Nothing says “summer” quite like fresh basil ~ on everything! Okay, maybe not everything… But here on this homestead, we savor and love our fresh garden basil in many ways: in pasta and egg dishes, with zoodles, in cold summer salads, on veggie sandwiches, and of course, with fresh garden tomatoes. But what about when summer is over? Or, when you have way too much basil to use fresh at once? Not to worry! I have the perfect recipe and way to preserve some of that delicious basil goodness. Turn it into pesto!
You’re going to love our go-to pesto recipe. It is so wonderful, I have lovingly dubbed it “the besto pesto”. I know. So modest, right? Packed with fresh basil, tangy lemon, hearty walnuts, creamy sharp parmesan, and pungent garlic, this pesto is pretty much to die for! It is also super easy to make. Enjoy it fresh, or easily freeze it to enjoy for a full year – until next basil season rolls around! Feel free to skip the cheese for a vegan option. It is excellent either way!
No homegrown basil? No problem. Just pick some up at the local farmer’s market or grocery store. If you aren’t growing your own due to space limitations, keep in mind that basil is a great herb to grow in containers! In general, basil is quite easy to grow – once you know all the tips and secrets! Check out this article to learn more: “How to Grow Bushy Basil to Harvest All Summer Long”.
THE BESTO PESTO RECIPE
- Basil – We generally harvest a huge basket of basil, and make a large batch of pesto at once. Don’t worry – I am providing the recipe in smaller portions than we typically make, but you can scale up as needed! You’ll want to remove the leaves from the stems. Working in the kitchen, we pull the leaves off the stems and put them in a large bowl of water – to soak and get at least partially clean. Then we rinse the leaves again in a colander.
- Lemon juice – Fresh-squeezed is best. Meyer lemons are even better, as they add a touch of sweetness! We are blessed with an old prolific Meyer lemon tree in the backyard. If you don’t have access to fresh lemons, organic bottled lemon juice is an acceptable substitute.
- Parmesan cheese – For a vegan variation, you could hold the cheese or substitute with nutritional yeast, or even a handful of pistachios or cashews instead. See the amounts below.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Garlic – A few cloves or more, depending on how much pesto you’re making!
- Walnuts – Halves or pieces, it doesn’t matter! It is all going to get blended up anyways. Walnuts give a great pack of flavor and protein, at a fraction of the cost that those pine nuts in most pesto recipes do! For people with nut allergies, you could try substituting with half the called-for walnuts with hemp hearts instead. Alternatively, swap them out for sunflower seeds.
- Salt – We prefer to use celtic sea salt.
In a blender or food processor, combine the ingredients listed below, which makes about one pint of finished pesto.
For every 2 cups of basil leaves (washed, packed, and overflowing cups!) add:
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (if you prefer to say “no” to cheese, either omit it completely, substitute with 1 tbsp nutritional yeast, and/or add a handful of raw cashews or pistachios)
- 1/2 cup walnuts (sub with 1/4 cup hemp hearts for those with nut allergies)
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil*
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup lemon juice*
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Blend until smooth.
Or, pulse if you prefer chunky basil.
*Note that I included a sliding scale for the amount of olive oil and lemon juice. I generally start on the lower end, adding more while blending until the desired consistency is reached. The amount may also vary depending on how tightly you packed your cups of basil.
We often make a double batch, or more! Scale up all of the ingredients as needed. The ingredient feature photo was probably about 6x the recipe! In a 64-oz Vitamix, we can easily fill it with a double batch in one round of blending, no problemo. Then dump and repeat.
Storage & Use
Our freezer is always stocked with homemade garden pesto! It is easy and safe to freeze excess pesto in wide-mouth mason jars. When we make a batch, we generally keep out a small portion and freeze the rest. This pesto will last for about a week in the refrigerator, and a year in the freezer! The addition of lemon is a great natural preservative, and also helps it maintain a beautiful bright green color.
When freezing, we’ve found the half-pint size portions are perfect for our little family of two (humans). Make sure to get the jars labelled “freezer safe”. Other types can crack, especially those with shoulders. Add pesto into the jars up to their “fill line”, leaving about half an inch of room on top. Throw on a lid, freeze, done! To defrost, we simply pull a jar out a day or two before we want to use it and pop it in the fridge. Use within one week of defrosting.
Ways to Use Pesto
In addition to all the classic ways to use pesto, such as with pasta, pizza, sautéed mixed veggies, or on homemade sourdough bread, we learned a couple pretty rad ways to use this pesto too. One is to add a dollop of pesto mixed with eggs, like you would milk or cheese when whipping up scrambled eggs, or even when making a quiche or frittata. Green eggs, anyone?
Even more, make a killer pesto salad dressing! When we have about a half a small jar or less, we top off and thin down the remaining pesto in the jar with some extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, another squeeze of fresh lemon, maybe a dash of apple cider vinegar – and boom! The result is a pourable, delectable pesto salad dressing. So good.
So simple, right?!
And remember, frequently harvesting your basil keeps it coming back even bushier and stronger! Harvest now, and plan to make this a few times this summer. We always do.
In all, I hope you enjoy this pesto recipe! If you make it, please report back and let us know how you like it.
Stay tuned for many more quick and easy recipes to use and preserve garden harvests, or produce you pick up at the farmer’s market! As always, feel free to ask questions ~ and spread the love by passing it on.
“The Besto Pesto” Lemon Walnut Basil Pesto Recipe
- Blender, or food processor
- 2 cups Washed fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/2 cup Grated parmesan cheese (Vegan variation: substitute with 1 tbsp nutritional yeast and/or a handful of raw cashews)
- 1/2 cup Walnuts (Nut allergies? Substitute with 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, or 1/4 cup hemp seeds or sunflower seeds)
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup Olive oil*
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup Lemon juice*
- 2 – 3 cloves Garlic, peeled
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- Wash basil and remove leaves from stems.
- In a blender or food processor, combine all of the ingredients as listed above.
- *Start with 1/3 cup each of lemon juice and olive oil, and add more as needed to reach your desired consistency.
- Blend until smooth.
- Enjoy! Store in the refrigerator, and use within one week.
- Add to freezer-safe wide-mouth jars if you intend to preserve it. Freeze, and use within one year.