Classic Pesto

You’d think I’d have posted a pesto recipe, like, five years ago, since it’s one of my favorite things in the whole world. But I haven’t and I don’t really know why since I make it every other day from about June to September. Please forgive me (or ignore me if you are already an expert pesto maker which I’m kind of guessing many of you are).

The reason I finally got on with life and decided to share my official recipe today is mostly because I want to show you how I usually store my pesto if I’m freezing to use later. But it’s also because tomorrow, I’m going to give you the secret to the best (and I really mean it, The Best) grilled chicken of your life. And pesto may or may not be involved but perhaps not in the way you might think. Be prepared.

Ok, so for this tip: When I make pesto that I know I want to use later for a simple dinner – usually hot, al dente noodles tossed with homemade pesto – I do the following: a) make the recipe below, b) spoon it into an inexpensive ice cube tray – this batch fits perfectly into a standard-sized tray, c) enclose it in one of my handy dandy bread bags with a little clip (alternately you could wrap it several times with plastic wrap, d) freeze it.

Classic Pesto

On those nights when a simple dinner is the name of the game, I twist the tray and pop out a few cubes of pesto and toss them right into the pot of drained, warm, tender noodles. The pesto defrosts quickly and mixes right in. Sprinkle a little additional parm on top and you have a stinking simple and delicious meal.

And even if you have a pesto recipe you love already (it’s ok, we can still be friends), I have to tell you the reasons I love this particular recipe. Thanks to the light toasting of the pine nuts and garlic, the pesto has less of a raw flavor with a bit more depth and tastiness and the fresh parsley helps brighten the sauce and round everything out.

Long live pesto, man. It’s the reason I live for summer and why I plant 45 basil plants every year.

One Year Ago: Jalapeno Cheddar Turkey Burgers
Two Years Ago: Oreo Truffle Brownies
Three Years Ago: Zucchini Bread

Classic Pesto

Yield: Makes about 2 cups

Classic Pesto


  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • 7 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 6 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 6 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup)
  • Salt and pepper


  1. In a 10-inch skillet set over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until lightly golden and fragrant (watch closely so they don't burn!). Transfer them to a plate and add the peeled garlic cloves to the skillet. Toast the garlic, turning once or twice, until the garlic is spotty brown, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. In a food processor bowl, combine the pine nuts, garlic, basil, parsley, olive oil, cheese and salt and pepper (start with about 1/8 teaspoon each). Process until the pesto is smooth, about a minute or so. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process for another 10-15 seconds.
  3. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed.
  4. Store the pesto in the refrigerator in a covered container or in the freezer in a freezer-safe container. For smaller portions of pesto, I like to portion it into an inexpensive, plastic ice cube tray. One batch fits perfectly into a standard ice cube tray. Place the ice cube tray in a large bag (a bread bag works great), tie closed and freeze until ready to use. The pesto will pop out like ice cubes when the tray is twisted. If you want to avoid the browning that may occur on the pesto when it is refrigerated or frozen, drizzle a light layer of olive oil over the pesto before storing (I usually don't bother with this since the discoloration doesn't bother me and doesn't affect taste).
  5. The frozen cubes of pesto can be added directly to a hot pot of cooked, drained noodles. Stir until the pesto is thawed and well-combined with the noodles.

Recipe Source: adapted slightly from America’s Test Kitchen (I reduce the olive oil a bit, don’t pound the herbs before using, toast the garlic peeled)

23 Responses to Classic Pesto {And A Quick Tip on Freezing To Use Later}

  1. Rachel Russell says:

    How many cubes of pesto do you throw in a package of pasta? THANKS!!

  2. Ted says:

    Two thoughts:

    Use 1 ounce plastic parfait containers to freeze the pesto. I get mine from Smart and Final. They can be stored in plastic bags or in some freezer containers.

    Cheese does not freeze well, and it can always be added later, when the pesto is defrosted.

