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Classic Italian Basil Pesto (Pesto alla Genovese)

Classic Italian Basil Pesto (Pesto alla Genovese)

  • Author: Emilie Raffa
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup
  • Category: Pasta Sauce
  • Method: No-Cook
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian


A simple, classic Italian Basil pesto recipe with pine nuts. It comes together quickly in the food processor or blender. Make sure to read the helpful tips to prevent oxidation! Recipe adapted (with changes) from Liguria by Laurel Evans.


  • 70 g (appx. 2 1/23 cups), small, basil leaves (see note)
  • 1 fresh garlic clove, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp. pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
  • 6 tbsp. (packed) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp. (packed) grated Pecorino cheese
  • Pinch fine sea salt

Pesto Notes & Tips:

  • For the basil: choose small, baby basil leaves (Genovese variety). This is key. Grab a few potted plants if you cannot find this basil in bunches. The leaves should be small and curl under. They are tender and delicious!
  • For the olive oil: Light and delicate extra virgin olive oil is a must! Ligurian olive oil is excellent for pesto. It’s mild, fruity and it doesn’t overpower. Problem is, you won’t be able to find it in the store. Sub with a good-quality mild oil that’s not peppery or dark green in color (the flavor will be too strong, and the color will be too dark). I recommend: Lucini, California Olive Ranch and La Tourangelle.
  • Blend the pesto in batches, per the recipe. Doing so, paired with chilling the food processor or blender bowl, blade and olive oil, helps to prevent the basil from bruising and turning black. You’ll also achieve the best texture and flavor.


Before you begin: Freeze the bowl and blade of your food processor (or blender) for 30 minutes. Refrigerate the olive oil for 30 minutes. This will prevent the basil from oxidizing.

  1. Add the garlic, pine nuts and 2 tbsp. of oil to the food processor. Pulse a few times until minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the basil leaves and another 2 tbsp. of oil. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the cheeses.
  3. With the machine running, slowly stream in the rest of the olive oil and blend until creamy. Scrape the pesto into a bowl.
  4. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt (if needed). Stir in more olive oil to loosen the texture (if needed). It shouldn’t look like a thick glob.  
  5. To store: transfer pesto to a small jar. Top with a layer of olive oil to prevent browning. Refrigerate until ready to use. It should last up to 1 week.

Note: if serving pesto with pasta, thin the pesto with a little bit of the pasta cooking water first. Otherwise, it won’t coat the pasta correctly- it will be too thick.

Keywords: Italian, pesto, basil pesto, classic, recipe, pesto alla Genovese, Trofie pasta, Pecorino, Parmesan cheese