An Authentic Italian Pesto Sauce

There is no better place to enjoy the deeply traditional and distinct flavors of pesto, than while sitting at a seaside restaurant in the Liguria region of Italy. Two years ago, while we were fortunate enough to be stationed in Belgium with the US military, we traveled to Italy which included a tour of Cinque Terre.

The bluffs and colorful houses of Cinque Terre , Italy also known for great pesto |

The beautiful bluffs and colorful houses in Cinque Terre, Italy

Named for the “five lands” or five towns lining the shore on the Italian Riviera, this part of the Liguria region is famous for its beauty and its pesto.

Any time you can eat food in the place it originated, it enhances the experience and provides an understanding for the regional connection to the food.

Restaurant in Cinque Terre. Italy that served the best sea bass and pesto sauce |

Restaurant in Cinque Terre, Italy that served awesome fresh sea bass with a great pesto

The Italian coastline was a beautiful highlight of our trip-the remarkable flavor of the pesto and sea bass we had for dinner that evening still anchors the memory.

Like all good memories, we attempt to replicate and relive the finer points. Upon our return from Italy, I gathered fresh ingredients to do just that.

The authentic recipes I found were hard to duplicate since I do not routinely measure in handfuls (my grandma measured in handfuls, but most folks appreciate more precise directions).

I suppose, that is the beauty of a recipe that has been perfected or made a thousand times over-the measurements become instinctive.

With a fresh bundle of basil, I aspired to translate measurement and technique into a pesto recipe that could transport me once again to the salty sea air and piquant sauce as green as the terraced landscape.

This particular recipe comes very close, though I understand it could be even closer if I were willing to forgo using the processor for the traditional mortar and pestle.

Pesto derives its name from this traditional method as the word literally means, to pound, or to crush. I appreciate authenticity as much as anyone does, but by using the processor, this yummy sauce can be prepared in the time it takes to boil the pasta, so it’s a quicker trip down memory lane!

An Aunthentic Italian Pesto Sauce |

The basil pictured is the approximate amount required for this recipe, which yields 2 cups and serves eight if tossed with pasta. Check local farmer’s markets for the larger quantities and best price.

This is a versatile sauce that can be tossed with pasta as a side dish, like in our fresh recipe for summery pesto pasta salad with peas, or used as a garnish on quiche, grilled chicken, or fish. Add 2-3 tablespoons of cream to this recipe for a creamy version that tastes great with steamed or grilled vegetables.

Pasta with Peso Sauceand shredded parmesean cheese |

This is a traditional basil sauce; however, there are numerous variations by substituting other ingredients, including: walnuts, fresh parsley, cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, or other hard cheeses. Or, you could even add unconventional ingredients, such as lemon juice or zest.

Looking for a pasta sauce that’s a bit more filling? Our slow cooker meat sauce brings on extra heartiness!

Fresh ingredients produce the best results and there is no better time to find fragrant, lavish bunches of basil for the sauce, than right now.

Pesto sauce on rustic wooden table with pine nuts and basil leaves scattered around
Pesto Sauce Recipe
Votes: 2
Rating: 3.5
Rate this recipe!
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8 people
8 people
Pesto sauce on rustic wooden table with pine nuts and basil leaves scattered around
Pesto Sauce Recipe
Votes: 2
Rating: 3.5
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
8 people
8 people
  • 4 cups basil leaves clean and dry
  • 3 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese grated
  • 3/4 cup Pecorino cheese grated
  • 1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Servings: people
  1. Toast pine nuts in a skillet, stirring constantly, until lightly browned. Transfer to a platter to cool.
  2. In a food processor, puree basil leaves and garlic together. Add cheeses, pine nuts, salt and pepper, blend until well incorporated and a smooth paste is produced.
  3. With the processor still running, add oil in a steady, thin stream until all the oil is added. Adjust salt and pepper, to taste.
  4. Toss with angel hair pasta; serve as a side dish with pan-seared fish and garlic bread
Recipe Notes

Store any remaining sauce in a small jar and top with a small amount of olive oil to cover and keep basil from turning dark. Enjoy within one week, or freeze in ice cube trays to add to other sauces, as needed.

Pesto sauce on rustic wooden table with pine nuts and basil leaves scattered around


If you love this basily sauce, then you’ll love to try out some of these recipes:


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About Lynne Jaques

Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!

24 thoughts on “An Authentic Italian Pesto Sauce”

  1. This is actually my favorite dish of all time and my comfort food dish. I sometimes use a little mayonnaise to make it creamy if I make a pesto pasta salad, but I like the idea of ice cubes as storing pesto can get a little oily and is best used fresh.

  2. Fresh pesto is one of my absolute favorite foods. I love fresh basil in just about anything. I don’t make pesto often because the price of pinenuts where I live can get pretty expensive. Still, I try to make it every once in a while. I love it on pasta or sandwiches or even just on tomatoes as a snack. I think I’ll make some this week to go with some chicken I’ve got in the fridge. I’m looking forward to it 🙂

  3. I am thankful for the recipe because the price of pesto sauce has skyrocketed from $1.25 for a small jar to $4 at Wal-Mart. I am wild about basil sauce, I add it to as many dishes as possible. The pesto sauce is so delicious to eat, warm or cold. Thank you, for the recipe, it will be easy for me to make.

