Ever had pesto at an Italian restaurant that you couldn’t get off your mind? Perhaps you even went to the grocery store and bought a jar of it, only to discover it’s nowhere near as flavorful as at the deliciousness you enjoyed at the restaurant or packed with a ton of unidentifiable ingredients. The solution? Start making your own!
Now, we’re not saying that your first attempt at homemade pesto will taste better than a secret recipe passed down for generations at your local Italian eatery. What we are saying is that you can come a whole lot closer (and a lot healthier) with a homemade pesto recipe of your very own. Best of all, it’s perfect for meal prep!
All you need are a few fresh ingredients to get started with this easy pesto recipe – plus a food processor or blender (or even a mortar and pestle if you want to get all old school).
Pesto: What is it?
If you like basil, you'll probably already be a fan of pesto. This dazzling green sauce is beloved for its robust flavor profile that fuses fresh garlic, basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese, to create a taste that, together with vegetables, pasta or meat, is iconically Italian.
Though green pesto is the most well-known variety of pesto out there, pesto varieties are diverse and widespread depending on the region from which they originate. That’s because the word pesto refers to the way it's made. Pesto comes from the Italian verb meaning to pound, which harkens back to how people used to make it with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. It’s not uncommon to find pestos made with chili, sun-dried tomatoes or fresh herbs.
The most common pesto we eat today originates from the city of Genoa, the capital of Liguria in northwestern Italy, where it’s been part of the local cuisine for centuries. The modern interpretation of the recipe was first documented in 1863 in a Genovese cookbook, which outlines a blend of garlic, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil, much like the traditional pesto we enjoy today.
When basil was unavailable, people would make pesto with other herbs like parsley or marjoram, which added a unique spin on the recipe. You’ll find similar adaptations on the market today, and it’s also possible to swap out the traditional pine nuts for other nuts and seeds including walnuts, pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Popular pesto varieties include the Sicilian pesto Rosso, a red pesto made with tomato and almonds, as well as pesto alla Calabrese, made with red peppers, black pepper, chili, and oregano. The sky’s the limit with pesto, and even though it’s Italian in origins, other cuisines have also taken inspiration from this dish – you can find pestos with everything from mint to cilantro and peanuts.
The health benefits of homemade pesto
Homemade pesto, when eaten in moderation, can add a wealth of health to your diet. Let’s break it down by the four most prominent ingredients:
Basil is full of antioxidants and essential oils that can help fight certain diseases and contribute to a healthier life. Some cultures revere basil as a healing plant, and used in the ancient Indian Ayurvedic tradition as a medicinal anti-inflammatory. In addition to tasting great, basil may also lower blood pressure, prevent memory loss and aid in with curbing symptoms of stress.
We love garlic and not only because it’s delicious, but because it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Garlic is anti-inflammatory, and it can help with the reduction of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) among other things. So, when you make your homemade pesto, you can rest assured you needn't skimp on the garlic!
They may be a little on the pricier side, but pine nuts are worth it in terms of added nutrition. These tasty treats have peppered meals for as long as 10,000 years. Pine nuts are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Other benefits of eating pine nuts include lowering bad cholesterol, aiding in weight loss or maintenance and supporting bone health.
Like basil, olive oil is teeming in antioxidants that are beneficial in warding off disease. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats like oleic acid, which may be the reason why it contributes to reducing blood pressure and protect against heart disease and strokes. Make sure to get cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil for the highest quality.
Easy Homemade Pesto Recipe
Enjoy this healthy pesto recipe as a dip for bread, a sauce for pasta or a spread for crackers. Feel free to freeze it and thaw it out to use later on. This one serves 6 people at 250 calories a serving. Enjoy!
Quick & Healthy Pesto Recipe
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 2 garlic cloves
- ⅓ cup pine nuts (you can also substitute walnuts)
- ½ cup parmesan cheese (grated or in chunks)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Add all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender.
- Process the mixture until it’s smooth or to your liking.
- Store the pesto for two to three days in your refrigerator.