Pesto is one of the most flavorful sauces that is really rich and concentrated. The fresh flavors of basil, pine nuts, garlic, creamy and nutty Parmesan cheese and bold olive oil all marry together to make a sauce that elevates any recipes. In this post, learn how simple it is to make pesto sauce at home and get lots of creative ideas to use it.
Learn how to make pesto sauce in this step by step post as well as different variations to make it more mild or give it a different spin. I love the addition of fresh parsley and baby spinach to my pesto, which makes it a bit more mild and keeps the pesto a really vibrant green color. I also toast the garlic cloves when I toast the nuts, which makes the garlic softer and more mild as well.
If you love basil, you will love pesto sauce. It’s one of the best ways to infuse a lot of basil flavor into so many different recipes. If you are a gardener and have a big supply of basil, making pesto is one of the most resourceful ways to put it to good use. You can also freeze pesto sauce, so you can make many batches of it and store it in your freezer to enjoy all year long.
There are so many creative ways to use pesto that are absolutely amazing, such as in appetizers, pasta dishes, chicken and seafood recipes.
What is Pesto Sauce?
Pesto sauce is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. It’s all blended together in a food processor, blender or using a mortar and pestle. It is really rich in flavor and has a luxurious and silky texture.
- Fresh basil – the fresh flavors of basil are the star of the show in this sauce.
- Pine nuts – pine nuts are small tear shaped edible seeds from a pine trees. They have a very distinct flavor, are soft and creamy, but also nutty too. They also add to the traditional flavor of pesto sauce.
- Garlic – of course the garlic flavor stands out in any recipe that it’s added to and make this sauce very savory and fresh.
- Parmesan cheese – the nutty and creamy cheese gives the sauce both flavor and texture.
- olive oil – oil thins out the sauce and makes it silky and smooth
- salt, pepper
- Fresh parsley and baby spinach – since basil is very flavorful and strong, you can make the pesto more mild by adding other green herbs, such as parsley, cilantro and even baby spinach. Not only does this dilute the basil flavor, the other ingredients will add their own flavor to the sauce AND make the sauce much more vibrantly green. Basil turns dark when processed, so the addition of parsley and spinach helps to preserve the beautiful green color.
- Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc. – Pine nuts also have a very strong flavor and are expensive too. Instead of pine nuts you can use many other nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or pistachios.
- Asiago, Pecorino Romano cheese – any hard cheese can be used instead of Parmesan.
How to Make Pesto Sauce:
- Prep the ingredients. Wash and dry the basil, parsley and baby spinach. Grate the Parmesan cheese.
- Toast the nuts in a dry skillet along with the garlic. The nuts will cook faster, so when they get golden brown, take them out of the skillet, lower the heat to low and continue to cook the garlic cloves until they get soft on the inside and the papery skin start to get spotty brown all around, moving them around frequently. Cool the nuts and garlic until they are no longer hot.
- Blend in the food processor or blender. Place the basil, parsley, spinach, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese into a food processor or blender and mix to combine until they are evenly mixed. With the food processor or blender running, pour in the olive oil and mix to combine until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Storing and Freezing:
Store the pesto sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
You can also freeze the pesto sauce in an airtight container or freezer ziplock bag for up to 3 months. You can freeze the pesto in large portions, or divide them into small portions, by using an ice cube tray or other silicone trays so you can have small portions that can be very convenient if you don’t want to thaw a bug batch.
Creative Ways To Use Pesto Sauce:
- Add pesto to pasta, it coats the pasta giving it a pretty light green color and immediately bumps up the flavor.
- Use it as a marinade for chicken, poultry, beef, pork and even vegetables.
- Serve on the side or as a topping for chicken, poultry, steak, pork and vegetables.
- Add a spoonful to mixed roasted or grilled veggies, mix it up until it coats the vegetables evenly. SO good!
- Herbed butter – soften some butter and add a spoonful. Mix it in evenly, then chill. Serve on top of steak, chicken or fish.
- Caprese Salad – thin out the pesto with olive oil and drizzle over Caprese Salad. It’s amazing. One of our favorite appetizers and salads.
- Use as a condiment on sandwiches, inside wraps, burgers or hot dogs.
- Add pesto to rice – right after the rice is done cooking, add a spoonful right before fluffing it up with a fork and add pesto flavor to the rice.
- Garlic Pesto Bread – use the pesto butter to spread on bread and toast in the oven until golden brown. Serve with soups, salads or pasta dishes.
One of the easiest ways to cook some chicken is to marinate it in pesto sauce, drizzle with some additional oil, season with salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. I used chicken breast that was about 3/4 inch thick. Use an instant read thermometer and the chicken should be 165 degrees F in the center. It is SO juicy and delicious. It also doesn’t have a strong pesto flavor, so even picky eaters will like this.
Add more fresh pesto sauce on top, if you wish.
I used my favorite roasted salmon fillet recipe to make this incredible meal.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with a baking sheet preheating at the same time. Spread some pesto sauce over salmon fillets. (I used skin on salmon fillets.) Season first with salt and pepper, then spread a thin layers of pesto sauce over the salmon.
Place the salmon on the scorchingly hot baking sheet. Lower the heat to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve with more fresh pesto sauce, if you wish.
If you’re trying to figure out which of these recipes to try first, I highly recommend the salmon. It is the most tender and juicy fish and you get a subtle flavor of pesto with each flaky forkful. This is such an easy recipe, but one you would be proud to serve to guests.Print
How To Make Pesto Sauce
Pesto is one of the most flavorful sauces that is really rich and concentrated. The fresh flavors of basil, pine nuts, garlic, creamy and nutty Parmesan cheese and bold olive oil all marry together to make a sauce that elevates any recipes.
- Prep Time: 8 min
- Cook Time: 5-8 minutes
- Total Time: 52 minute
- Yield: 1 cup pesto 1x
1 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 cup baby spinach
3–6 garlic cloves, with the skin on
1/4 cup pine nuts (you can use any nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds instead)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
- Wash and dry the basil, parsley and baby spinach.
- Grate the Parmesan cheese.
- In a dry skillet, toast the pine nuts and the garlic cloves, in their papery skin. When the pine nuts are toasted, remove from the skillet and set aside to cool. Keep cooking the garlic on really low heat until the garlic is soft and the skin is charred and golden on all sides. Cool and then peel the garlic.
- Add the basil, parsley, baby spinach, garlic, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts to a food processor or blender. Mix until finely processed.
- With the food processor/blender running, pour in the olive oil and mix until smooth.
- Store the pesto sauce in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator or freeze for up to 3 months.
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