This quick and easy 5 minute pesto comes together in a breeze thanks to the help of a processor. Fresh basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts are blended together to form a vibrant and flavorful paste. You’ll want to mix this gorgeous green sauce into every meal!
I’ll show you how to choose the best ingredients for pesto, how to make it, and how to freeze it. I also have a bunch of ideas for using your pesto sauce!
What is pesto?
Classic Genoese pesto is an Italian paste or sauce made from crushed basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil. It comes from Genoa, Italy.
Traditionally, it is made using a mortar & pestle. But we’ll use a food processor to make a quick and easy pesto that comes together in 5 minutes!
There are lots of variations of pesto made these days. I’m going to show you how to make it with the classic ingredients.
Is homemade pesto better than store-bought?
I’ll admit, I will use a jar of store-bought basil in the winter if I don’t have a freezer stash of homemade pesto. But come on ya’ll, homemade pesto made with fresh basil is SO much better than store-bought!
Store-bought is heated to make it shelf-stable. Heat changes the flavor profiles of the ingredients, especially the basil!
Making it yourself also ensures that you have complete control over the ingredients. Better ingredients = the best quality pesto!
Ingredients for making 5 minute pesto
Fresh, sweet basil is the only basil to use for traditional pesto. There is no substitute, and dried basil will not work. Make pesto in summer or early fall when basil is in season. It is flavorful, aromatic, and full of healthy antioxidants.
Basil is easy to grow. You ought to have a few plants in your garden! It even does well in containers on a patio or balcony. I can sometimes find little refrigerated backs of basil in the produce section.
Parmesan cheese adds a savory umami flavor and creaminess to the pesto. Start with a block and grate it yourself. Do not use pre-grated. High-quality Parmigiano Reggiano is the best.
Pine nuts provide a mild, slightly nutty flavor and an almost buttery feel.
Garlic delivers a pungent and almost spicy punch to the pesto. It also pairs wonderfully with fresh basil.
Drizzle in extra virgin olive oil to bring everything together. It has a smooth, silky feel and a complex flavor. You’ll be able to taste the difference in quality if you use good olive oil. Here is a guide to help you choose an olive oil.
Just a pinch of salt will enhance the flavor of everything!
Pesto without pine nuts
There are a few reasons you may want to substitute the pine nuts. They can sometimes be hard to find. They are also expensive. Some folks even find pine nuts to be extremely bitter!
I personally love them!
If you want to make a no pine nut pesto, the best substitution is walnuts. You can replace the pine nuts with an equal amount of dried walnut pieces.
How to make 5 minute pesto
We’re using a food processor to make a quick and easy pesto!
Peel and lightly crush the garlic. Use a cheese grater to finely shred the parmesan cheese.
Add the garlic and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor that is fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until they form a paste. Use a silicone spatula to scrape the paste off the bottom of the bowl but leave it in the bowl.
Add the basil and parmesan. Pulse until it forms a paste. Stop to scrape the bowl if needed, to make sure everything comes together.
Drizzle in the olive oil while the food processor is running. Stop and scrape if needed. It should form a thick, chunky paste. If it’s too thick, drizzle in more olive oil, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Freezing basil pesto
Every year, I like to make a few big batches of basil pesto to freeze. It can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Pro-tip: I have a button on the recipe card that will double or triple the recipe for you!
How to freeze pesto in jars
Use a clean, freezer-safe jar. These 4-ounce jars are perfect for freezing 1/2 cup of homemade pesto.
Pour in the pesto, leaving ½ inch headspace. Top with a thin layer of olive oil to preserve freshness, and put the lid on. Freeze for up to 3 months.
How to freeze pesto in ice cube trays
Pour the pesto into a silicone ice cube tray. Be careful to fill one slot at a time. Place the ice cube tray of pesto in the freezer. Once frozen solid, remove the frozen pesto cubes and place them in a freezer bag. Seal the bag and place it back in the freezer. Freeze for up to 3 months.
How to use frozen pesto
Remove the jar or ice cube from the freezer and thaw in the fridge overnight. Stir before using.
Pro-tip: If you’re planning to stir the recipe in a soup like minestrone, you can add a frozen cube of pesto directly to the soup and stir it until it thaws and dissolves.
What to make with pesto
For a simple pasta that lets the fresh pesto shine, make Basil Pesto Penne
Cook penne to al dente, according to the package directions. Strain the penne but reserve some of the pasta water.
Toss the freshly cooked penne with pesto. Drizzle in a small amount of the reserved pasta water to thin and smooth the sauce. Toss it again. Top with grated parm and serve!
More uses for pesto
- Toss it with pasta
- Drizzle it over grilled chicken.
- Make pesto swirl pizza.
- Drizzle it over Caprese salad or tortellini Caprese salad.
- Spoon it over pork tenderloin.
- Make a pressed sandwich with pesto and chicken.
- Add it to roasted or grilled vegetables.
- Make minestrone soup.
- Make chicken bacon pesto pasta.
- Make pasta primavera.
- Make pesto aioli for your sandwiches.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, this pesto is gluten-free! There are lots of gluten-free meals that pair with it.
Use the pesto immediately or store it in the fridge for up to one week. I have instructions in this post for freezing pesto to keep it fresh longer.
Yes! You can make large batches of pesto. The trick is to make sure you have a large-capacity food processor. It needs to be able to crush everything up with ease. I have a Cuisinart 14-cup food processor, and I love it!
Do you have an abundance of fresh basil growing? What’s your favorite way to use it?
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