There are so many uses for Pesto Sauce besides just pasta! This recipe will show you tips and tricks for making smooth, creamy and bright green pesto sauce that uses Pecorino Romano cheese OR make it dairy-free!
Fresh herbs are one of the greatest benefits of a summer garden. Every year I grow 2 types of basil – Genovese and Thai. Both have distinct flavors – I use Genovese for pesto and the Thai for fresh noodle salads and soups.
I love mixing pesto with cannellini beans and cherry tomatoes for a quick garden salad, using it as a spread for a veggie melt or making savory crepes with fresh tomatoes, artichokes and pesto. So many delicious uses!
Plus you can use this recipe with any combination of herbs, greens, cheese and/or nuts that you want! Here are some of my favorites:
Arugula, Toasted Walnuts + Parmesan
Cilantro, Roasted Hatch Chili + Lime
Kale, Lemon, Pistachio + Manchego
I lived in Italy for a short time while studying abroad in college and I vividly remember the bright green pesto sauce served in Genova. From that point forward my life changed and I became a pesto fanatic.
Initially I struggled to get the process down perfectly, but I’ve learned lots along the way and have compiled a few tips for you when making Basil Pesto Sauce:
- Keep Your Basil Cool. Basil is temperature sensitive. When making pesto you don’t want to rely on your food processor to do all the work. Plus running your food processor can start to heat up the pesto. So I recommend starting with crushed nuts + roughly chopped garlic. Then add those with the greens to a food processor. In fact, sometimes I put my mini food processor blade and cup in the freezer the night before to keep things really cold when I’m ready to blend!
- Blanch Your Basil. Giving your basil a quick dunk in boiling water, followed by an ice bath, will help preserve the bright, vibrant green color. It’s not necessary, but I find it very helpful.
- Use Young Basil. You definitely want to use young basil leaves which are sweeter. Once your basil plant starts to flower, the leaves will be bitter and so will your pesto.
- Sensitive to Garlic? There’s nothing worse than pesto with a sharp garlic bite. Taking a few extra minutes to pan roast your garlic clove will help tremendously with that problem!
- Dairy Free? Pesto can easily go dairy-free, but I have a special trick for giving it that creaminess. I use this trick for both vegan and traditional pesto sauce. Add a little boiled potato. If you’re blanching your basil leaves you’ll already have the boiling water ready to go. Adding potato gives pesto a creaminess that is especially delicious when using it as a spread.
I use spinach in this pesto sauce recipe. I really like basil pesto, but sometimes find it a bit too strong, so adding a little spinach not only adds nutrition, but gives it a balanced flavor. Finishing it off with a squeeze of lemon juice brings out the bright summer flavors! Check out my summer Puttanesca Sauce and Broccoli Pesto too!
- 1.5 Tbs toasted pine nuts cooled + crushed
- 1 garlic clove pan roasted and roughly chopped
- 1.5 cups packed basil leaves blanched
- 1/2 cup packed baby spinach
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 small potato peeled + boiled (about 1/4 cup)
- 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano optional
- squeeze of lemon
Begin by toasting the nuts and garlic clove in a pan on the stove top. Make sure to cool these before adding them to the Cuisinart or blender. Depending on the nut, this should take 2-5 minutes. The garlic clove can be done simultaneously.
Prepare an ice bath. Boil water in a small pot & blanch the basil leaves - 10 sec max. Immediately transfer them to an ice bath, reserving water for boiling the potato. Dry the basil leaves with a paper towel or herb spinner.
Boil the potato - cutting it into quarters will speed up the time it take to soften. 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool or run under cold water to do this quickly.
Add crushed nuts, chopped garlic, basil and spinach to a Cuisinart or blender. Add salt. Pulse a few times until roughly chopped.
Slowly drizzle olive oil into the bowl and blend until emulsified and smooth. About 1-2 min. It's important to add the oil in very slowly, otherwise you'll end up with a chunky, oily mess.
Add the potato, pulse to incorporate into a creamy sauce.
Transfer to a boil and mix in finely grated cheese, if using, and a squeeze of lemon for brightness.
Fridge: Pesto will store for 3-5 days in the fridge. Place a think layer of olive oil over the top to keep it green or lay plastic wrap directly onto the top of the pesto sauce. This keeps the air from oxidizing the pesto.
Freezing: I use ice cubes trays for quick access. I recommend freezing without the cheese included. When defrosting, you don't want to heat it. Herb sauces are not meant for heating up! Defrost at room temp.
TIP: pesto is delicious in mashed potatoes. Boil a few extra to make some later with your finished pesto!!