Pesto Genovese (Authentic Italian Pesto Recipe)

Pesto Genovese, or classic Italian basil pesto, is an irresistibly herbaceous 5-ingredient sauce. Use it to elevate a bowl of pasta, drizzle it on a pizza, or spread it on a sandwich. The serving options are endless!

Finished pesto in food processor bowl.

What is pesto Genovese?

When you think of a pesto recipe, your mind likely goes to the most traditional version called Pesto Genovese (AKA classic basil pesto or pesto alla Genovese). This authentic Italian sauce is incredibly savory and herbaceous thanks to its 5 simple ingredients: fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and garlic. Best of all, it’s easy to make at home and takes minutes to blend in a food processor.

“Pesto” translates to “pounded” in Italian, which reflects the traditional way of making this sauce: with a mortar and pestle. Essentially, any sauce that pounds its ingredients into a smooth sauce can be called pesto. This is why pesto recipes aren’t always limited to basil, cheese, and pine nuts. My Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Kale Pesto recipes aren’t traditional but are still technically pesto sauces!

And, while my recipe isn’t made in the traditional way – I use a food processor (instead of a mortar and pestle) to save time and energy, it’s absolutely delicious!

So, when you’re craving the savory, cheesy goodness that is classic basil pesto, you can rely on this pesto Genovese recipe.

Why you’ll love it

Who can say no to pesto? This perfect sauce features a beautiful blend of rich, herbaceous, fresh, cheesy, earthy, and nutty flavors in every bite. It’s flexible, too, and can be made with arugula, kale, broccoli, and even more ingredients in addition to basil.

Thankfully, pesto alla Genovese goes well with everything! Use the sauce as an alternative to red sauce on pizza, brush it onto grilled chicken, add a scoop to pasta or salad, drizzle it over roasted vegetables, or serve it as a dipping sauce. The serving options are practically endless!

Ingredients for pesto on counter.

Ingredients

  • Fresh basil leaves – A must in this basil pasta recipe. If you want to keep this recipe true to its Italian roots, use Genoese basil DOP grown in the Liguria region of Italy. However, home-grown basil is just as good.
  • Pine nuts – A traditional, albeit expensive, ingredient in pesto is pine nuts. These tiny nuts come with a high price tag because they take years to grow and are labor-intensive to harvest. Feel free to use walnuts as a budget-friendly and just-as-delicious substitute.
  • Garlic – Fresh cloves are best.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil – Oil emulsifies the pesto, which transforms it into a smooth and cohesive sauce.
  • Parmesan cheese – Make sure to grate the parmesan yourself! Pre-shredded parmesan isn’t as fresh or flavorful as the cheese from the block. Again, to keep this recipe traditional to its Italian roots, use a blend of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino instead.

Can’t find ingredients straight from Italy? Don’t stress. Your pesto will be just as good if you make it with locally sourced ingredients!

How to make traditional Italian pesto sauce

Process the basil leaves, pine nuts (or walnuts), and garlic in a food processor until they’re very finely minced.

With the machine still running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the sauce is smooth. To finish, pulse in the cheese. Enjoy!

Tips and tricks

  • Adjust the flavors for your taste buds. Add another garlic clove for a savory flavor, use an extra 1 to 2 tablespoons of parmesan if you like extra cheesy pesto, or add a pinch of salt to round out the flavors.
  • Upgrade your homemade pesto with roasted or caramelized garlic rather than raw cloves.
  • Did you end up with extra basil? Check out my guide on how to freeze basil to preserve it for months.

Ways to use pesto Genovese

Pesto swirled with fettuccini noodles.

Storing

You can store homemade pesto in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Add a drizzle of olive oil on top to maintain freshness and prevent the basil from browning.

Freezing pesto is easy, too. Pour the sauce into ice cube trays or silicone molds, then freeze until solid. Transfer the pesto cubes to a ziplock bag and freeze for up to 3 months.

Wine pairings for basil pesto

  • Viognier is one of my favorite wines to pair with pesto because its mild acidity pairs beautifully with the earthy basil and rich cheese.
  • A ripe, full-bodied Chardonnay compliments the brightness in this pesto perfectly.
  • The grassy aromas in a Sauvignon Blanc make it an excellent pairing for this herbaceous pesto.
  • For a red wine option, try a light-bodied Pinot Noir. It pairs especially well if you’re serving the pesto with creamy dishes, like pasta.

Need more options? Check out these Best Wine Pairings for Pesto.

Small bowl of pesto genovese with spoon.

More pesto recipes

Did you make this easy pesto recipe?

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Overhead close up of bowl of pesto genovese with spoon.

Pesto Genovese (Authentic Italian Basil Pesto)

Pesto Genovese, or classic Italian basil pesto, is an irresistibly herbaceous 5-ingredient sauce. Use it to elevate a bowl of pasta, drizzle it on a pizza, or spread it on a sandwich. The serving options are endless!
5 from 1 vote
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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 6 people

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Combine basil leaves, pine nuts (or walnuts) and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced.
  • With the machine running slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until the mixture is smooth.
  • Add the cheese and pulse to just combine.

Notes

You can store homemade pesto in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Add a drizzle of olive oil on top to maintain freshness and prevent the basil from browning.
Freezing pesto is easy, too. Pour the sauce into ice cube trays or silicone molds, then freeze until solid. Transfer the pesto cubes to a ziplock bag and freeze for up to 3 months.
Did you make this recipe?Mention @platingsandpairings or tag #platingsandpairings!

Equipment

Food processor

Nutrition

Calories: 218kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 98mg | Potassium: 64mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 0.2g | Vitamin A: 472IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 64mg | Iron: 1mg

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