;-) Basil, Basilic is so Precious. Very good Health Benefit. When I don’t have fresh basil, I usually take 1 to 3 dops (from time to time) of ocimum basilicum (Essential oil) with Organic olive oil in a *plastic soup spoon, et Hop! in the mouth :). *essential oil can’t be used in a Metal spoon. :) Merci Mimi ;-)

    • chef mimi September 2, 2018 at 2:07 PM - Reply

      I didn’t know that about basil’s health benefit! Thank you!

  21. Ron September 3, 2018 at 6:53 AM - Reply

    You’re so right, basil is so easy to grow, even in pots. Your garden looks amazing. Basil pesto is so good on so many things. When I have an abundance of fresh basil, I just run the basil and ovo in the blender and then freeze it in ice trays. Once frozen, pop the bail cubes out and into a zip lock bag and back in the freezer. Then in the winter when I want fresh pesto I thaw a few cubes or just pop a cube or two in the soup pot. Great post!

    • chef mimi September 3, 2018 at 7:24 AM - Reply

      So smart to do that. I remember I made bottles of basil oil a long time ago, but for the life of me I can’t remember why I don’t do this any more. Your idea is better.

      • Ron September 3, 2018 at 8:42 AM

        Not better, just a different approach.

  22. Loretta September 3, 2018 at 12:04 PM - Reply

    Super! I’m salivating! Also loved to have peeked into your garden. You sure have basil bushes growing in your garden :) I’m gonna have to try omitting the cheese too on my next batch of pesto. It all looks absolutely delicious. :)

    • chef mimi September 3, 2018 at 1:24 PM - Reply

      Thank you Loretta!

  23. FrugalHausfrau September 3, 2018 at 1:48 PM - Reply

    What a gorgeous post! Would you believe my basil got a fungus of some sort and was gone in two days. I was so sad! Now I’m even sadder…

    • chef mimi September 3, 2018 at 1:57 PM - Reply

      Oh no! I didn’t think anything could kill basil. So sorry.

      • FrugalHausfrau September 3, 2018 at 6:33 PM

        Me either! Cold and wet does it!

  24. Laura September 3, 2018 at 1:54 PM - Reply

    Mimi, I love pesto! And I used to make it, but I never figured out why it was other-worldly good when I had it in Italy, but now I know – Ha – I used to kind of skimp on the olive oil and the cheese. Now, like you, I make it in a big batch, and freeze it. But your idea of not adding the cheese until cooking is positively brilliant! Thanks for sharing. I also love the nice amount of garlic you use – definitely going to do that next time, too! Thanks!

    • chef mimi September 3, 2018 at 1:56 PM - Reply

      To me, it’s about the basil and garlic both! It’s just how I prefer it. Omitting the cheese saves room, and then you get to freshly grate it or even use other cheeses when serving.Thank you!

  25. Debra September 3, 2018 at 5:06 PM - Reply

    I grow basil year-round in my garden, and yet I don’t think I utilize it at all well enough! I have made fresh pesto, but never made “ahead” to freeze, so you’ve really inspired me. The photos alone made me hungry! :-)

    • chef mimi September 3, 2018 at 6:01 PM - Reply

      Oh goodness! You definitely need to get it in jars and freeze them. I thaw one at a time, and whether I use a lot, or just a tablespoon, it’s fresh and flavorful.

  26. Culinary Flavors September 4, 2018 at 3:27 AM - Reply

    I love pesto and make quite a few dishes with it! In pasta though I prefer it a bit dissolved in couple of tbsp of heavy cream. It makes it a bit milder. Great pasta dish!

    • chef mimi September 4, 2018 at 8:19 AM - Reply

      Yes, I recommended that in the post. It makes a really nice creamy pesto flavor. I’ve even used goat milk, but cream definitely works.

  27. David @ Spiced September 4, 2018 at 6:46 AM - Reply

    Your pesto making project looks very similar to ours! Every other year or so we make a huge batch of pesto. I say every other year only because we make so much (and freeze it) that it takes almost 2 years to work our way through it. But I love having homemade basil ready at a moment’s notice. Great tips here, and that pasta looks delicious!

    • chef mimi September 4, 2018 at 8:18 AM - Reply

      Thank you. No, I’ve already done 3 large batches this summer. My husband would just die without pesto!

  28. sippitysup September 4, 2018 at 9:14 AM - Reply

    Pesto is perfect this time of year. There’s an old Italian saying, “make pesto while the sun shines” which is a common-sense road map for dealing with summer’s great affluence of basil. But it’s also a metaphor for these glory days of summer. Because when summer rolls around it is easy to find yourself knee-deep in the stuff. Did I really mean to plant, buy, beg, borrow or steal quite so much basil? I’m going to steal your no cheese idea later this month when I start pulling my basil plants out by the roots just to keep them under control. GREG

    • chef mimi September 4, 2018 at 12:24 PM - Reply

      So they obviously grow well in L.A. also! They can get so huge! I’ve already made 3 large batches of pesto this summer, but they keep growing. Mine won’t winter over, so come October they’re out.

  29. Ashley September 4, 2018 at 9:59 AM - Reply

    Exquisite! And, truly versatile. Basil on everything!

    • chef mimi September 4, 2018 at 12:21 PM - Reply


  30. franflint61 September 4, 2018 at 4:10 PM - Reply

    I really admire your basil bushes. I have tried to grown basil several times but it always dies when it gets cold. Even tried to freeze it- but then wilts when it thaws. I like the idea of using pesto in ‘scroll rolls- looks yummy!

    • chef mimi September 4, 2018 at 5:39 PM - Reply

      Thank you. It doesn’t get really cold here until November, occasionally in October. So I’ll probably get another batch out of my plants!

  31. kathryninthekitchen September 5, 2018 at 4:57 AM - Reply

    Pesto is one of my favourite sauces! 🌱💙

    • chef mimi September 5, 2018 at 7:04 AM - Reply

      It’s pretty spectacular!

  32. heartandsoul974 October 12, 2018 at 4:57 AM - Reply

    Great post! I grow basil and make pesto every summer.😁

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