  3. Erika says:

    Another alternative to pine nuts that I have used is almonds! I have heard that some people have allergies to pine nuts too so this is a good alternative I think. Also, since my husband doesn’t like too strong a flavor of basil I will usually sub most of the basil for spinach & then just add about 10 leaves & make pesto that way. Has the same great pesto flavor but not as strong.

  4. susanj says:

    sadly we left on vacation and my basil plant went to seed while we were gone. I think I am going to have to buy some and make some of these for my freezer. Thanks!

  5. I love homemade pesto – I find it delicious with sauteed mushrooms!

  6. Lindsay says:

    I’ve been meaning to write you an email begging you to post a pesto recipe, and it looks like you read my mind! Yum, can’t wait to try it. Thanks!!

  7. Tori says:

    Where does one buy pine nuts? I really want to try this recipe.

  8. Emily W says:

    Oh stop. I quick got on your site because I have pine nuts and basil to use and knew you’d have a pesto recipe. What are the odds?! Thanks!

  9. I’m a pesto addict just like you – as soon as the basil arrives, there’s always fresh pesto in my fridge or freezer. I’ll have to try your formula: I’ve never added in parsley. Thanks for sharing!

  10. April says:

    Never had pesto before.

  11. Lisa P says:

    Do you ever substitute walnuts or another nut for the pine nuts?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Lisa – I’ve used walnuts before and I know a lot of people use them…but later found out my husband has a mild allergic reaction to them. So I’ve just used pine nuts since then (although my aunt just told me she uses cashews – need to try that!).

  12. Angie S. says:

    One of our favorite quick meals… pesto pasta! It also freezes well in sandwich-sized Ziploc bags, flattened and stacked in a freezer bag. Pull one bag out and stir it in the warm pasta. Delicious!

  13. Karen E says:

    I do the same way except that I pop the frozen cubes out and into a Ziploc freezer bag. I butcher my numerous basil plants and they just keep coming back. I add it to homemade spaghetti sauce, pasta dishes, basically anything that calls for basil. It is much cheaper than buying those little “plants” from the produce section of the grocery store.

  14. wendyb964f says:

    I’ve made 8 quarts (yes, quarts) of pesto this summer, given away half, and STILL have a “field” of basil. Totally ran out of olive oil, parmesan, and pine nuts.

    I also chopped basil in the food processor and streamed in olive oil to a paste consistency. Froze it in mini-muffin tins. When frozen, popped them in a freezer bag. This is my favorite way to preserve the true flavor

    It’s all my fault: I constantly root cuttings from the “field” in a jar of water. With the California climate I should have fresh all winter long. Yum~

    Anyone want some pesto or basil (leaves or plants)?

  15. Sheila says:

    Because of a busy schedule, I was just ignoring the pesto in my garden that looks like small bushes. I need to do this especially because it is the expert, Mels’ recipe. Maybe I will just quiet my conscience by making the upcoming Best Grilled Chicken Recipe. Thank you for sharing this wonderful way of storing pesto.

  16. Ana says:

    Pesto is one of my kids favorite! And the only green meal my son voluntarily eats! I however, make it with half basil and half spinach. This is how my mom always made it so I made it that way. It doesn’t really change the flavor and it is a great way to get my kids eat some greens. I have made an avocado pesto as well that is soooo good!

  17. Holy coincidence! I just finished eating pasta and broccoli with my Mom’s pesto and started thinking about the post I’d write at some point. Your version sounds really good, Mel. I wish I could plant lots of basil, but the herd of deer around here would eat it all, and there’s rules against fences. I just have one indoor plant this year, lol.

  18. Freezing pesto works like a dream. This is a very nice variation of the classic pesto I make myself. I don’t use garlic. I think that is a wonderful addition.

  19. Such a clever idea to freeze the pesto! I’m either cooking for one or two people, so a jar of pesto never seems to get finished before it goes bad.

  20. Kim says:

    This sounds delicious!! About how many servings does this make?

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