Authentic Italian Basil Pesto – Pesto Genovese

Making your own authentic Italian basil pesto is so easy and there’s no cooking involved. You’re going to love the fresh taste of this creamy pesto sauce and how much better it tastes than anything from the grocery store. This pesto genovese recipe is an uncooked cold sauce makes a delicious pasta sauce, condiment, or dip. Homemade pesto is one of the best ways to use your fresh basil from the garden.

A glass jar full of homemade basil pesto on a platter with some bread slices topped with pesto.

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This simple pesto recipe only calls for 6 ingredients and it shows you the traditional pesto making method used by Italians for many years. Make your own fresh pesto alla Genovese and enjoy the incredible flavour.

A marble mortar with authentic Italian basil pesto in it. A spoon is scooping pesto out.

Why You’ll Love This

  • Easy:  This recipe involves little more than combining the ingredients using a marble mortar and pestle. There’s no cooking and no fiddly steps.
  • Fresh Flavours:  This creamy pesto sauce recipe boasts the most incredible fresh flavours, superior to anything you would experience if using canned pesto instead.
  • Versatile:  Pesto is always great served with pasta but that’s only one way to use your perfect pesto. It’s also amazing spread on bread or toast or you can use it as a component in risottos, for example.
Overhead view of a marble mortar with authentic Italian basil pesto in it.

Authentic Italian Basil Pesto Ingredients

Garlic, salt, pine nuts, fresh basil leaves, parmesan cheese (parmigiano Reggiano), and olive oil are the only ingredients you need to make this creamy pesto sauce. The end flavour should be well-balanced and truly delicious.

Ingredients on a wood table to make a homemade Italian pesto recipe.

Pesto is originates in Genoa, which is located in the northern Italy in the Liguria region. Traditional basil pesto is named after the pestatura, which is how it is made. The basil leaves shouldn’t be ground roughly, so the marble mortar and pestle are turned in a circular motion so that the leaves are torn rather than cut.

Overhead view of a marble mortar with authentic Italian basil pesto in it and a pestle.

While not the traditional way, some people like to add a small amount of fresh squeezed lemon juice to bring out the basil flavour.

A zoomed in view of basil pesto on a spoon.

How to Make Homemade Basil Pesto

For more detailed instructions, with weights and measurements, jump to the printable recipe card.

  • Combine the salt and garlic:  Mix these ingredients together with a mortar and pestle.
  • Add more ingredients:  Add the pine nuts and then the basil, bit by bit.
  • Finish the pesto:  Mix in the cheese and olive oil.
A marble mortar with authentic Italian basil pesto in it. A spoon is scooping pesto out.

Substitutions and Variations

There are various substitutions and variations you might like to try when making authentic pesto. Watercress or kale instead of fresh basil would also result in a bright green creamy sauce. Throw in some avocado or make tomato pesto if you want.

Overhead view of a marble mortar with authentic Italian basil pesto in it. It is on a wooden board and the pestle is beside.

Basil pesto recipes often call for pine nuts, but you can easily substitute walnuts, sunflower seeds or cashews. Basil is a strong herb for some and a little goes a long way. You can mellow out the pesto by substituting half of the basil with fresh baby spinach leaves or even some parsley. You can also swap the parmesan for pecorino romano cheese or fiore sardo (pecorino cheese) or another Italian hard cheese.

Top view of a glass jar full of homemade basil pesto on a wood cutting board.  There is a spoon in the pesto and some pine nuts and fresh basil on the board.

What to Serve with Pesto Recipes

The most popular way to enjoy an authentic Genovese pesto recipe is to toss it with hot, cooked pasta such as trofie pasta. Other options to consider include using it as a spread in an Italian chicken sandwich in place of butter or mayo or adding some globs of fresh pesto on top of homemade tomato soup, to add Italian flair. It is also great served on warm fresh bread, as a sauce for vegetables, on pizza or on top of vine ripen summer tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

A platter with sliced Italian bread with pesto spread on top to make an appetizer.

Storage Directions

Pesto isn’t a condiment or sauce you make a portion at a time, so what’s the best way to store pesto recipes and how long will it stay fresh?

A marble mortar with authentic Italian basil pesto in it. A spoon is scooping pesto out.

Store:  Fresh basil pesto will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge. I like to add slick of olive oil on top to prevent oxidation and browning if I’m not using the pesto right away.
Freeze:  If you prefer to freeze pesto, the best way is to divide the basil between the holes in an ice cube tray. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top. Once frozen, you can transfer them into a freezer bag or freezer safe airtight container. Another method worth knowing if you want to learn how to freeze basil pesto sauce is simply keeping it in a small sealed jar, as long as you want to thaw the whole thing later. This uncooked cold sauce will keep for about 4 months if frozen.

