Welcome, culinary explorers, to a mouth-watering journey that will transport you straight to the sun-kissed landscapes of Liguria, Italy, where our beloved Pesto was born.
The Pesto we know and love today is a testament to the Italian art of combining simple ingredients to create something truly extraordinary. Its vibrant green color, fresh aroma, and flavor-packed personality have cemented its place in kitchens and restaurant menus across the globe.
But what exactly is Pesto? Originating from Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy, Pesto (or Pesto alla Genovese, to give it its full title) is a sauce made from fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), Pecorino Sardo (a cheese made from sheep’s milk), all emulsified with extra-virgin olive oil.
The word ‘Pesto’ comes from the Italian verb ‘pestare’, which means ‘to crush’, referring to the original method of preparing the sauce using a mortar and pestle.
Pesto’s charm is in its versatility. It’s most famously served with pasta, but it can also be used as a sauce for grilled vegetables and meats, a spread on sandwiches, a topping for pizza, or even a dip for bread. Its intense, herbaceous flavor can truly enhance a myriad of dishes.
The soul of Pesto lies in its ingredients: fresh, fragrant basil, creamy, tangy cheeses, crunchy pine nuts, pungent garlic, and a drizzle of the finest olive oil. While these form the backbone of traditional Pesto, there are also many variations to explore. You might encounter versions with parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, or even walnuts, each bringing their unique twist to this classic sauce.
In this article, I be delving deep into the world of Pesto, guiding you through the process of making your own homemade version. I discuss how to select the best ingredients, the traditional technique of making Pesto, and share some of our favorite Pesto-infused recipes. So, let’s dive into the deliciously green and fragrant world of Pesto!
📌 Pin it!
Liguria, a coastal region in northwest Italy, is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. Its climate is ideal for growing lush and fragrant basil, the primary ingredient in traditional pesto. While many historians agree that versions of this sauce have been present in various Mediterranean cuisines, it’s the Ligurian variant, the Pesto alla Genovese, that has garnered international acclaim.
The name ‘Pesto’ itself is derived from the Italian verb ‘pestare’, meaning ‘to crush’. This is a nod to the age-old method of crafting the sauce using a mortar and pestle, where fresh basil leaves are delicately crushed with garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, and cheeses, before being smoothly emulsified with extra-virgin olive oil.
For the people of Liguria, Pesto isn’t just a sauce; it’s a symbol of home and familial tradition. Recipes have been handed down through generations, each with its unique touch or secret ingredient. Families take pride in their individual methods, and some even host Pesto-making gatherings, bringing the community together to celebrate their shared heritage.
Pesto also holds religious significance. It’s believed that in the 16th century, priests would blend blessed basil leaves with other ingredients, culminating in a holy sauce that was thought to provide spiritual protection.
As with many traditional foods, Pesto’s global spread is intertwined with migration and trade patterns. Ligurian sailors and merchants, traveling through the Mediterranean, carried with them their beloved sauce, introducing it to new regions and cultures. As they integrated with locals, so did their recipes, leading to the creation of various regional Pesto variants.
The global popularity of Italian cuisine in the 20th century gave Pesto a significant boost. As Italian restaurants sprouted in major cities worldwide, Pesto began appearing on menus, introducing diners to its fresh, herbaceous flavor. Its versatility, being suitable for pasta, meat, sandwiches, and even pizza, further cemented its global appeal.
What is Pesto Used For? 10 Pairing Suggestions
Pesto, with its rich and aromatic flavors, has a multitude of culinary uses that extend beyond its traditional pairing with pasta. Its versatility makes it a must-have in many kitchens worldwide. Here are some ways in which this delicious sauce can be used:
1. Pasta Companion
Traditionally, Pesto is drizzled over freshly cooked pasta, coating the strands with its vibrant, herby goodness. You can use it with spaghetti, penne, fusilli, or any pasta of your choice.
