Recipes / Pesto, Three Ways

Pesto, Three Ways

By Mark Bittman

Published December 8, 2023

The best pesto is made with a mortar and pestle, and in Genoa, where pesto originated, few people will admit to using a food processor. But when you get into their kitchens, that’s just what they do. And so do I.

Photo: Norman Posselt/Getty Images
Photo: Norman Posselt/Getty Images
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Don’t add the Parmesan until you’re ready to use the pesto. And to help retain its bright green color, drizzle a layer of olive oil over the top once you’ve put the pesto in a container. Herb pastes made with less oil do not keep as well, so eat them sooner rather than later. If you have a garden filled with basil, by all means make as much pesto as you can and throw it into the freezer. But if you’re using store-bought basil, unless it’s incredibly cheap you might as well just make pesto in the quanti- ties given here and enjoy it fresh.

Although it is not traditional, you can substitute parsley or any other tender-leafed herb for all of some of the basil, with fine but distinctively different results.


Make The Recipe!


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Makes about 1 cup 1x

Time 10 minutes

Units Scale


  • 2 lightly packed cups fresh basil leaves
  • Salt
  • 1/2 clove garlic, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as needed, plus extra for topping for storage
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, pecorino Romano, or other hard cheese


1. Put the basil with a pinch salt, the garlic, nuts, and about half the oil in a food processor or blender. Process, stopping to scrape down the side of the container if necessary and adding the rest of the oil gradually.

2. Add more oil if you prefer a thinner mixture. Serve or transfer to an airtight container and top with a thin layer of olive oil. Store in the refrigerator for a week or 2 or in the freezer for several months. Stir in the Parmesan by hand just before serving.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition

Recipe variations

Mint or Dill “Pesto”
Try it on pasta or grilled vegetables: Substitute mint or dill for the basil; the garlic is optional. Use a good-quality vegetable oil and omit the cheese. Finish, if you’d like, with a squeeze of lemon juice. Use within a day.

Arugula “Pesto”
Terrific with grilled vegetables or plain rice: Substitute arugula (tough stems removed) for the basil. Omit the cheese. Use within a day.