How to make your own Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto is one of those things that is so much better when you make it yourself rather than buy it in a store! I’m talking about the most common and famous type of pesto here: Pesto alla Genovese. This sauce is made from basil, pine nuts, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, aged pecorino, and some salt. If you buy a jar of pesto in a store, chances are that it will contain parsley, sunflower oil, cashew nuts, or even potato. Not to mention preservatives. But the worst problem is that store-bought pesto in most cases has a strong “off” flavor that has nothing to do with real pesto. And the good news is that pesto is very easy to make if you own a blender, it will take only a few minutes!

Pesto will taste best if you make it the day before, to allow the flavors to blend. That will especially take the ‘edge’ off the garlic flavor. I usually make pesto without exactly weighing the ingredients. For this occasion I have kept track of what I was doing for giving more exact proportions in this post, but there is no strict rule for making pesto. Just do what you like best!

A problem in the Netherlands with making your own pesto is that in most Dutch supermarkets basil is sold in small bags at a ridiculous price of EUR 1.00 to EUR 1.40 for 15 grams, meaning that you’d spend 4-6 euros for the basil alone. That takes away the fun! Basil plants in a pot are slightly cheaper, but especially in winter that basil doesn’t have much taste. Luckily at Marqt (expensive for most stuff) they sell 80 grams of basil for 1.80 euros.

If you like pesto and you’ve never made your own before: give it a try and you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how delicious it will be!

Ingredients

This yields around 180 grams (6 oz) of pesto sauce, enough for spaghetti or other pasta al pesto for two, but of course you can easily scale this recipe to make smaller or larger quantities.

60 grams (2 oz) fresh basil [33%]

45 grams (1.5 oz) extra virgin olive oil [25%]

45 grams (1.5 oz) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and pecorino cheese [25%]

30 grams (1 oz) pine nuts [17%]

1 clove garlic (or more if you really like garlic)

salt

Preparation

Cut the biggest stems off the basil. It is a lot of work to take off all the leaves individually, and you won’t taste the difference anyway. Wash the basil if needed and spin dry.

Put the basil, pine nuts, chopped garlic and extra virgin olive oil in the blender.

Blend on a low speed to obtain pesto that tastes of basil and is somewhat coarse. If you like it more smooth, blend on high speed.

The result should look like this. Season lightly with salt.

Grate the cheeses, using equal amounts of parmigiano and pecorino. The two cheeses complement each other well: pecorino is more piquant whereas parmigiano gives more depth to the flavor.

Blend in the cheeses. Now taste and see if you’d like to add some more of any of the ingredients to your liking. For example if you’d like your pesto to be thinner, add some extra virgin olive oil.

Store the pesto in the fridge. Pesto will keep longer (up to a week if your fridge is cold enough) if you cover it with a thin layer of olive oil. Pesto can also be frozen.

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8 thoughts on “How to make your own Pesto alla Genovese

  1. You are right, there is nothing quite as wonderful as homemade pesto. I make many batches every growing season. I hope you can try to grow basil this summer. It grows like a weed here in the Central US with no need of pesticides. Plant seeds once the ground has warmed past frost date. Once you have plants, you can make pesto without the cheese and freeze it for the coming winter. Just thaw it in your refrigerator and add the cheese. I have been doing this for many years. You can also freeze basil after processing it with olive oil and a little lemon juice. I would be happy to pass on how to do it if you like.

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    1. Thanks for reading my blog and for your advice. I would love to grow my own basil, but the only year I could grow basil outside was in 2003 when it was unusually hot. Normally it’s too cold in the Netherlands unfortunately for basil to really grow well. Basil doesn’t like night temperatures dropping below 12C/54F or too much rain. (Both are common in our summers.)

      I have read before that pesto should be frozen without the cheese, but I’ve never heard why. Do you know?

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  2. I always panroast the pinenuts when making this. Is there a specific reason you don’t? Or is this personal preference?

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    1. Hi Jeroen!

      I’ve never seen an Italian recipe for Pesto alla Genovese that uses toasted pine nuts. I have tried it once myself, and thought the flavor of the pine nuts was too strong. Other than my own experiment I have never come across pesto with toasted pine nuts. So it is personal preference, and probably also more ‘authentic’ not to toast the pine nuts. But if you like it, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

      Happy cooking 🙂
      Stefan

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