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Spring seems to be here in Los Angeles after a particularly cold and wet winter.  We are lucky to be able to get almost any food that we want any time of the year, so while it’s a little early in the rest of the country for fresh basil, we have it and the first warm days of spring seem like a great reason to make a batch of pesto.

This is a really easy sauce to make, and while it was very fashionable for a while, I haven’t seen it in all that much lately.  I believe it’s traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, but we’re all about modern technology (and time saving) around here, so I use a food processor.  This makes pesto both very easy and very quick.

The following recipe is the one I’ve used for about 15 years now, and it has not failed me yet (except when I salt it without tasting it first).

This is also the first recipe that will enjoy the benefits of more or less step by step photos, thanks to the new camera.  Hope you enjoy!


Basil Pesto

Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook, and my brain

2 cups of fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced*
2 Tbsp pine nuts (or walnuts)
1 cup decent olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (see note in recipe)
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the basil leaves by washing them (you can avoid this step by buying a prewashed package at Trader Joe’s) and being sure to spin or pat dry until they are completely dry.  Water will ruin your pesto.  Tear the leaves off the stalks and put them into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  You only want the leaves (the little leaves are fine and if a bit of the buds get in there, that’s ok – just don’t put in any of the stalks, they’re not good).  Add the garlic and the pine nuts and then pulse the food processor until you have something that looks like this:

It’s essentially a rough chop.  You should still be able to see bits of each ingredient.  Measure out your olive oil and then stream it in through the feeding tube with the food processor on.  This will give you a more finely chopped, sort of olive oil soupy version of what you just had.

Grate the cheese using the largest holes on a box grater:

You want the cheese to be very roughly grated so that it doesn’t disappear into the sauce.

Add the cheese to the food processor bowl and process for another 10-20 seconds – the point of pesto is not to puree it, but get a sort of finely chunky sauce held together with olive oil.  It shouldn’t be smooth and it shouldn’t be soupy.  It should look like this:

At this point, taste it.  The cheese is generally pretty salty and there probably won’t be the need for any more, but add sparingly if you feel like you need it.  Add fresh ground black pepper to taste as well.  Either use immediately or store for up to about 3 or 4 days (or maybe up to 7 if you’re not squeamish about scraping some yuckiness off the top) in an airtight container in the fridge.

This sauce/paste can be used for a variety of things; spread it on crackers and eat it like this by itself or with a bit of fish or some tomato.  Make a pasta sauce out of it by adding a couple of tablespoons of hot pasta water and a 1/4 cup or so of cream to a full batch of it and then toss it with about a pound of hot pasta (not a bad idea to top with a bit more cheese and some black pepper).  It also works well as a base for pizza instead of red sauce – shrimp top that nicely, as does fresh mozzarella.

*I love minced garlic, but I am also pretty lazy.  In most instances (including this recipe) you can get away with using a garlic press.  I really like this one for its pressing power and relatively easy clean up.


  1. NadiaThinks says:

    so…if i don’t have a food processor, can i just use a knife and chop this finely before grinding in the garlic and pine nuts using the mortar & pestle?
    NadiaThinks´s last blog post ..PurseBlog Asks- How do you carry your bags

  2. Kathlyn says:

    That is a good question, and I really don’t know the answer. I know that traditionally this was made with a mortar and pestle, but I’ve never done it. I say give it a shot and see how it turns out (and please let me know). You’ll have purists with torches at your door, but you can probably placate them with a bite or two of delicious pesto!

  3. Ludwig Rothschild says:

    Love the new photos!

  4. Kathlyn says:

    Thanks Ludwig!

  5. David says:

    I’ve always wondered: is there a substantial difference between mincing garlic and using a press? I can’t tell any difference, and the press is just so much easier.
    David´s last blog post ..K- Raspberry Tartletts

  6. Kathlyn says:

    There are people who will say that yes, there is a substantial difference. I don’t have a very refined palette, and I’ve never been able to tell a difference, so I use the press for most things. If you were going to do something like make your own garlic salt (which I’ve been dying to do!), then I would mince by hand because you wouldn’t want the juice from the mashed garlic to dissolve the salt. But other than something like that, or possible aesthetic reasons, I’d just keep using the press!

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