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Our Favourite Basil Pesto Recipe

Making basil pesto by hand – with a mortar and pestle – arguably produces a far tastier end result than making pesto with a food blender.

For starters, the consistency is different. It’s coarser than the blender-made version. At the same time it’s silky and emulsified. The colour is different as well, more of a creamy shade of olive than bright green.

Most importantly it tastes better, having a rounder, fuller more balanced flavour.

“Perhaps the best reason for making pesto by hand is for the pleasure of the process. You’ll see the separate ingredients slowly transform in unctuous sauce. You’ll smell the powerful clove, mint, and licorice fragrances of the basil as it combines with the garlic and cheese. And you’ll listen to the soft pounding and grinding of the pestle instead of the unyielding whir of an electric motor.” – Chef Jerry Traunfeld, author of The Herb Farm Cookbook

Chef Traunfeld is also the creator of this pesto recipe. And just like his machine-made version it makes the best basil pesto we’ve ever tasted. Follow his recipe to the letter and you’ll also end up with a perfectly balanced fragrant and voluptuous basil pesto.

By the way, if you like this recipe, get yourself a copy of The Herb Farm Cookbook. It’s a must have for any foodie or food professional.

making basil pesto

Our Favourite Basil Pesto Recipe
Prep time
Total time
Makes about 1 cup, enough pesto sauce for a bowl of pasta for 4
Serves: 4
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons raw pine nuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sweet basil leaves, gently packed
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Put the garlic, pine nuts and salt in a large mortar. Use the pestle with a gentle downward pounding action to crush the ingredients and start to form a paste.
  2. Coarsely chop the basil leaves on a cutting board with a sharp knife. Add the leaves to the mortar one handful at a time as you begin to rotate the pestle in a circular grinding movement, working mostly at the bottom of the bowl. From time to time use the pestle to pound the mixture with downward strokes. After several minutes it will start to form a paste.
  3. When all the leaves are added, begin to add the olive oil a little at a time, while continuing to use the pestle with the rotary grinding motion. When all the oil is added, the colour will be lighter and the oil will be suspended in the thick spoonable sauce, but you will still be able to see shreds of the basil leaves. Stir in the cheese.

Hungry for more pesto recipes? Try these…

More Resources
Follow Chef Jerry Traunfeld (@poppyseatle) on Twitter
Get a copy of The Herb Farm Cookbook by Chef Traunfeld at your favourite book store.

3 thoughts on “Our Favourite Basil Pesto Recipe

  1. I wish I had seen this recipe before I tried to make my own basil pesto/basil in oil. Then I would have added salt and garlic. I just whizzed the basil and added olive oil. Could this be the reason the jars seem to be “boiling over” ? Or should I keep the jars of basil in oil in the fridge? Help!

    1. Hi Hazell. For the best flavour make your pesto just before use. Having said that, it can keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Cover the jar with cling film or cover the top of the pesto with an olive oil layer to prevent it from drying out. If you have lots of basil that you want to ‘preserve’ you can freeze the pesto – omitting the nuts and cheese. Happy pesto making.

  2. […] basic pesto-making technique with a wider variety of herbs and added ingredients is very popular with chefs, home cooks and […]

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