This Is the Only Basil Pesto Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Sweet, delicate herbs and a mortar and pestle are the secret to Liguria’s signature pasta sauce.

  • Serves

    2 cups

  • Cook

    30 minutes


By Erica Firpo

Updated on November 7, 2022

A mortar and pestle is the best tool for making pesto as the pounding works wonders releasing the basil’s essential oils; however, the sauce is nearly as good when made with a food processor or immersion blender. When tossing together pasta al pesto, add a tablespoon or two of the (cooled) pasta water to ensure a creamy, velvety texture. 

Featured in Everything You Need to Know about Basil Pesto,” by Erica Firpo.


  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts, preferably Italian
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 cup packed basil leaves
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if storing (see footnote)
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ¼ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano


Step 1

Using a large mortar and pestle, pound the pine nuts, salt, and garlic into a very smooth paste, 5–7 minutes. Add the basil ½ cup at a time, working it into the mixture after each addition, until the mixture is smooth and creamy, 15–20 minutes. While stirring with the pestle, gradually add the oil until fully incorporated, about 3 minutes more. Stir in the Parmigiano and Pecorino.

Note: Topped with a thin layer of olive oil and stored in an airtight container, the pesto will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator and 6 months in the freezer.

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