2. Pizza and Flatbreads
A generous spread of pesto on a pizza base before topping it with your favorite ingredients can be a delightful change from the usual tomato-based sauces. It pairs especially well with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and grilled vegetables.
3. Sandwich Spread
Swapping your regular mayo or mustard with pesto can elevate the taste of your sandwiches. Whether it’s a grilled chicken sandwich or a simple vegetable panini, pesto adds a burst of flavor.
4. Dip and Spreads
Pesto works brilliantly as a dip. Serve it alongside freshly cut vegetables, breadsticks, or chips for a delightful snack. It can also be spread over toast or bruschetta, topped with sliced tomatoes and a sprinkle of salt.
5. Grilled Proteins
Whether it’s chicken, fish, or even tofu, a brush of pesto before grilling can add an aromatic and tangy layer to your proteins.
6. Salad Dressings
Stirred into salads, pesto offers a fresh and flavorful alternative to conventional dressings. It pairs wonderfully with Mediterranean-style salads laden with olives, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes.
7. Soup Enhancer
A dollop of pesto in soups, especially tomato or vegetable-based ones, can provide a fresh, herby twist.
Pesto can be used as a marinade for meats, seafood, and vegetables before roasting or grilling. Its ingredients penetrate the proteins, rendering them flavorful and succulent.
9. Grain Bowls and Risottos
A spoonful of pesto mixed into your quinoa, rice, or any grain bowl can give it a fresh, Italian twist.
10. Baked Goods
Though unconventional, adding a bit of pesto into savory baked goods like muffins or scones can be a delightful surprise.
63 Pesto Recipes
Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
By combining the sweetness of roasted bell peppers with the crunch of almonds and the aromatic blend of parsley and basil, this sauce provides a rich, flavorful addition to pastas, sandwiches, and more.
Lemon pesto offers a zesty twist on the classic basil pesto, introducing a summery and refreshing flavor to the iconic Italian sauce. This versatile condiment can be drizzled over roasted veggies, blended into pasta, spread onto sandwiches, or utilized as a marinade for poultry and seafood.
This Wasabi Pesto recipe is a unique vegan pesto that goes well with virtually everything. Use it to top seafood such as shrimp or salmon. Mix it into starchy sides such as rice or roasted potatoes. Or spread it on your favorite crackers or toasty bread. You’ll be impressed by how deeply flavorful this vegan sauce is.
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
This Pumpkin Seed Pesto is fresh, vibrant and so flavorful! Pumpkin seeds are the perfect stand-in for pine nuts. Easily made in a food processor in just 10 minutes!
Kale Pecan Pesto Recipe
Fast, easy, delicious and healthy pesto perfect for spreading on toast or pizza, or mixing into pastas and casseroles. Full of flavor and easy on the budget, too!
Easy And Delicious Sicilian Pesto Recipe (Pesto Alla Trapanese)
If you think pesto is supposed to be green, think again. Sicilian Pesto (Pesto alla Trapanese or pesto alla siciliana) is a fresh and lively sauce that will change the way you think about pesto. Enjoy it with bread, pasta, or with a protein of your choice.
Garlic Scapes Pesto
When garlic scapes show up at the local market or in your garlic patch, it’s a sure sign that summer is well underway. This recipe for garlic scape pesto is a wonderful way to enjoy this fleeting delicacy.
Ramp Pesto (Wild Leek Pesto)
If you’re a fan of pesto and looking to try something new, Ramp Pesto (Wild Leek Pesto) is a delicious and unique twist on the classic sauce. Made with foraged ramps, this flavorful pesto is easy to whip up and adds a burst of springtime freshness to any dish.
Pesto alla Siciliana with Busiate Pasta
Pesto alla Siciliana combines tomatoes and almonds to make a refreshing and delicate, no-cook sauce that can be on the table in only 30 minutes! Also known as pesto alla trapanese because of the Sicilian coastal town of Trapani where it originated, this sauce trades in the signature basil and pine nuts of the classic (green) pesto Genovese for sweet tomatoes and almonds in this more rustic, red version hailing from Sicily in the heart of the Mediterranean. Some like to call it “that other pesto” or pesto rosso (red pesto)!
