HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >



In one of those coincidences of nature that must not be a coincidence, my husband has come across a good source of Nevada pine nuts just as our basil is growing out of control. So, who has a good pesto recipe? I am ashamed to admit I've never actually MADE pesto, but I figure it can't be too hard and that the hounds are sure to help!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Do you have a mortar and pestle? This is key to making good pesto.

    The grinding action of the mortar and pestle beats the pants off what a food processor can do. Difference is like night and day.

    I don't have one particular recipe for pesto, as I like to experiment, but if there is one tip I can pass along, it is to use a mortar and pestle.

    If you don't have a set, and if you plan on making pesto a part of your regular menu rotation, it is well worth the money to invest in a good mortar and pestle set. They are none too expensive, too.

    6 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Is the difference between mortar and pestle and food processor one of flavor or consistency?

      Grinding down those basil leaves to a size that won't stick in the teeth seems like it would be a lot work. What size mortal and pestle do you use?


      1. re: fadista

        Both a difference in flavor and consistency.

        I discussed this previously. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/715877

        Good luck.

      2. re: ipsedixit

        How will a molcajete (and all its crevices) do with pesto? Would my next batch of guacamole taste of old garlic and basil?

        1. re: Jay F

          Properly seasoned (before initial use), it should not be a problem.

          I've never had problems with lingering food odors with my mortar and pestle, and I use it for all sorts of things, from pine nuts, to peppercorns, to pungent things like star anise.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Thanks. I haven't used mine yet. It was a gift. I mostly like guacamole when I'm out. I live alone, and buying bags of chips is something I try to avoid (I'll eat them all). But for pesto...

            Anyway, how do you season a molcajete, if you don't mind my asking?


            1. re: Jay F

              Sure, no problem.

              This is what you should do.

              1. Wash and scrub the interior of the molcajete and the tejolote with water and a stiff brush (not metal). Allow both to air dry.

              2. Put a handful of uncooked rice in the molcajete. Use the tejolote and grind the rice into the surface of the molcajete. Discard the rice. Repeat with new rice, until the pulverized rice is white, rather than gray or ash colored. (Note: If your molcajete is "pre-seasoned" you can skip this step)

              3. Now add 4 or 5 cloves of garlic (peeled), 1 teaspoon of cumin and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and whole black pepper. Grind the mixture evenly around the interior of the molcajete. Remove and discard the mixture. Rinse the molcajete and tejolote with clear water and allow to dry.

              Now you're all good to go. Enjoy!

      3. I found this article very interesting and hope to try it someday....
        It's called, "how to make pesto like an Italian grandmother'

        1. While a classic pesto is made in a mortar and pestle, you can make a fine-tasting pesto in the food processor, it's very simple. Here's one recipe for a pound of pasta:

          ¼ cup pine nuts
          3 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
          2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
          7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
          ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

          Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant, transfer to a plate.
          If you're so inclined, toast the garlic in the same skillet for about 7 minutes, tossing frequently, until fragrant and the color of the cloves deepen slightly. Remove from skillet, let cook, then peel and chop roughly. You can skip this step and just use chopped raw garlic instead.

          Put the nuts, garlic, basil, oil and ½ teaspoon salt in a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl, stir in the Parmesan, and adjust the salt to taste. (The surface of the pesto can be covered with a sheet of plastic wrap or a thin film of oil and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

          Save a half-cup of the pasta water when draining the pasta. Thin the pesto by stirring into it a quarter cup of the pasta water. Toss this thinnned pesto with the hot pasta, adding more of the reserved pasta water as necessary. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature.

          Pesto also freezes wonderfully, either before adding the cheese, or with the cheese. If you freeze it with the cheese, it won't keep as long in the freezer but it's still good. Really wonderful to have pesto from the freezer in the dead of winter.

