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Classic Basil Pesto

Classic Basil Pesto 2.000

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Eat Voraciously Newsletter Jul 14, 2021

Genoa’s ode to basil is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle — after all, the name pesto comes from the Italian verb pestare, to pound or grind. And you can certainly make this recipe in a large mortar and pestle, but a food processor speeds up the process nicely. Garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and salt support the basil in the base of this pesto, which is adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Italian Cooking.” Hazan notes that stirring in the grated cheese by hand at the end enhances the pesto’s texture, and she’s right. Her recipe also includes a bit of softened butter — it enriches the sauce, and makes it glide across freshly boiled pasta — but we’ve made it optional here. One suggested tweak: For pesto that will stay green in your fridge for a week, blanch the basil first. A quick dip in a boiling water bath sets the herb’s verdant, peppery flavor. It’s not necessary, but is a nice trick — and one that works with any herb or flavorful leafy green, including parsley, mint, arugula, chard and kale.

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Active time: 10 mins; Total time: 10 mins

Storage Notes: Leftover pesto may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. If you’ve blanched the basil (see NOTE), it will stay green; if not, it will gradually turn brown, but will retain its flavor. Pesto may also be frozen, packed airtight, for up to 2 months.

2 - 8

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 2-8 servings; makes about 1 cup.

  • 2 cups (2 ounces) packed fresh basil leaves and tender stems
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (1 ounce) pine nuts, preferably toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese, or a combination of Parmesan and pecorino Romano
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft but not melted (optional)


In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil (blanched, if desired; see NOTE), olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt. Process until smooth, 30 seconds to 1 minute, stopping to scrape down the bowl, if necessary.

Transfer the basil puree to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese and softened butter, if using. Taste, and add additional salt if desired. Serve or refrigerate until needed.

NOTE: To make pesto that will stay green for up to a week, blanch the basil: Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Bring a quart of water and 2 teaspoons of fine sea or table salt to a rolling boil over high heat. Gently stir in the basil, and cook for 45 seconds; it will become deep green and wilted. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the basil to the ice bath. Once it’s cold, strain and use your hands to squeeze out any excess water before proceeding with the recipe.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, 1992).

Tested by G. Daniela Galarza and Ann Maloney.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per tablespoon: 105

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 11g 17%

Saturated Fat: 3g 15%

Cholesterol: 8mg 3%

Sodium: 105mg 4%

Total Carbohydrates: 1g 0%

Dietary Fiber: 0g 0%

Sugar: 0g

Protein: 2g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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