Pesto 101: The Complete Guide to Making Summer’s Perfect Condiment

A guide to making the perfect pesto

Pesto is a mighty Mediterranean-style sauce and condiment that’s super versatile and easy to make. It’s amazing all warm weather season long, when the fresh ingredients are bountiful, and tastes fantastic on anything from the grill, on pizza or fresh pasta, or, as many will confess,  a spoon.

Pesto has been around for a while, pretty much since ancient Rome, although back then they likely used herbs other than basil. The word comes from the same word as “[mortar and] pestle,” and references that fact that it’s a ground or pounded paste. Nowadays, you can certainly purchase pesto at any grocery store, but like most things, the flavors pale in comparison to a homemade version. 


There are a few basic ingredients required to make a classic basil pesto:

A guide to making the perfect pesto

Traditional Basil Pesto Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches of basil (about 4 cups)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Wash the herbs.Pat dry.
  2. In your food processor, pulse the greens with the grated cheese, nuts and garlic. It’s better if you make it in batches.
  3. Drizzle olive oil as you go until you form a chunky paste (don’t puree it!)
  4. Serve and enjoy

In short: you need something as your base (in this case the herbs), some nuts for texture, and seasonings. Easy!

Now the classic version is delicious, but is heavy on basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese, both of which are quite pricey in your local supermarket. You can (and should!) grow your own herbs, but it’s an investment, for sure. (Though worth it!) Thankfully, this classic recipe has lots of options and now there are plenty varieties with different flavors, textures, and price-points. 

A guide to making the perfect pesto


Here are a few variations using different ingredients as a base. As you can see, as long as you stick to a base, a nut, and a binder (like cheese or oil), you can be as creative as you want. Have fresh mint on hand? Go for it? Pumpkin seeds? Sure. Just make some.

Spinach Pesto

This is one of my favorites; it’s more subtle than the original one. For this recipe you’ll need:

  • 5oz (a medium pre-washed bag) of spinach
  • Half a bunch of basil
  • A few sprigs of parsley
  • 1/4 of a cup of toasted walnuts (way more affordable than pine nuts)
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmersan cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Follow the same steps mentioned above and you’re good to go. You can even add kale and collard greens to make it extra green and nutritious!

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

Ingredients needed:

  • 5 oz of sun-dried tomatoes
  • Half a bunch of basil
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste (adds richness)
  • 1/4 cup of roasted walnuts or pine nuts
  • 1/4 of freshly grated grana padano (similar to parmersan, but more buttery)
  • Pinch of chili flakes (optional)
  • Salt and pepper

This recipe is awesome when you pair it with a hearty cold pasta salad and a glass of red wine. Yum! 

Dairy Free Pesto

This is a healthy alternative that contains no cheese, but still has lots of flavour. You’ll need:

  • 5 oz of base of your choice (greens, tomatoes, basil, etc)
  • 1/4 cup of walnuts or pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (this is your cheese!)
  • Hemp or flax seed oil
  • Salt and pepper

The nutritional yeast will add a boost to your pesto as it is rich in vitamin B12. This recipe is totally worthy of Popeye’s approval!

The perfect pesto

Pesto Tips:

  • Pesto tends to turn brown if left at room temperature, for this reason, you should use it right away.
  • When storing it in the fridge, cover with plastic wrap and drizzle a bit of olive oil on the top to prevent it from browning.
  • Want to keep it for longer? Place the pesto in ice trays and freeze it. Once it’s frozen, pop the pesto cubes out and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Whenever you need a quick meal, place a few cubes of pesto in a pan with pasta and you’re good to go!

So, what’s your favorite kind of pesto?

 This ManMade post was originally published on May 29, 2013. We’re sharing it again because it’s summer!