Basic Basil Pesto or Pistou

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes about

    1 cup

Appears in


  • 3 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped poached or toasted garlic
  • 3 tablespoons lightly toasted and chopped pine nuts or almonds (preferably blanched or skinned)
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


Drop Basil into a pot of boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds. Immediately drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. Drain the basil and squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop the basil coarsely and place in a food processor or blender, and add the garlic, nuts, and olive oil. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer (see note) for up to 3 months.


Pesto is open to improvisation. During the winter, when good basil is impossible to get, I love to make parsley pesto. But don’t stop with the herbs; you can also play around with any of the four basic ingredients:

Green Herbs Substitute parsley, cilantro, arugula, spinach, chard, watercress, or scallion tops for the basil, singly or in combination.

Nuts Substitute walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sesame seeds, or peanuts for the pine nuts and almonds.

Oils Substitute flavored olive oils, such as lemon or orange, or nut oils, such as walnut, hazelnut, pecan, pistachio, or pumpkin seed, for some or all of the olive oil.

Cheese Substitute any dry grating cheese for the Parmesan, such as aged Crottin (a dry goat cheese), Queso Anejo (dry Mexican grating cheese), or whatever else you like.