This Easy Pesto Recipe is the most versatile thing you can have in your kitchen. A little pesto and you can make a fabulous meal out of whatever happens to be in your refrigerator right now. And it freezes perfectly to last you through the cold months.
Easy Pesto Recipe
The minute the weather gets warm and the threat of freezing has passed I rush to get my basil in the ground. I make a point to grow enough basil in the warm months to supply me with enough pesto to last through the cold ones.
We use this easy pesto recipe in more ways than I can count – in pasta, brushed on chicken, brushed on fish, as a fast way to season soup, as a way to pep up grilled steaks, mixed with crab meat, as a condiment for sandwiches, as a dip for fresh bread, and as a base for pizza. (Not to mention all the ways we use just the fresh basil!)
How to Make Pesto from Fresh Basil
An Easy Pesto Recipe is one of the most versatile things you can have at your disposal when you are short on time and just need to make the most of what is already in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer. There is no cooking involved, all you need is your food processor. And pesto freezes beautifully so there is always something my family will eat in the house no matter how long it has been since I have replenished the rest of the groceries.
Occasionally you might have a batch of pesto turn a dark, almost brown. I have made pesto for years and have only had this happen once. Basil is very tender and oxidizes quickly, which is what causes the change in color. So handle it gently.
Generally, you want to slice, not “chop” basil to minimize bruising and oxidation, maintaining the beautiful color. (Have you noticed that chefs on television always stack basil leaves and roll them up, slicing across to create long, thin strips – this is called chiffonade – as opposed to chopping it like parsley or thyme.) If your blender or food processor blades are dull, you might find your pesto gets a little dark for this same reason. Fear not, if this happens, it does not impact the taste, which is really what counts.
There are a couple of options for making sure basil maintains a bright green color. First, you can blanch the basil before making pesto. I’m not a fan of this because it robs the fresh basil of its pungent, sweet, herby flavor. It is still basil… But boiled basil is not so exciting for me.
Make a Simple Pesto Sauce
Put the parmesan cheese in the food processor and pulse until the cheese begins to look like small crumbs. Add the basil and parsley (if using), pine nuts, garlic, and salt and pepper to the food processor.
Turn the food processor on medium setting until a green paste begins to form.
Drizzle the olive oil into the green paste while the food processor is on. Stop the food processor and use a rubber spatula to scrape any ingredients from the sides back down into the bowl. Pulse the food processor again until everything is incorporated.
You can use this easy pesto recipe immediately or freeze it.
You can top the pesto with a splash of extra olive oil if you plan to store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Personally, I add a quarter cup of parsley to the blender with the basil – which I measure as a handful I clip off my parsley plant, very official, I know. It freezes very well and helps maintain the bright green color even after freezing.
How to Make Creamy Pesto Sauce
If you really love creamy pesto sauce (like I do!), it is super easy to make from this base recipe and only takes a few minutes.
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan, and add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic. When the butter is melted and the garlic is fragrant, add 1 cup of half-and-half or heavy cream and half a cup of milk.
Cook for 1 minute while stirring constantly, then add 2-3 tablespoons of this prepared pesto (depending on how strong you want the pesto flavor to be) and 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese melts and everything is well combined.
You will want to add this directly to your pasta since it will not freeze well because of the dairy!
For a complete meal, add your creamy pesto sauce to pasta and top with chicken (rotisserie chicken makes a great shortcut!)
Looking for a super healthy shortcut?? Add your prepared pesto to a high-quality Greek yogurt and combine with warm pasta and top with chicken!
How to Freeze Pesto
Pesto freezes great! The easiest way is to spoon the pesto into old-fashioned ice cube trays. Add a drop of olive oil to the top of to each ice cube section to protect your fresh pesto. Cover with saran wrap. (I like the press-and-seal stuff because it is easier to seal and remove as much air as possible.)
If you are short on freezer space, you can pop the cubes out of the trays once they are frozen and collect them in a freezer bag.
How to Grow Basil for Pesto
Now go plant some basil – planting it yourself will save you an enormous amount of money at checkout. Even if growing from seed is intimidating, you can purchase an established organic basil plant from a nursery for the cost of what you pay at the grocery store for a few leaves.
Basil is exceptionally easy to grow. If you don’t have a garden, a pot works just fine as long as it is well-drained. Six basil plants will give you 2 to 3 cups of leaves per week – which at my house means that I can cook with as much pesto as I want, store enough for when it turns cold, and still give some to the neighbors!
Recipes Using Pesto
Need some ideas for using up all your new pesto?! This Creamy Avocado Pesto Gnocchi with Roasted Tomatoes is DEEEEEElish. Once you make the super easy sauce, you are going to want to pour in on everything! (Hint: add a little water when you blend it to make it thinner and it makes a great salad dressing!)
You can also use pesto as an easy way to season soups with fresh ingredients, like in this Turkey and Root Vegetable Stew. But the easiest and my most favorite way to use Classic Pesto is to just brush it over chicken or fish, like in this Tilapia with Classic Pesto.
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, roughly chopped Do not use the pre-grated or powdered stuff.
- 1/2 cup pine nuts walnuts or blanched almonds are excellent (cheaper!) substitutes
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley optional
- Put the parmesan cheese in the food processor and pulse until the cheese begins to look like small crumbs. Add the basil and parsley (if using), pine nuts, garlic, and salt and pepper to the food processor. Turn the food processor on medium setting until a green paste begins to form. Begin to drizzle the olive oil into the green paste while the food processor is on. Stop the food processor and use a rubber spatula to scrape any ingredients from the sides back down into the bowl. Pulse the food processor again until everything is incorporated. You can use immediately or freeze.
- Freezer instructions: If you are planning to freeze your pesto, pour it straight from your food processor into clean ice cube trays. Cover and put into the freezer. When pesto is completely frozen, transfer the pesto cubes from the ice trays to a labeled and dated freezer bag. Next time you need a quick dinner, grab a few cubes of pesto and let them thaw!