  4. I had pesto once. It was actually on a chicken sandwich. It was kinda greasy but still tasty. Thanks for the recipe! I’ll try making it sometime.

  5. The area of Italy you were in looks just beautiful. Italy is definitely on my list of places to visit when my children are older. The pesto you created looks absolutely amazing. I will definitely need to be making some. I wish pine nuts weren’t so expensive, but nothing else taste quite like they do. Traditional pesto like this is definitely my favorite.

  6. My grandmother swears that a mortar and pestle is the only way to properly make pesto. I agree completely. The food processor just makes it too uniform and artificial. Try it sometime!

  7. Kindly do tell that one is allowed to eat the sauce with some potato chips as well as a way of snacking away?….i have never indulged in Italian Pesto Sauce but by golly i ‘d really love to, thank you for the recipe, that dream is about to materialize :).

  8. Thanks for this recipe!

    The key to a good pesto is definitely fresh basil. I’ve had the luxury of having a small herb garden, and the difference between freshly plucked and dried basil leaves and its store bought counterpart is really prominent. A small dash of lemon juice could help to bring all the flavors together as well.

  9. My goodness, Cirque Terre looks magnificent. I’m jealous! I’ve never been out of Louisiana.

    I’ve been looking for more pesto recipes because the last time I tried making it, it just didn’t taste right..I’m not quite sure what was missing but hopefully this recipe will be what I’m looking for! I look forward to trying it and I thank you very much for the lovely guide.

  10. I really enjoyed this article and the wonderful pictures. The key for me when I make Pesto is the freshest ingredients possible. I think that probably rings true with most dishes. But with Pesto, the fresher the better as far as I’m concerned. Great article!

  11. Oh that is glorious! I can use this to impress my boyfriend.

    Some pesto recipes use too much olive oil. Others lack fullness of flavor. I love how your steps are easy to follow, yet they incorporate hints of cheese and nuts. I can imagine this having an earthy taste.

    Since I’ve got an herb garden, I can now make my own jar instead of relying on the store supply.

  12. I don’t know about other places, but here in Texas pine nuts are expensive! I haven’t been able to find it for less than $16 a pound. One thing we do have is pecans. I have successfully substituted pecans for pine nuts in a pesto, and it came out pretty good. I’m not Italian, and no expert when it comes to pesto, but I thought it was pretty good.

  13. Pine nuts are prohibitively expensive here in the UK too. It’s much cheaper to buy a jar of pesto off the shelf, although I do agree that the homemade version does look far superior. Beautiful photographs by the way.

  14. Definitely the best thing about pesto is its versatility. It goes well with any carbohydrate or starch rich side, trust me. I even poured some leftover pesto over a bowl of rice and it tasted great. Mostly though, I keep to the bread and the penne pasta.

  15. I’ve made pesto hummus before, which is delicious, but I haven’t made straight pesto yet. Pine nuts are a bit expensive here too, which is part of what’s stopped me, so I’m curious to try a walnut variation. Definitely something to do once I get my indoor herb garden started.

  16. I’ve never had pesto I must try it. It so simple to make yes I’ve heard of it. Honestly I thought it would be a very complicated process, but the above recipe has once again proved me wrong. I’m so glad I’ve found this blog it has really opened my eyes to new and tasty things to try out in the kitchen.

  17. I definitely understand the draw of using the food processor. I think if I make this, I might use the processor for most, and also do a small portion of the basil in the mortar and pestle, to draw out a little more flavor. I think this would be delicious over cheese or chicken enchiladas, as well.

  18. Hi everyone! This recipe looks amazing! I would love to try it too! I have a question though, well it’s more like a personal problem. I’m allergic to pine nuts, well actually to all types of nuts. I could basically die even if I try just a little bit. Will the recipe be greatly affected if I make it without the nuts? Or will it be fine without them? Thanks to whomever can answer.

  19. Yum! My dad makes this pesto every summer and we all love it! It’s so simple to make and tastes great! After I read the article, I think I’m gonna make one tomorrow! 😉 Thanks for inspiration!

  20. Southern Italian cooking is definitely some of the best out there. Every summer I grow basil leaves outside and make pesto with them at the end of August. Although it’s pretty simple to make with a food processor I find it easiest to make a lot of it and put it in mason jars to freeze to use all winter. An important thing to remember is to toast the pine nuts before adding them to the food processor.

  21. I will definitely be trying this recipe tonight! I love pesto but I have never ever attempted to make a pesto sauce myself. I’ve always been curious to seeing as I love to cook and being Italian, I of course love pasta.

  22. Really nice recipe and this will help me a lot with mine. I can never get the consistency correct and I think now it is because I add the olive oil to the processor from the beginning with the garlic and basil. Maybe doing the basil and garlic first before adding the olive oil will make a difference. The recipe I use also had nuts, which some people find strange, but the flavor goes well with a garlic blend.

  23. My Uncle Jeff loves pesto. We always buy it pre-made, surprisingly enough, and I have never made it until recently when I came across this article. First, the fresh ingredients, as opposed to the jar version, made this better than any pesto any of us had ever experienced. More than that, we loved that the consistency wasn’t quite as thick and pasty. We will definitely be making this again soon!

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