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How to Make Pesto: A Delicious Recipe to Preserve Garden Fresh Basil

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Here’s how to make pesto from garden fresh basil to flavor pasta, sandwiches, and more. This homemade pesto will knock your socks off!

fresh green pesto in a glass jar

I’ve coaxed two basil plants to thrive in my very mediocre garden this year, so we’ve been having fresh homemade pesto for the past couple of months. (I’ve also been making it from radish leaves!) This is one of our favorite garden-grown condiments — a jar in the refrigerator doesn’t last long. (Scroll down for suggestions on ways to use it.)

Related: How to Dry Basil

How to make pesto at home

What we consider to be pesto — a sauce made from fresh basil and several other ingredients — is just one of many kinds of ‘pesto’ you might find in an Italian market.

The word pesto is derived from the Italian verb pestare, meaning to crush. 

So while you might think ‘basil’ when you hear the word pesto, you might find broccoli, or artichoke, or any other number of flavors in Italy. It is made by crushing ingredients together, or in this day and age, using a blender to puree them.

All three of the recipes here are made with the same simple technique: Combine ingredients in a blender and process until pureed. Since the solid ingredients outweigh the liquids, it’s helpful to have a tamper or pusher that you can safely use to push the ingredients down while the blender is running.

How to freeze homemade pesto

If plan to use this within a day or two, store it in the refrigerator. To preserve for a longer amount of time, freeze the it. Portion this sauce into jars or fill an ice cube tray for smaller flavor bursts to add to soups. When I freeze pesto, I usually make it without the cheese and add it in upon use.

Whether freezing it or keeping it in the refrigerator, to prevent browning you can drizzle a layer of olive oil onto the surface.

basil pesto in a glass jar from above

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Macadamia Nut Basil Pesto

Macadamia Nut Basil Pesto

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Since we have macadamia nuts available locally, I've taken to using those, but feel free to use the more traditional pine nuts or even walnuts instead.

Ingredients

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 4 cups freshly picked basil leaves, (no stems)
  • 3/4  cup macadamia nuts, or pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Instructions

  1. Drop garlic cloves and macadamia nuts into blender or food processor. Pulse until chopped coarsely, then add remaining ingredients. Process on high until  nicely pureed.

Notes

I use macadamia nuts because they're readily available to me locally. You can, of course, substitute walnuts, pine nuts, or pecans. 

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 169Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 3gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 201mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gProtein: 5g

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Using your freshly made homemade pesto

The obvious way to use your pesto is to toss it with pasta. Or serve it up over low-carb spaghetti squash for a healthy vegetarian meal.

You can use it as is, or make a creamy sauce by stirring 1/2 cup of pesto into a cup of heavy cream.

But you can also use it many other ways!

  • Spread some on your tortilla when you’re making wraps.
  • Mix it into mayonnaise for a sandwich spread.
  • Add it to a sun-dried tomato quiche.
  • Toss a cube in for flavoring when you’re making marinara sauce or minestrone soup.
  • Slather it on pizza (it’s great with cubed chicken). My pizza dough recipe is here.
  • Brush some onto focaccia.
  • Add a spoonful or two when you make hummus for a different flavor.
  • Make a pesto/mozzarella quesadilla.
  • Try a grilled eggplant and pesto sandwich.
  • When you’re making an egg salad sandwich, slather one slice of bread with this green goodness. Sounds weird, but trust me.
  • Stir a spoonful into your favorite vinaigrette salad dressing.
  • Top a baked potato.
  • Slice a ciabatta roll, spread the cut sides with pesto and fill with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and slice mozzarella. Broil to melt the cheese (or use a panini maker).
  • Add a dollop to your morning omelet.
  • Serve it over bowtie pasta made from scratch.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

2 comments… add one
  • Sarah Sep 2, 2015, 5:33 pm

    Oh, I love pesto! I have a huge bouquet of basil on my counter right now, just waiting to become pesto. I try to freeze enough cubes of it to last me until the next summer. I haven’t tried it in minestrone soup though, so I may need to try that this fall! Great list of ideas!

  • Michelle Mar 24, 2018, 7:29 pm

    A great alternative to store bought pesto. So tasty.

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