Brilliant Basil: Perfect Homemade Basil Pesto

The BEST Basil Pesto

If your garden is bursting with basil or you have a big bunch of this fragrant herb, the best way to savour basil's flavour is by making this best ever basil pesto dip! This home made pesto is perfect to pair with pasta, panini sandwiches, crostini, pizza, bread and eggs. I will also show you how to avoid the pitfall of bitter pesto (a common problem with home made pesto). This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader and I think this is the best ever pesto I've tried!

Pesto is one of the best things to look forward to in Summer when basil is plentiful. Pesto originally comes from Genoa in Italy and was first seen around the 16th century. The word comes from the Italian word pestare which means to pound or crush as it is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle.

Pesto alla Genovese is made with Genovese basil leaves (the best one are said to come from Pra' on the Ligurian coast), Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan or pecorino cheese. While it is traditionally made using a mortar and pestle, it can also be made in a food processor. Home made pesto lasts in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (but I promise that it won't last that long it's so good, I kept putting it on everything!). Commercially made pesto usually uses sunflower oil over extra virgin olive oil (sunflower oil is ok to use as long as you don't heat it to high temperatures). Trust me I've spent time checking over all of those labels.

This is an adaption of a wonderful pesto that I had at an Italian cooking class at Pizzini Wines in Victoria's King Valley. They use pistachios and almonds in their pesto which lends such a lovely complexity of flavour. If you want to use pine nuts roast them for a shorter time, around 3-4 minutes.

5 Tips For Making Basil Pesto

The BEST Basil Pesto

1 - Use fresh basil that is bright green with perky leaves. Avoid using the thicker stems and only use the green leaves and the smaller stems that attach the leaves to the main stem. Avoid using browns leaves as they have started to oxidise. Also some say that smaller leaves are said to be better in pesto although I've used all different sizes and as long as they are fresh they are fine.

2 - Bitterness in home-made pesto is one of the most common problems and the most common reason is the olive oil. Did you know that most commercial pesto doesn't use olive oil, it uses sunflower oil? Take a look and you'll be hard pressed to find EVOO used in any of them. My recipe below uses sunflower oil with a touch of EVOO. I definitely recommend using a mild or light flavoured olive oil as some can be peppery and bitter - often extra virgin olive oil is usually marked with the flavour profile.

3 - You can use whatever nut you have in pesto but make sure to toast them well. I have made it with pecans, cashews, walnuts or pine nuts. Pistachios are expensive so if you want to make this with all almonds, I promise it will still be delicious. Also did you know to keep your nuts in the fridge? They are high in fat and this can cause them to go rancid quickly. Please make sure to toast the nuts well, they provide a lot of the warmth and flavour in pesto and this is only when they are nicely toasted.

4 - If you are allergic to nuts, you can omit them or sub them with toasted sunflower seeds - they're absolutely delicious in a pesto!

5 - This pesto recipe makes around 450g/1lb of pesto and uses around a bunch of basil leaves and is enough for 500g or 1.1lbs of dried pasta with some left over. Home made pesto lasts for up to 2 weeks in the fridge covered with a layer of oil. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months or freeze it in ice cube trays if you want a smaller amount.

Why Is My Pesto Bitter?

Pesto can sometimes turn bitter and this is one of the most common complaints for home made pesto. Pesto bitterness can be due to a number of factors:

1- Bitter (robust flavoured) or expired olive oil. As I mentioned, commercial pestos usually use sunflower oil, not extra virgin olive oil

2 - Garlic that is too acrid or strong

3 - Burnt or rancid nuts

4 - Some say that making pesto in a food processor is the cause as the fast blades release the polyphenols or bitter components of olive oil. But don't worry, if this happens, there is a solution and it's a pretty good one! ;) All you have to do is stir in the oil or use a mortar and pestle.

Recipes using pesto: creamy chicken pasta, baked ricotta with pesto, pesto eggs, pesto potato salad, pesto buns, pesto risotto, babka flower pesto bread, basil eggplant dip, casarecce and clams, caprese cheese toastie. I also just like toasted English muffins topped with melted cheese and pesto.

The BEST Basil Pesto

I haven't made pesto in a while but we have started growing basil in our garden and at the moment it is prolific. I was thinking about what to do with all that basil when I was looking at TikTok where I saw a video series that has gone totally viral. On TikTok you can stitch videos together so you can respond to someone else's video.

There is a girl called Susi who starts her pesto recipe with "Call me crazy but I have never liked store bought pesto..." and then this clip has taken a life of its own as people follow this clip with a video of them explaining the craziest story of their life. Their video starts with "yes that's crazy but let me tell you something crazy...". It's sort of good naturedly poking fun at Susi's dramatic pronouncement but also a perfect springboard into launching into their craziest tale. I never miss a Susi Stitch because everyone has a really crazy story even if it is something that happened to someone else or something that they've seen (search for #susistitch in TikTok you'll find lots of these stories). I've told you most of the craziest stories but there are some truly bonkers stories about the Elliotts that I am not allowed to tell you! And I actually agree that a lot of store bought pesto is nowhere near as delicious as home-made.

So tell me Dear Reader, do you like store bought pesto? If pressed, do you have a "crazy" story and what is it?

The BEST Basil Pesto

An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott

Preparation time: 5-20 minutes (depending on method eg mortar and pestle vs food processor)

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: 450g/1lb jar

  • 1/2 cup/75g/2.7ozs pistachio nuts
  • 1/2 cup/75g/2.7ozs skinless almonds
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cups/60g/2ozs fresh basil leaves (green leaves, no thick stems)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 120g/4ozs. good quality parmesan cheese or pecorino, shaved or grated
  • 3/4 cup/180ml/6.5flozs sunflower oil
  • 40ml/1.4flozs mild extra virgin olive oil

The BEST Basil Pesto

Step 1 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F fan forced and line a tray with parchment. Place the pistachios and almonds on separate trays and roast pistachios for 6 minutes and almonds for 8-9 minutes or until fragrant and toasted well (not pale). Chop the nuts roughly.

Step 2a Mortar and Pestle- Crush the garlic and pine nuts using a mortar and pestle until you get a creamy consistency. Add the basil leaves with the salt and crush to make creamy. Then add the cheese and oil.

Step 2b Food Processor - Add all ingredients except for extra virgin olive oil and pulse to crush. Stir in olive oil at the end.

Step 2c Thermomix - Add all ingredients except for extra virgin olive oil and set to 10 seconds, speed #6. Stir in olive oil.

Storage: Store in an airtight jar adding some extra olive oil on top. You can also place clingfilm directly on top of pesto to prevent it browning. It will last up to a week or two in the fridge.

The BEST Basil Pesto

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