Everyone should have a go-to green pesto sauce recipe. This is mine — an easy, fully customizable version that can be made with any combination of herbs and/or greens, nuts or seeds, and hard aged cheese.
Green Pesto Sauce Ingredients
Fresh herbs or greens
Basil might be the most famous ingredient for this herbaceous sauce, but it's not a requirement. Grab bunches of whatever you have growing in the backyard garden or whatever looks freshest at the farmers' market or grocery store. And have fun mixing and matching. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Carrot tops (as on this Root-to-Top Carrot Pizza from ThursdayNightPizza.com)
- Blanched chopped kale (or raw baby kale)
- Lemon balm
- Baby spinach
- Swiss chard
Nuts or seeds
One more time for the people in the back: There are no rules about what MUST be used to make pesto. Though pine nuts are the traditional go-to when we think of Italian pesto sauce, there are tons of other options that are just as delicious . . . and much less expensive. For a little extra flavor, toast the nuts or seeds in a dry skillet before you add them to the food processor. Here are some options to consider:
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Sunflower seeds
The best cheeses for pesto are hard, aged hunks that grate well. Sure, Parmigiano-Reggiano (or plain old parmesan) is the first thing that comes to mind, but pecorino and asiago are also delicious, as are farmhouse cheddars or old goudas that have been aged until they look like geodes when you break them open. If you're feeling adventurous, head to your local cheese counter and ask the cheesemonger for their favorite pesto cheese.
Super easy. Since fresh herbs, aged cheese, and olive oil are all so flavorful on their own, the only seasonings you need to add are a clove of garlic, some salt and pepper, and a little lemon juice to keep things extra bright.
Use the good stuff if you have it. When I'm making green pesto sauce, I reach for an extra-virgin olive oil that has a robust flavor. In fact, sometimes I even use flavored olive oils, infused with garlic or herbs or hot peppers.
Tips for Using Homemade Green Pesto
This vibrant green sauce can breathe new life into almost any meal. Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy a fresh batch of pesto:
- Stir it into cooked pasta.
- Use it as pizza sauce.
- Toss it with roasted vegetables.
- Serve it as a sauce for grilled or broiled chicken, steak, pork, or seafood.
- Whisk it with eggs for herbaceous scrambled eggs or omelets.
- Spread it on sandwich bread or toast.
- Mix it with mayo, dips, or vinaigrette ingredients to add extra flavor to sandwiches, snacks, and salads.
- Add a spoonful or two to your favorite meatloaf or meatball recipe.
Looking for more easy sauces? Click here to browse my collection of sauce, condiment, and seasoning recipes.
Green Pesto Sauce
- Food processor
- 3 tightly packed cups tender fresh herbs (mint, basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, etc.) and/or chopped leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula, etc.)
- ½ cup unsalted nuts or seeds (pine nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, chopped almonds or walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.)
- 1 large clove garlic (or 2 small cloves), roughly chopped
- ¾ cup grated parmesan, pecorino, or other hard aged cheese
- 1½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- Combine the herbs or greens, nuts or seeds, garlic, cheese, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until everything is very finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Pour the olive oil into the food processor, then puree until the pesto looks smooth and a bit creamy. If you like a looser pesto, add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of oil and process until smooth.
- Taste the pesto and season as desired with more salt and/or lemon juice.
- To store the pesto, transfer it to one or two airtight containers (this recipe makes enough for two 4-serving pasta meals). Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pesto, then seal the container. Refrigerate the pesto for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.
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