Radish Greens Pesto
Can you eat radish greens? Absolutely! Save those edible radish tops to make this delicious peppery Radish Greens Pesto recipe. Besides being packed with flavor, radish greens pack a nutritional punch! It’s perfect with pasta, pizza, chicken, fish, and potatoes or any other way you’d use traditional basil pesto.
Pesto Rosso (Authentic Sicilian Tomato Pesto)
Pesto Rosso is a traditional Sicilian tomato pesto so easy to make at home with just a couple of fresh ingredients. The recipe features fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese to deliver a scrumptious sauce perfect to serve with pasta or as a spread with toasted bread for a delicious appetizer.
Almond Basil Pesto
Almond Basil Pesto is a twist on the classic Italian basil pesto. The almonds give it a nutty flavor and great texture. This variation will add delicious flavor to pasta, pizza, vegetables, and so much more!
Spinach Pesto With Feta & Walnuts
This quick and easy feta and spinach pesto recipe works perfectly with pasta, spread on sandwiches and as a dip for vegetables!
Easy Carrot Top Pesto (Vegan)
Carrot Top Pesto is a tasty, nutritious way to curb food waste in your kitchen. It comes together in minutes with just a few ingredients and tastes great in a variety of dishes!
Autumn Pesto With Arugula, Lamb’s Lettuce And Walnuts
Everyone knows the traditional pesto. The super tasty and simple Italian sauce based on basil and pine nuts. It is very summery. But here we have made a typical autumn variant: autumn pesto with arugula, lamb’s lettuce and walnuts. Perfectly adapted to the season.
Easy Pesto Rosso – Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
Pesto rosso is an alternative to green pesto. It is both similar and very different! Sun dried tomato pesto is really versatile. You can spread it over crackers or toast or enjoy it as an easy pasta sauce. This red pesto recipe is a great recipe with sun dried tomatoes, as opposed to green pesto which is made with fresh basil. This red pesto recipe is quick and easy to make when you use a food processor. Yes you can buy it readymade from the store, but it’s so much better when lovingly made at home!
This is a very different pesto. It is great to use on a fillet of beef or on a hamburger. Try it on pasta.
Wild Garlic Cashew Nut Pesto
Wild Garlic Cashew Pesto could serve it with fish – it would go fabulously with pan-fried salmon and some roasted vegetables. Using cashew nuts in place of pine nuts gave a much creamier, buttery, almost sweet taste to the final sauce!
Rocket Pesto (Arugula)
This Rocket Pesto – also known as Arugula Pesto is the US – is peppery take on the Italian Classic. Fresher and bursting with flavour from the herbs, it adds so much to most dishes. You can pair it with pasta, meat, fish, veggies, use it as a salad dressing, it’s so versatile! And the best thing is that it takes minutes to whip up in a food processor.
Pesto with Pumpkin Seeds (Pepita Pesto)
Pepita Pesto swaps pumpkin seeds for pine nuts and offers an affordable and tasty twist on the popular condiment (when compared to versions made with pine nuts).
Fennel frond pesto great way to get fat in your diet! Good sources of fat include avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and oils. This fennel pesto contains seeds and oil, which makes it a fabulous source of healthy fat! Add it liberally to your meals.
Asian Pesto Recipe (Cilantro Pesto)
Liven up your dishes with this deliciously herby Asian pesto recipe. Made with cilantro, peanuts, lime and ginger, it’s wonderfully fresh and tangy and so easy to make. This vegan cilantro pesto is perfect when stirred into noodles or use it to flavor fish and shrimp.
Basil pesto just got a delicious make over! This simple pistachio pesto recipe is herby and rich and perfect to use in so many ways. Simple to make with just a handful of ingredients, it’s ready to enjoy within minutes.