          1 Reply
          1. re: janniecooks

            I do almost exactly this except I add a splash of regular oil to the pesto at the very beginning, and even though its just a touch, it seems to help cut a tiny bit of the bitterness out of the basil. But I definitely agree with this recipe and method to try before you start experimenting.

          2. I would use a m&p for the garlic, salt and nuts but not for the basil leaves. Leaves I pulse in the food processor.
            Lately I've taken to sub'ing toasted pumpkin seeds for pine nuts (big diff in per lb. price lately too) and I like grapeseed oil over olive oil. Much lighter and the flavor of the basil/nut/cheese really come through.

            Of course cilantro & mint leaf pestos are also delicious; especially on steak.

            Happy experimenting!

            1. Just a few words from a pesto aficionado.

              #1 There is a difference in taste and texture between chopping, grinding, food processor and mortar and pestle. I personally like the copping method because the sauce stays more separated and identifiable, plus you have some nice texture from the pine nuts which tends to get lost in the other methods. I also like the appearance of chopped better, the basil and pine nuts are left larger and it doesn't look like a homogenized green sauce. However this is like saying I like chocolate better than vanilla - it's just my personal opinion.

              My favorite ways of making pesto are

              1) Chopped
              2) Ground
              3) Mortar and Pestle

              The food processor, if used correctly by pulsing can actually make a good imitation of all three of these.

              #2 The real key to great pesto (and someone mentioned bitter basil here) is to use YOUNG leaves. Do not let you basil leaves grow large and especially go to flower, by this time you will be getting bitter agents building in the basil. Young is sweet, pungent and tasteful.

              As far as recipes go, there have been links and one given, experiment and have fun, however if you are trying to make the pesto be authentic you cannot skip on Pine Nuts, yes they are expensive, but they have to be used.

              1 Reply
              1. re: RetiredChef

                I don't think I could possibly refer to myself as a pesto aficionado, but I am someone who has thrown together a few pesto dishes over the years and think I have a good feel for it.

                I agree with RetiredChef's post about the best ways of making pesto - more by default than anything else. I have done the mortar and pestle route but it takes so long and I never felt the results were better than when I chopped the ingredients - which I was told is the traditional Genovese method of making pesto.

                Mostly I make my pesto in a food processor simply because it is the fastest method and with pulsing I find the results to be acceptable. So, I do "skimp" a little in this area.

                However, I think the most important key to a delicious pesto is all of the ingredients, and if I don't have the finest available I prefer to skip rather than skimp on the pesto. The importance of the quality of the basil has already been mentioned. I always use freshly grated Pecorina Romano cheese sometimes combined with Parmigiano Reggiano. I toast the pine nuts. Often I find people add too much garlic and when it is not fresh it will be bitter and overpower all of the other ingredients so I always start with one clove and add more as I go to get just the right balance. And finally the olive oil should have a lovely fruity taste and not weigh everything down. I have different olive oils that I use for cooking and for making dressings or finishing a dish.

                When you have the finest ingredients, the pesto practically makes itself whether it is created with a mortar and pestle, chopped by hand or the quick easy way in the food processor.

                Too bad basil season is long gone around here. Luckily I have some in the freezer still because now I have a craving!

              2. Talk about pine nuts (pignoli), has anyone else noticed a spike in prices?

                1 Reply
                1. You still have native tomatoes? Try Sicilian Pesto. I made it this summer, adapted from Cooking Light. It makes a fine layer in a stuffed meatloaf, too.

                  SICILIAN PESTO

                  ¼ cup pine nuts
                  3 garlic cloves
                  4 cups loosely packed basil leaves (about 2 ounces)
                  ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
                  ½ teaspoon salt
                  freshly ground black pepper
                  ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (I use Penzey’s Aleppo)
                  ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano
                  2 cups chopped seeded tomato (I used a combo of San Marzanos and Cherokee Purples)

                  Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add nuts to pan; cook until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes, shaking the pan constantly.

