Classic Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto alla Genovese, the classic Italian sauce, is an ode to fresh summer flavors. Made in less than 30 minutes using basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, and extra-virgin olive oil, this pesto will make your taste buds sing. The perfume on your hands after you’ve torn all those basil leaves is just an added bonus!

Use your basil pesto as a pasta sauce, pizza base, or amazing punch to eggs, soups, or sandwiches. So grab your food processor and let’s make pesto alla Genovese just like your nonna (that is, if you had a nonna and she had a food processor)!

four panels showing the steps in making pesto alla genovese.
Jump to:


About basil

Basil is an annual plant with many varietals grown around the world. Genovese basil is the basil typically used for pesto alla Genovese, but you can use purple basil or other basil varietals for pesto to play around with flavor.

Tip from the wise quacker: if you grow basil, pinch off the flowers as they form. This increases the leaf production of your basil plant and helps prevent the leaves from becoming bitter.

About pine nuts

Pine nuts are traditional in pesto alla Genovese recipes, although you can substitute another nut. Please take the time to toast your pine nuts or nuts of choice. Toasting, whether in pesto or in baking (like in this coffee and walnut cake) really brings out their flavor.

And always taste pine nuts before using them to make sure they aren’t rancid. If you use lots of pine nuts in your cooking and go through them quickly, you can store them in a cool, dry place. Otherwise, you’ll want to freeze pine nuts for longer shelf life.

Variations and substitutions

  • Add a tablespoon or two of pecorino romano in addition to the Parmesan.
  • Use a different basil other than Genovese basil or a combination of basil varietals.
  • Out of season, make a winter pesto like arugula spinach pesto.
  • Use a different nut, like pistachios or walnuts.
  • Though not traditional for pesto alla Genovese, you can add a bit of lemon zest or juice to brighten up the flavor. Or make it richer and add a few tablespoons of butter like Marcella Hazan.

Recipe tips and tricks

To make pesto, tear off the basil leaves where the thick stalk joins the leaf. You’ll want even the tiniest leaves, but throw away or compost the stems and any flowers or black or brown bits.

Pesto alla Genovese originates from the Italian port city of Genoa (also Genova). Pesto comes from the Italian word “pestare,” meaning “to pound” or “to grind.” While pesto is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, using a food processor saves time and effort.

a small bowl filled with pesto.

How to use pesto alla Genovese

The most common way to serve pesto is definitely over pasta. The traditional pasta shape served with pesto alla Genovese is trenette, a long ribbon-like pasta similar to linguine. Personally I think pesto works perfectly with every pasta.

Here are a few other suggestions for what to eat with pesto:

Recipe FAQs

How much is a serving of pesto?

Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of basil pesto per serving. Unless you’re mr. uglyducklingbakery, and then a serving is a half-cup.

How do I prevent my pesto from browning?

Although not as quickly as this simple guacamole recipe, basil pesto will also oxidize and start to brown. If you are not using the pesto immediately, cover it with plastic wrap pressed down onto the pesto. Topping with a thin layer of olive oil can also slow the oxidation process. If you really care about the color of your pesto, blanch your basil leaves and then dry them completely before adding them to the food processor.

What’s the best way to preserve pesto?

If you make more pesto than you’ll eat immediately, freeze it in tupperware-type containers. Or you can freeze smaller amounts in ice cube trays to add to eggs or other dishes.

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.


Pesto alla Genovese

5 from 1 vote
Category: Sauces
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 129kcal
Pesto alla Genovese is the classic basil pesto made with pine nuts, garlic, a hard cheese like Parmesan, and olive oil. Use it as a pasta sauce, a pizza base, or to add herbal flavor to eggs or sandwiches.
Print Recipe


  • Food processor


Basil pesto

  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 ounce Parmesan equivalent to about ¼ cup grated cheese
  • 3 ounces (1 small box) fresh basil leaves picked from stems and flowers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon salt


  • Add the toasted pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan to the food processor and blitz until fine.
    2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted, 1 clove garlic, 1 ounce Parmesan
  • Add the basil, olive oil, and salt and process, scraping down as needed until all of the leaves have been chopped into a puree. You may need to add more olive oil to get it to your desired consistency.
    3 ounces (1 small box) fresh basil, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt


Toasting nuts brings out their flavor. If you do not have pine nuts, other nuts, like pistachios or walnuts, can be substituted for the pine nuts.
The traditional pasta shape served with pesto alla Genovese is trenette, a long ribbon-like pasta similar to linguine. However, I think basil pesto is perfect with any pasta shape!


Calories: 129kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 405mg | Potassium: 102mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 0.3g | Vitamin A: 1178IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 124mg | Iron: 1mg
Love this recipe?Mention @Uglyducklingbakery or tag #uglyducklingbakery!

Looking for inspiration?

Sign up to get recipes full of kitchen tips and tricks.

Looking for inspiration?

Sign up to get recipes full of kitchen tips and tricks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.