Radish Sprout Pesto Pasta
Simple radish sprout pesto recipe is not a mild preparation. More pesto, then more bang. More cream, then more elegance.
Easy Cannabis Pesto » with Leaves or Oil
Use all of your homegrown herbs like basil, parsley, and cannabis in this easy-to-make, savory cannabis pesto. This recipe includes multiple infusion options for you to try, including leaves, oil, and more. Once made, this recipe can be enjoyed as a dip on meat, served over vegetables, swirled into pasta, used as a spread on sandwiches, and more.
Easy Spinach-Walnut Pesto Recipe
This Spinach-Walnut Pesto recipe takes five minutes! You just need five ingredients, plus salt and pepper to make this pesto sauce without basil. It’s delicious stirred into pasta or zoodles and spooned onto pizza, chicken or fish!
Make use of that garden zucchini with a batch of fresh zucchini pesto. Made with basil, zucchini, pine nuts, oil, and parmesan cheese, this pesto tastes creamy, fresh, and light – it’s perfect for summer!
Sun Dried Tomato Pesto (Pesto Rosso)
Pesto Rosso, also known as pesto alla siciliana or pesto alla trapanese, is a Sicialian version of pesto from the province of Trapani. Traditional basil pesto (genovese pesto) is made with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Pesto Rosso uses sun dried tomatoes in addition to the traditional pesto ingredients, usually with less basil as well.
Roasted Garlic Pesto Sauce
This Roasted Garlic Pesto Sauce is made with oven-roasted garlic in place of regular garlic. The roasted garlic caramelizes in the oven, creating a creamy, smooth flavor that adds a delicious twist to your traditional pesto. Mild and perfect for those sensitive to raw garlic, you’ll want to put this on everything!
This fresh spinach pesto is a delicious, vibrant alternative to the classic basil pesto! The flavor is super similar but a little milder, and a great way to sneak extra veggies into a meal! You can use it in place of regular basil pesto in any recipe!
This easy 10 minutes parsley pesto (with cilantro) is packed with lots of flavors and is perfect for a dip, sandwich, or pasta. It’s made with 8 ingredients only.
Vegan Cashew Pesto
This bright, fresh, and flavorful Vegan Cashew Pesto is the perfect addition to pasta, toast, crackers, potatoes, or whatever else you can think of. It’s so easy to make and so delicious that you’ll want to put it on just about everything!
Rocket Pesto Recipe
This Rocket pesto recipe, also referred to as arugula pesto, is a delicious variation of pesto that features rocket salad leaves as its star component. With their subtly spicy and pungent taste, the rocket leaves contribute depth and complexity to the pesto, resulting in an overall experience of freshness and vibrancy.
Easy Pistachio Pesto Recipe
The star of the is the rich, nutty flavour of the pistachios, perfectly complemented by fresh basil leaves, garlic, parmesan cheese and a touch of lime. This versatile pesto is a dream when combined with pasta, as a dip, or a flavourful spread on pan-toasted ciabatta. Pesto, traditionally made with pine nuts, holds a special place as a much cherished cultural icon in Italy.
Wild Garlic Scape Pesto
Wild Garlic and Garlic Scape Pesto Sauce is nut free and dairy free. It has a beautiful light garlic taste because of the wild garlic scapes and a faux nuttiness from sunflower seeds making this a perfect nut filled pesto replacement.
Pesto alla Genovese (Italian basil pesto recipe)
Pesto alla Genovese is a traditional recipe for Italian basil pesto sauce made with a mortar and pestle. Toss it with pasta, make a sandwich, or dress a pasta salad – this aromatic sauce is both versatile and satisfying.
Cilantro Mint Pesto
Cilantro, mint, cashews, and basil are ground together in a food processor for an herby take on the classic pesto. Slather on toast or add to a sandwich to give it lots of herb flavor.
