Classic Pesto alla Genovese

Basil pesto is the quintessential summer recipe. There are few things in this world that smell as good as your hands after you’ve torn all those basil leaves from their stems.

Pesto alla Genovese is the name for the classic basil pesto made with pine nuts, garlic, a hard cheese like Parmesan, and olive oil. You can use any pesto as a pasta sauce or pizza base or to provide an amazing punch of herbal flavor to eggs or sandwiches.

four panels showing the steps in making pesto alla genovese.

Tips and tricks for making pesto

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.

About basil

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

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.

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.

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:

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.
  • 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.


How do I prevent my pesto from browning?

Although not as quick as guacamole, 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.

a small bowl filled with pesto.

Related recipes

If you love pesto alla Genovese, check out some other pesto recipes, like this orzo pesto salad, a creamy pesto dressing for salads, or this tuna pesto pasta made with arugula spinach pesto.

Or if it’s the off-season and fresh basil isn’t available, you can still make winter pesto from a variety of other green vegetables. It’s definitely not pesto alla Genovese, but it might hold you through the winter months until fresh basil is available!

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


Other nuts, like pistachios or walnuts, can be substituted for the pine nuts.


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
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What’s next

If you make this recipe for pesto alla Genovese and love it or you have a favorite way to eat pesto that I didn’t mention, please leave a comment and rating.

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