This yummy spread is a delicious condiment for grilled mozzarella cheese sandwiches or paninis.
An abundance of fresh basil leaves calls for classic—and versatile—Basil Pesto Spread! Serve it as an appetizer on toasted crostini or as the main meal tossed with angel hair pasta.
Sometimes, I even use this basil pesto instead of marinara when I make pizza at home. This delicious spread makes the perfect appetizer for summer dinner parties and best of all, it comes together in literally five minutes!
Craving more Italian inspired appetizers? My roasted red pepper and artichoke tapenade is a tasty 10-minute appetizer bursting with Mediterranean flavor. Or, you may like this easy pan seared scallops seafood appetizer served with lemon butter — YUM!
Why you’re going to love it!
- Fresh flavor. Made with fresh basil and garlic.
- Versatile recipe. Enjoy as a spread, a dip, or even as a pizza topping.
- Easy to make. Blend it up in just 5 minutes!
Basil Pesto Spread: behind the recipe
You’re probably getting tired of hearing me ramble on about our trip to Italy, but I just can’t get over all the amazing things we experienced and all the amazing food we tasted during our adventure!
Please bear with me just a while longer as I reminisce and share more Italian-inspired recipes like this classic Basil Pesto Spread made with fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil that I bought in Sicily—fantastico!
Originally known as pesto alla genovese, pesto is a sauce or spread that originated in the Italian town Genoa. The original version was made with crushed pine nuts, garlic, coarse salt, Parmesan cheese, and of course, fresh basil leaves, using a mortar and pestle.
Pesto in Italian also means to pound (as in the mortar and pestle). A spread using this method may be made from many other leafy foods besides basil, including arugula, parsley, cilantro, kale, and spinach.
Key ingredients and substitutions
- Fresh basil leaves — Discard any leaves that have brown tips. Any green herb may be used to make a pesto, like parsley or cilantro, and you can even make pesto with arugula or kale.
- Pine nuts — I found that the most economical pine nuts come from Trader Joe (you can get them raw or already toasted, too).
- Olive oil — Don’t go with a light olive oil in this recipe. Extra virgin has much more depth of flavor!
- Lemon zest — Adds even more fresh flavor and awakens the other ingredients, too.
Special equipment needed
- Food processor — I love my Ninja blender! Not only do I use it all the time for making smoothies, it doubles as my food processor, too.
- Mortar and pestle — If you want to go old school, grind all the ingredients by hand using a mortar and pestle.
How to make basil pesto spread in a food processor
STEP 1 | Shock the basil
- Shocking the basil in ice water helps the pesto to maintain a vibrant green color.
- First, remove fresh basil leaves from the stems. Quickly rinse the basil leaves in a bowl of ice water, then place them in a salad spinner to remove the excess water.
STEP 2 | Chop ingredients
- Making pesto in a food processor results in a smoother spread.
- Add garlic and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor and process until almost smooth.
- Next, add the basil leaves with coarse salt and pulse until the desired consistency is reached.
- Slowly pour extra virgin olive oil through the food processor chute and process until incorporated.
- I use the pulse button (instead of blend) on my food processor to get a pesto texture that still has a few chunks, while still being very spreadable.
STEP 3 | Season and serve
- Empty the pesto into a serving bowl and stir in lemon zest and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. That’s it — presto pesto!
Frequently asked questions
To store the pesto for later use, cover with a layer of olive oil and refrigerate. Note that pesto is best used within a day or so for the best flavor.
You can freeze pesto, but don’t add any cheese if you plan to do so. Place pesto in small zip lock bags and squeeze out all the air and freeze for up to a month. To use, thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes then stir in Parmesan cheese to your liking.
Using a mortar and pestle is more authentic, of course, but it takes a while longer and requires a little elbow muscle. For convenience and to save my wrists, I normally opt for making pesto in my food processor.
More appetizer spread recipes!
Below is a list of some of my favorite homemade appetizer spreads, both hot and cold, that you may enjoy. Please check them out!
- Stone Ground Mustard
- Baked Brie Cheese and Fig Spread
- Baked Jalapeño Pimento Cheese
- And more appetizer recipes!
What else is new? Check out my Life, Love, and Good Food Store on Amazon. Thanks so much for being a part of our community!
Basil Pesto Spread
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves removed from stems
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more for storing)
- 2 – 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- Remove basil leaves from the stems. Shock the leaves in a bowl of ice water and remove immediately to paper towels to dry. (May also use a salad spinner to remove water.)
- Place pine nuts and garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add basil leaves and pulse until chopped to desired consistency.
- Pour olive oil into the food processor chute while on low to combine with the basil mixture. Add more olive oil if you desire.
- Remove to a bowl and add salt, lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese. Stir until combined.
- Serve immediately on toasted baguette. May store pesto in refrigerator for 2-3 days in a sealed jar. To save for later, cover pesto with a layer of olive oil and refrigerate.
About Sheila Thigpen
Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer
Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.