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Pumpkin Seed Pesto is an easy pesto recipe made with simple ingredients including pumpkin seeds, fresh basil and parmesan cheese. It’s thick and rich with a slight nutty texture and plenty of salty, garlicky flavour!
Wild Garlic Pesto
Wild garlic pesto is the perfect recipe to elevate your dishes with during spring! It is super easy to make and the perfect way to preserve your wild garlic so you can enjoy it even when not in season anymore.
Vegan Parsley Pesto with Pistachios
This delicious vegan parsley pesto made with pistachios will make you want to break up with your standard basil pesto! It’s super simple to make, parsley is readily available in huge bunches and it keeps for up to a week in the fridge.
Easy Thai Basil Pesto
This Thai basil pesto is flavorful, nutty, and incredibly rich in flavor! A great condiment to have on hand to spice up your meals. Easy to make and is ready in 10 minutes.
Vegan Parsley Scallion Pesto
This Vegan Parsley Scallion Pesto Recipe is ready in about 10 minutes right in your food processor! Its delicious on sandwiches, pizza, pasta and more.
Garlic Mustard Pesto
This sauce is bold, flavorful, fragrant, and garlicky. It’s that time of the year where garlic mustard is overgrowing EVERYWHERE, and this is a great recipe to use up lots of garlic mustard at once. If you’re a fan of bold, flavorful sauces, you’re going to love this unique pesto recipe.
Roasted Cauliflower with Parsley Pesto
Roasted Cauliflower topped with a fresh and vibrant nut-free Parsley Pesto. A great healthy side dish to serve alongside steak, roasted chicken, or any main course.
Super Easy Cilantro Pesto
This Super Easy Cilantro Pesto recipe is a simple, healthy condiment you can make in 5 minutes. Enjoy it on crackers, as a chicken marinade, tossed with pasta, brushed on grilled shrimp, or mixed into a creamy or olive oil salad dressing.
Carrot Top Pesto
Easy, healthy, and tasty carrot top pesto sauce! Don’t throw away the carrot top greens, they’re edible! in fact, they’re very delicious. Try this super easy pesto recipe once, and you’ll make it every time you buy carrots with green tops.
Easy Pesto Rosso (Sun Dried Tomato Pesto)
Sun dried tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and almonds are blended together to make this simple, rich, Pesto Rosso also known as sun dried tomato pesto. Serve this pesto on your favorite pasta, on top of grilled chicken, or slathered on a thick piece of sourdough bread!
The perfect spring recipe is our wild ramp pesto. Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are the perfect mix of garlicky, oniony, and chive flavors.
Carrot Greens Pesto
Don’t throw away those carrot tops! Here’s a quick 5-minute recipe for Carrot Greens Pesto that’s super delish and packed with nutrition from the leaves of the carrots. This dairy-free carrot top pesto is the tastiest recipe to use carrot greens.
Creamy, delicious ricotta pesto. A simple pesto recipe that tastes great and is ready in no time.
Pistachio Pesto, Vegan
Pistachio nuts are perfect for pesto! This pesto is vegan, nutty, and lower oil than some, but with all of the pesto flavor you’d expect! Perfect for pasta, spreads, or dips. You will love the flavor and texture of this dairy-free pistachio pesto.
Walnut Dill Pesto
This small batch dill pesto with walnuts and lemon is a quick and easy recipe to jazz up fish, chicken or salads. Light and fresh, it can be made in minutes!
Spaghetti with Cavolo Nero & Almonds
This vibrant cavolo nero pasta is my go-to pasta dish when I want a fix of flavour, without the wait. My spaghetti recipe is ready in under 30 minutes and a visual and flavour sensation to boot.
Parsley pesto is a delicious twist on traditional basil pesto. Made with parsley, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice, Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s great for pasta, sandwiches, pizza, and meat.
Vegan Kale Pesto
Vegan Kale Pesto, deliciously fresh and flavourful, great mixed through pasta or pasta salad, spread on Bruschetta or add it in the making of toasted sandwiches..in a nutshell, it paired with virtually everything.
