Pesto is a pantry staple. Toss it with pasta for dinner, add a spoonful to brighten up roasted vegetables, throw it on top of soup or spread over bread for sandwiches. It’s brightly flavored and always adds the most delicious pop to whatever you’re eating.
When we’re overloaded with fresh basil, we love making it at home. Homemade pesto is really simple to make.
We do have one problem with it, though.
Pesto is supposed to be bright green and look fresh. It isn’t supposed to brown at the first sight of a food processor blade or hot pasta. Dull, brown or anything other than bright green basil pesto bugs us.
Our Mission to Figure Out the Greenest Basil Pesto Recipe
I don’t know how others do it, but every time Adam and I made pesto or tossed it with hot pasta, it browned and became dull — It can’t just be us, right?
We’re thinking no, so we went on a mission to find out how to make perfectly green basil pesto, every time.
The first thing we found was to add some fresh parsley to the mix — it won’t bruise or oxidize as quickly or easily as basil will. It works, but we’re usually inundated with basil leaves, not parsley. The idea to add parsley is a good one, but it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Another idea was to add some lemon or vinegar. The acid is supposed to prevent the browning. That’s fine, but we weren’t too sure about the flavor. We wanted pure basil pesto.
Then, we stumbled upon the idea to blanch the basil leaves. Seems a little weird, we know. We’re usually game for anything, so we tried it.
You know what? As weird as it sounds, it works — it works really well.
To blanch the basil, all we need to do is submerge fresh basil leaves into boiling salted water for 5 to 10 seconds — or just until they wilt. Then immediately plunge the wilted leaves into icy water.
At first, we thought this would be time consuming, but we’ve found that if you use a half-filled, small saucepan things go really quickly. (No need to wait for a large pot filled with water to boil).
The moment the basil hits the hot water it brightens in color — almost neon. Not only that, but by blanching, the enzymes that make the basil turn brown are dealt with.
From there, we squeeze the leaves dry and pat with paper towels (or a dish towel). They don’t need to be bone dry, just not dripping with water.
We should mention that the recipe below can be used for both methods: using blanched basil leaves or fresh basil leaves. We’re sold on blanching, but some have argued that it can steal some of the basil’s flavor. We haven’t noticed this at all — if anything, we thought the pesto was sweeter and more fresh tasting.
Cooking and pesto making are personal, so do what you love. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have any pesto tips up your sleeves?
You May Also Like
- If you’re wondering how to make pesto by hand, take a look at 101 Cookbook’s pesto recipe.
- This basil pesto recipe from Ina Garten is classic.
- Or, take a look at our kale pesto — it’s perfect for cooler months when basil is not as abundant.
We should mention that the recipe below can be used for both methods: using blanched basil leaves or fresh basil leaves. We're sold on blanching, but some have argued that it can steal some of the basil's flavor. We haven't noticed this at all -- if anything, we thought the pesto was sweeter and more fresh tasting.
Also, we are particular with how we add the garlic. We turn the garlic clove into a fine paste before adding it to the food processor. This way, it is completely broken down and is able to lend it’s flavor to the sauce. The time we take to process the pesto is not nearly long enough to break down the whole clove. Starting with a fine paste helps with this.
Special Equipment: Food processor.
- 2 cups (40 g) packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup (35 g) pine nuts, lightly toasted (see note)
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil, plus more for storing
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup (20 g) finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
- Prepare a small bowl of ice water. Bring a small saucepan, filled halfway with salted water, to a boil.
- Submerge basil leaves in boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds, or until wilted. Then, immediately plunge into ice water to stop cooking. Drain, squeeze to remove excess water then pat with a dish towel or paper towels until mostly dry.
- Smash and peel garlic clove then mince finely. Holding a chef’s knife at an angle, scrape the blade of the knife across the minced garlic. Gather it all together then scrape it against the board again until it becomes a very fine paste.
- Combine garlic paste and the pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 2 to 3 times until everything is chopped small. Add basil then with the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl. Once all the olive oil has been added, check the consistency of the pesto -- we like it to have some texture. If you prefer it smoother, pulse a few more times.
- Transfer pesto to a bowl then stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.
- Use immediately or store for later.
- To store pesto, add a thin layer of extra olive oil to the top (to prevent any air from getting to it), cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 to 2 weeks. (You can also freeze up to 1 month).