                  Add nuts and garlic to food processor; process till minced...unless you are ipsedixit, in which case, get busy with that mortar and pestle. Ahem!

                  Add basil, oil, salt and peppers; process until blended, scraping sides as needed. Add cheese; process until smooth. Spoon into a bowl; fold in tomato. Toss with pasta of your choice.

                  Makes about 2.5 cups of pesto.

                  Pics are here if that sweetens the deal:

                  It was delicious in and of itself, but especially tasty as a layer in stuffed meatloaf with fresh mozz.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: kattyeyes

                    Here's the one I'm happiest with; it calls for blanching the basil, which is easier than it sounds and really retains the flavor and the color, and makes it much more suitable for freezing. This is enough for about a cup (enough for 3 lbs. pasta), and I sometimes just make a third of the recipe:

                    3 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves (you will blanch them)
                    2 T. chopped poached or toasted garlic, but I usually just use fresh
                    3 T. lightly toasted pine nuts (I do this in a frypan)
                    1/3 C. olive oil (I guess at this)
                    1/3 C grated parmesan cheese
                    Salt and pepper (the original recipe called for these, but I always forget)

                    Blanch the leaves in boiling water 5-10 seconds, then plunge in ice water or very very cold water. I just pour the leaves and boiling water into a strainer, and follow immediately with the cold water rinse until everything cools down. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible - really squeeze. Chop coarsely if you want to, (though I don't usually bother) and put in food processor with everything but cheese. Puree. Stir in the cheese. (Freezes very well.)

                  2. Thanks for all the hints, hounds!! I have to admit that although I have a mortar and pestle, I never would have thought to use it...so thanks for that hint.

                    Pesto sauce freezes fine, right?


                    1. Thread revival! Has anyone ever made arugula pesto? If so, any tips? I was reading reviews of various recipes for it on the web and see that lemon is recommended to cut the otherwise overly grassy flavor. Any other thoughts?

                      Also, if one used a food processor, but added the ingredients at, say, three or four different stages and pulsed carefully, wouldn't you get something similar to the nice uneven texture you'd get by hand chopping? I'm going to give that a shot.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: Raids

                        I'd like to hear about this also. IMO Whole Foods has the most amazing arugula and I'd be interested in doing more with it.

                        1. re: Raids

                          I make arugula pesto far more often than basil pesto. In my fp, I pulse garlic, then arugula, then nuts, s&p, then olive oil.

                          My budget rarely allows for fancy-schmancy cheeses and pine nuts, and I find arugula pesto very forgiving in that regard. I often use plain domestic parm, and either walnuts or almonds, toasted, and it still turns out delicious and is one of my favorite winter pick-me-ups on pasta or toasted bread (topped with a poached egg!)

                          1. re: LauraGrace

                            LG, thanks SO much for this. And I like the toast egg idea also.

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              So no lemon in yours, LG? Ever tried it? And thanks for the response - now I know what I'm having for brunch next weekend, too. :-)

                              1. re: Raids

                                Oh! Yes, I do lemon sometimes -- the zest actually -- and I like it both with and without. I find baby arugula VERY nutty-tasting and subtle, but lemon quickly becomes the dominant flavor, IMO. Add it with a light hand is my advice.

                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                  Like the idea of the zest. Also Meyer lemons are 'in' now and it's a much lighter flavor.

                            2. re: Raids

                              You naturally get an uneven texture by pulsing in the food processor. I've had success pulsing everything but the cheese in one stage, stirring occassionally, and watching the texture carefully. This is Marcella Hazan's recipe. See http://www.food.com/recipe/pesto-marc...

                              If you believe that grinding in a mortar extracts flavor that a food processor cannot extract (which I myself haven't noticed), you could pulse first then finish in a mortar.

                              1. re: sushigirlie

                                Does anyone have ideas about using different kinds of cheeses? I wouldn't use a soft cheese of course, but thinking about trying a dry hard goat cheese. Yea or nay?