This nettle pesto is packed with flavour and goodness. You can whizz it up in 10 minutes, and of course, it is very satisfying and cost-effective if you are using wild nettles. Stinging nettle pesto is a great ingredient to make quick meals such as pesto pasta.
Sunflower Seed Pesto (Nut-Free)
A creamy and flavorful twist on traditional pesto, this Sunflower Seed Pesto is made with sunflower seeds, basil, olive oil, and nutritional yeast. Versatile, vegan, and nut-free, it’s perfect for pasta, sandwiches, and more!
A Delicious Wild Ramp Pesto
Wild Ramp Pesto is a delicious and versatile way to make the most of your foraging harvest. It’s quick to make and easily preserved by freezing.
Vegan Spinach Pesto (Nut-free)
Take a handful of fresh basil and spinach leaves and turn them into a nut-free pesto in 5 minutes! This tasty vegan spinach pesto recipe will require no expensive pine nuts or cashew nuts, only seven simple ingredients.
Nut-Free Basil Pesto (Dairy Free)
This homemade nut-free basil pesto is so easy and quick to make! Bursting with fresh flavours it makes a great addition to pasta and is also dairy free. Plus, it’s safe to bring to school for packed lunches since it doesn’t contain any nuts!
Mint Pesto (Pesto di Menta)
Mint pesto is a delightful reinterpretation of the traditional Italian sauce, where basil gives way to the fresh and aromatic flavor of mint. Enhanced with the rich, earthy notes of garlic and the satisfying crunch of nuts, this versatile sauce infuses a refreshing twist into a multitude of dishes. Easy to prepare, this vegan-friendly mint pesto recipe is a key to unlocking a wealth of culinary creativity, transforming simple ingredients into gastronomic delights with its unique burst of green freshness.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta (Vegan + GF)
Simple, 6-ingredient Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta that comes together in 20 minutes! An easy, healthy vegan, gluten-free lunch or dinner.
Pesto Alla Trapanese
Pesto alla Trapanese is a traditional Sicilian pasta sauce that is bursting with freshness and flavor! All you need is 6 ingredients and less than 30 minutes to whip up a light but intensely flavored raw sauce! Don’t wait any longer – grab yourself some ripe tomatoes and make this Sicilian pesto today!
Storage and Preservation Tips
Freshly made pesto is a burst of flavor and freshness that can elevate many dishes. However, like many other fresh sauces, its shelf life isn’t infinite. Here’s how you can maximize the lifespan of your pesto and keep it tasting great.
- Duration: Freshly made pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.
- Tip: Before sealing the container, smooth the surface of the pesto and pour a thin layer of olive oil on top. This helps to keep the vibrant green color and prevents it from browning too quickly. Always ensure that the container is airtight to prevent any contaminants from spoiling the pesto.
2. Freezing for Long-Term Storage
- Suitability: Pesto freezes very well, which makes it perfect for long-term storage.
- Duration: In the freezer, pesto can last up to 6 months without significant loss in flavor or texture.
- Tip: Consider freezing pesto in ice cube trays. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes to a freezer bag. This allows you to easily thaw small amounts of pesto as needed, rather than thawing a whole container.
3. Oil Layer
As mentioned above, adding a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto helps in preserving its color and freshness. This is especially useful if you plan on using the pesto over multiple occasions, adding a new layer of oil each time you use some.
4. Avoid Cross-Contamination
Always use a clean spoon when scooping out pesto from its container. Introducing contaminants can reduce the shelf life of the pesto significantly.
5. Signs of Spoilage
If your pesto starts to give off an off-putting odor, develops mold, or changes in texture significantly, it’s time to discard it.
6. Variations Matter
Different pesto variations may have slightly different storage lives. For example, pesto with sun-dried tomatoes or nuts might have a different oil content which can affect storage. Always be observant and trust your senses.