Greenest Basil Pesto Recipe

Greenest Basil Pesto

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.

You May Also Like: Enjoy homemade pesto tossed with pasta or try our Pesto Chicken Quesadillas (15 minute recipe) or this simple Baked Ziti with Spinach and Pesto.

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).

Greenest Basil Pesto

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.

Greenest Basil PestoWe 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?

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5.0 from 6 reviews
Greenest Basil Pesto Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This basil pesto recipe won’t turn brown the moment you make it or toss with hot pasta. By quickly blanching the basil, which takes under 10 seconds, we set the basil’s green color and help prevent it from oxidizing over time. It’s an extra step in making pesto, but it doesn't take long to do. To cut down on time, use a small saucepan -- you don’t need a big pot of water here, just enough to submerge the basil, which wilts into less than a cup.

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.
Created By:
Yield: 1 cup
You Will Need
  • 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
  1. Prepare a small bowl of ice water. Bring a small saucepan, filled halfway with salted water, to a boil.
  2. 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.Greenest-Pesto-Recipe-Step-1
  3. 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.Basil Pesto Recipe Step
  4. 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.
  5. Transfer pesto to a bowl then stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Use immediately or store for later.Greenest-Pesto-Recipe-Step-3
  7. 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).
Notes and Tips
Pine Nuts: By toasting the pine nuts, they become nuttier and a little richer. It is an extra step, but we think it’s one worth doing. To do this, add the nuts to a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Staying close, occasionally swirl the nuts around the pan until lightly golden brown. Watch that they do not burn, they can go from toasted to burnt quickly. Another option is to add them to a small baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree F (177C) oven for 5 to 10 minutes. If you aren’t feeling like the extra step, use un-toasted nuts, the pesto will still taste great.

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21 comments… Leave a Comment
  • Ann August 15, 2016, 4:31 pm

    Blanching works beautifully. I would only add that I prefer to get the blanched leaves as dry as possible before putting them in the blender with the other ingredients. I find that the extra moisture waters down the flavor a bit, and makes the pesto a bit creamier than I like.

    To dry the leaves, I open up each large leaf on a towel, pat the leaves dry, and then let them air dry completely. A little time-consuming to be sure, but we’re all looking for the pesto we already know and love.

    We like it with untoasted pine nuts, only the best EVOO and double the garlic!

  • Susan July 11, 2016, 7:02 pm

    Just made this tonight. Works GREAT! Stayed green from start to finish. Thank you!

  • Janet July 31, 2015, 4:19 pm

    Besides blanching the basil, I add a vitamin C tablet into the blender. Saw a TV chef do this, not real sure if it helps, but the blanching sure does?

  • Paula February 21, 2015, 4:48 pm

    Could the basil leaves be frozen after they are blanched? Would they then be suitable for making pesto a month or so later? I had never heard of this technique, but I will certainly try it. My DH could just eat pesto with a spoon, he loves it that much. I do add a squirt of lemon juice to my pesto. It brightens the flavor a little. I use walnuts or pecans instead of pine nuts, which I think taste stale in the pesto. Maybe toasting the pine nuts would make a difference.

    • Adam March 2, 2015, 2:09 pm

      If you plan on freezing, we suggest making the pesto first then covering it with a thin layer of oil. That will help prevent discoloration when you freeze.

    • Joy August 15, 2015, 2:04 pm


      I use the blanching method and it definitely works. I make batches during the summer months and freeze for later. If I’m going to freeze, I mix the pesto, nuts (I use walnuts), garlic, a very small amount of oil, and a touch of lemon juice, but I omit the cheese. I freeze the mixture in small Ball canning jars. Don’t fill the jars all the way to the top – leave room for the pesto to expand when it freezes. I also place a small piece of Saran Wrap on top of the pesto prior to placing it in the freezer. You can also place the mixture in ice cube trays, cover with Saran Wrap and then freeze it. After 24-48 hours, take the pesto cubes out and place in a Ziploc freezer bag, and return to the freezer for individual servings. When I thaw the pesto, I then add additional olive oil and the Parmesan cheese. The cheese just doesn’t freeze well with the other ingredients. My family and I enjoy pesto all winter long!! Enjoy.

  • Deborah Gichan August 10, 2014, 3:48 pm

    I have tested many pesto recipes this season while I harvest a good amount of basil. This is by far the best. Toasted the pine nuts and used roasted garlic.
    This will be my go to recipe for sure.

  • Melissa Loizou July 8, 2014, 12:45 pm

    So excited to try this. I have made pesto for 20 years now but have noticed it seeming really dry and bitter…I will let you know.

  • Anthony Tedeschi April 15, 2014, 11:57 pm

    Your recipe is the best way to make pesto. However, I use extra virgin oil rather than regular
    olive oil. Also, I prefer to brown pine nuts in an oven.

    Recently I used a recipe which called for lemon juice. My instincts told me the end product would not taste as good. It was awful! Perhaps I used too much lemon juice. However, I
    believe it would not be good even with a lesser amount of lemon juice.

    The recipe was poorly written. It called for 1/8 cup of lemon juice or 1 lemon. A recipe should
    always be precise. There small lemons, medium, large and extra large, etc. Take a guess.

    • Joanne April 16, 2014, 12:26 pm

      Glad you found us them 🙂 Extra virgin olive oil is a great option for pesto. Lemon juice could work, but we’d probably just spritz a little on whatever we were adding the pesto to. Thanks for sharing!

  • Shayna March 16, 2014, 12:02 pm

    I am making this for work tomorrow. I want to make it a day in advance should I mix with the pasta and then fridge it til tomorrow or keep pasta and pesto separate until tomorrow?

    • Joanne March 17, 2014, 2:47 pm

      We’d keep the pasta and pesto separate then mix just before serving.

  • Lisandro Retrepo January 11, 2014, 5:35 pm

    Thanks for your recipe. All the tips and information is exactly what I was looking for.

  • kat November 16, 2013, 4:40 pm

    My first time making fresh pesto. Followed the directions exactly and it came out delicious!

  • The Peace Patch August 28, 2013, 11:38 pm

    Oh it’s gorgeously green…it should be called Emerald City Pesto!
    Thank you so much for the recipe!

  • Lisa @ The Meaning of Me August 21, 2013, 1:33 am

    You are so right – this worked like a charm. Just did it with the batch I made tonight and the difference between that and the pesto I made a few days ago is remarkable. Great tip!

    • Joanne August 31, 2013, 6:29 pm

      Thanks Lisa! So glad it worked out for you 🙂

  • Kelly Senyei | Just a Taste August 17, 2013, 12:59 am

    This is genius! I will absolutely be using this recipe and technique next time I make pesto. Thanks for sharing!

    • Joanne August 17, 2013, 1:13 pm

      Thanks, Kelly 🙂


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