Classic Basil Pesto: A Sauce for Summer’s End

What cookbook would you take to the hypothetical desert island?  I would have to lug my tome, New Best Recipes, from America’s Test Kitchen.  I consult this indispensable volume more than any other of my hundreds of cookbooks.  In fact, I just did their zucchini bread recipe in my last post.  Their pesto recipe is simply outstanding.

(To my consistent readers, I decided to put Wednesday’s What Would Jessie Dish? on hiatus until after summer, ongoing renovations at the moment, and a trip with my mother to Maine  for the upcoming week. The remaining recipes were all very autumnal, and I thought it best to wait and highlight seasonal summer dishes.  Sorry, but it will return in just a few weeks!)

ATK is so thorough and creative in testing the many permutations, techniques, and varieties of ingredients to create the ultimate recipes.  Sometimes they are a bit fussy, but this is based on their experimentation to produce the best taste, texture, and finished product.  One thing I do find is that their recipes tend towards the less hot (spicy) side, so I often will up the heat or add a bit, when I feel like it.

I had made a few recipes for pesto before trying ATK’s, and this one really is best.  Toasting garlic and nuts adds a bit of time, but it is worth it to highlight the flavours, creating depth, subtlety, and nuttiness – what more can you ask for in life?

On our island, we have a garlic growing cooperative, and I was able to participate in a couple of sessions (prepping, cultivation, planting, weeding, harvesting), which gave me 40 bulbs of organic Russian hard-neck porcelain garlic – if you really want to know the variety.  It was an interesting experience, and I now have quite a bit of garlic for the upcoming colder months.

The basil we have been growing on the deck (it is not deer-proof, though it is supposed to be) has been doing well the past few years, with our southern exposure.  Around this time of year, I have plenty of basil – and combined with a bounty of garlic – making pesto for the winter is a good idea.  So I tripled the ingredients, and the three batches went along much more quickly than doing each one separately, of course.

For more on storing the classic basil pesto and the recipe…

I like to freeze containers of it, and, though nobody would probably recommend it, I have eaten basil pesto up to one whole year later after freezing it…with no ill effects.  Not to mention how great it tastes.   For the freezer, you will need to out a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent the pesto from oxidizing (turning brown and icky), as a kind of preservative.

This pesto is rich and full-flavoured, with its strong basil notes holding their own with the powerhouses of garlic and Parmesan.  The consistency has a bit of texture, with discernible elements of cheese, herb, and garlic, which make for a satisfying base for pizza, crostini, or sauce for your favourite pasta .  Overall, It is a total umami experience at its finest.

Classic Basil Pesto, adapted from The New Best Recipe, America’s Test Kitchen

Enough to serve for four people (or provide sauce for one pound of pasta)


  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (which I used), walnuts, or almonds
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves (optional but I use them)
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly grated black pepper, to taste
  • A pinch of chili flakes


1.Toast the nuts in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes – watch closely, as they can burn quickly. Transfer the nuts to a plate.

2. Add the garlic to the empty skillet. Toast, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and the’ color of the cloves deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let the garlic cool, then peel and chop.

3. Combine the basil and parsley (if using) in a heavy-duty gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Pound the bag with the flat side of a meat pounder, or rolling pin until all the leaves are bruised.

4. Place the nuts, garlic, pounded herb(s), oil, pepper, chili flakes, and salt in a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down, the sides of the work bowl. (ATK suggests transferring this to a bowl, then adding the Parmesan, which works, but so does my time- and dish-saving version which follows).  Very slowly, pulse in the Parmesan on low, and adjust the salt and pepper, as needed 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 or frozen for many months.)

VARIATIONS – ATK gives you even more options!

Pasta with Mint Pesto

Follow the recipe for Pasta with Classic Pesto, replacing the basil with an equal amount of mint leaves and omitting the parsley.

Pasta with Creamy Basil Pesto

An addition of ricotta cheese makes pesto mild and creamy. The pesto is fairly thick and clings nicely to ridges on fusilli and similar pasta.

Follow the recipe for  Classic Pesto, adding ¼  cup ricotta cheese at the same time as the Parmesan. Toss well to combine.

Pasta with Creamy Arugula Pesto

Follow the recipe for Classic Pesto, replacing the basil with 1 cup packed fresh arugula leaves and increasing the parsley to 1 cup packed. reduce the Parmesan cheese to 2 tablespoons and add 1/4 cup ricotta cheese when adding the Parmesan.

16 responses to “Classic Basil Pesto: A Sauce for Summer’s End

  1. I guess we must be in sync i just posted a basil pesto recipe yesterday!! 🙂 Love pesto and can never get enough of it.

  2. A couple of years ago I made some garlic scape pesto. I say ‘some’. There was enough to fill a giant jar that then lived in the fridge for about 6 months (as David may have told you, Momma Lee has a problem with throwing things out). It was really beautiful, but boy did it reek. I think we ate about 2 tbsps worth, but it was just too garlicky – lovely, but so strong. Even Brother, who eats raw garlic and adds onions/shallots/garlic to every meal, couldn’t handle it. It gave us a headache. So ended my experimental pesto stage.

    This recipe, however, I could be tempted to try out. It looks easy, basil pesto is, of course, not as strong as garlic scape, and it does look super duper yummalicious. I love that photo of the basil and garlic together – such beautiful colours and textures! Gorgeous.

    Sorry to hear that WWJD will be on hiatus (you know how I feel about Jessie and her tasties!), but yay for summer recipes and have a wonderful trip with your mama =)

    Jax x

    • Jax, funny, but I was just discussing garlic scape pesto yesterday with the man installing our windows. I’d thought it would be much more subtle, but I’ve learned the opposite is true.

      Thanks for the travel wishes and compliment on the photo. I’m trying to work on this aspect of my bloggin’ life! I’m en route now, so I’ll try to get out a few posts , with WWJD returning shortly.

      Thank you for your consistent commentary!!


  3. I never would’ve guessed that deer liked garlic. That’s hilarious. 🙂

    I’ve been obsessed with pesto recently, and this version looks amazing. There’s nothing better than having a tub of the stuff in your freezer! Have an excellent time in Maine, too…this is such a wonderful time of year to visit.

    • Hi, Maddie. Our deer seem to like many things they’re not supposed to (basil is another one they should eschew theoretically).

      I hope you enjoy Croatia – a bit more exotic than Maine, in my book! I can’t wait to hear your impressions.

      Travel well,


  4. Look at all of that beautiful basil! Your pesto looks great…I especially love the last photo with the cheese falling into the pesto. Well done!

  5. My husband offered to “trim” my basil plant. I now have about 6 cups of basil needing a pesto sauce. Thanks for the recipe. Will try it tonight.

  6. Mmm there’s nothing like fresh pesto. The store bought stuff pales in comparison. This looks vibrant and delicious!

  7. Mmmmm, you are really convincing me, I’d like to make my own pesto, it would be so delicious! Ahah, were you able to catch any deer sneaking any bites of your pesto? You are contributing to the cycle of deer life…

    • Hi, FD. Thanks for visiting again. Home-made pesto is easy, far less expensive, and better than anything you can buy.

      I don’t want to encourage deer by giving them pesto samples and turning them onto Italian cuisine. They already eat enough of the plants around here….


  8. I have tried many times to grow my own pot of basil. The birds end up chewing them up though.

    I usually have my mom send me some pine nuts from home since they cost around US$4/100g over here. 😦

  9. Pingback: Basil- Going Beyond Pesto

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s