Pesto Genovese Recipe FAQs

What else can you use basil pesto sauce for besides pasta?

The herbal, nutty, creamy taste of pesto makes a delicious pasta sauce, condiment, or dip. Try it spread over fish or chicken before baking it, or serve it as a dip with your favourite crackers, toast or breadsticks.

Can you make basil pesto in a food processor?

Yes you can, if you want to save time or you don’t have a marble mortar and pestle like this one or even a wooden pestle. I advise pulsing the nuts and basil rather than trying to make your Genovese sauce recipe completely smooth, because a little texture works well with this traditional recipe.

A platter with sliced Italian bread with pesto spread on top to make an appetizer.

Basil Pesto Recipe

A glass jar full of homemade basil pesto on a platter with some bread slices topped with pesto.

Authentic Italian Basil Pesto – Pesto Genovese

5 from 46 votes
Course: Appetizer, Condiment
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 8 ounces
Calories: 146kcal
Author: Bella Bucchiotti
Making your own authentic Italian basil pesto is so easy! You’re going to love the fresh taste of this creamy pesto sauce as a sauce, condiment or dip. Homemade pesto is one of the best ways to use your fresh basil from the garden.
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Ingredients

  • 3 Cloves garlic
  • ½ Teaspoon sea salt flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon pine nuts
  • 50 leaves fresh basil chopped
  • Cup Parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • ½ Cup extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  • Add sea salt flakes and garlic cloves to a marble mortar and crush into a paste.
  • Next, add the pine nuts and crush.
  • Add basil leaves 1 tablespoon at a time. Use the mortar to crush into a paste. Continue adding basil until all leaves are used.
  • Add the grated parmesan and grind into paste.
  • Add in the olive oil and mix until incorporated. Place into a sealable container or glass jar.

Nutrition

Calories: 146kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 3mg | Sodium: 213mg | Potassium: 25mg | Fiber: 0.1g | Sugar: 0.1g | Vitamin A: 198IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 57mg | Iron: 0.3mg

Notes

 
  1.  
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The nutrition information provided are only estimates based on an online nutritional calculator. I am not a certified nutritionist. Please consult a professional nutritionist or doctor for accurate information and any dietary restrictions and concerns you may have.

Authentic Italian basil pesto is an easy, delicious recipe and pesto sauce is really quick to prepare. All you need are 6 simple ingredients to make a tasty homemade pesto. Plus a few minutes to combine the ingredients. It freezes well making it a great sauce to have on hand.

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Bella Bucchiotti

Bella Bucchiotti of xoxoBella is a storyteller, food lover, dog mom and adventure seeker living on the Pacific coast. She shares her passion for recipes, dogs, sustainability, adventures, travel and philanthropy, in hopes of encouraging followers to run the extra mile, try new recipes, visit unfamiliar places and stand for a cause. Bella lives with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.

Bella Bucchiotti is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer for MSN and the Associated Press Wire.

Welcome to xoxoBella! I am Bella Bucchiotti and I am a recipe developer, content creator and writer. Here you will find delicious recipes, travel inspiration, crafts, pet tips and more.

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Recipe Rating




  1. Tracy Kyle wrote:

    5 stars
    Love this pesto! Freezes so well too.

    Posted 2.28.23 Reply
  2. Heidi wrote:

    5 stars
    This pesto was easy to make and absolutely delicious! I enjoyed mine on fresh toasted French bread as an appetizer. I will definitely make it again!

    Posted 2.28.23 Reply
  3. Gina wrote:

    5 stars
    This really is the most authentic pesto I’ve had outside of Italy! While it’s delicious on pasta, I really love it on fresh bread to fully enjoy the taste!

    Posted 3.1.23 Reply
  4. Lisa wrote:

    5 stars
    So easy and tasty. I mixed it in with shredded chicken for a delicious sandwich filling.

    Posted 3.1.23 Reply
  5. Liz wrote:

    5 stars
    I usually just use storebought pesto but I decided to try homemade and I’m glad I did! This was so good!

    Posted 3.1.23 Reply
  6. Sarita wrote:

    Simple, and so delicious. My new go-to Basil Pesto recipe!

    Posted 3.1.23 Reply
  7. H Freeman wrote:

    5 stars
    We had no idea making homemade pesto was so easy. It tasted great too. We had some with pasta and some on a chicken sandwich and still have some left.

    Posted 10.24.23 Reply