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How to make homemade pesto

Homemade pesto – generally made with fresh basil, though it can also involve other fresh greens – is one of the easiest pasta sauces to make, yet people tend to think it’s complicated and so they buy it packaged. If you have a food mill or blender, or a pestle and some patience, you can easily make fresh pesto at home. It’s one of the best ways to capture the flavour of what nature provides!

The traditional pesto that most people think of is “Genovese pesto”, which is made from basil leaves. Pesto and basil are so closely tied that here in Tuscany, the two words are almost used interchangeably, yet technically this is incorrect: a pesto means anything ground. These ingredients mashed, usually while raw, originally with a mortar and pestle, but most people now use a blender. If you read “pasta with pesto” on a menu just about anywhere in Italy, this is going to be basil pesto. But the word pesto may be qualified with another word: here at Dievole you may well encounter pesto made from any variety of seasonal items.

Homemade Pesto recipes

Genovese Pesto

The most traditional pesto is easy to make. At the end of summer, when our basil plants are so huge we don’t know what to do with them, we cut them down, clean the leaves, and make enough pesto to last ten meals! An important tip: pesto keeps well in the fridge or freezer as long as it doesn’t come into contact with air – when it oxidates. To keep the fresh green colour, use a small jar and fill the top with plastic wrap touching the top of the paste.

To make traditional genovese pesto, simply blend the following ingredients:

Wild Fennel pesto

Lush and green wild fennel is perfect for pesto! Ph. J Biochemist (Flickr CC)

Lush and green wild fennel is perfect for pesto! Ph. J Biochemist (Flickr CC)

Although it looks much like a bright green basil pesto, pasta al finocchietto selvatico or wild fennel pesto does not contain any basil at all. This soft leaf grows wild in Tuscany and can easily be recognized by its smell. This pesto can be used on pasta of any type, or you can use it as a decorative base on a plate with salads, filled pastas… your imagination is the only limit. In this case we blend:

  • 80 grams of peeled almonds
  • 60 grams parmesan or similar cheese
  • 100 grams washed wild fennel
  • A full flavour extra virgin olive oil like Coratina
  • salt to taste

Spinach pesto

Fresh baby spinach makes a brilliant pesto year-round, when perhaps good basil is harder to come by. In this case, we just lightly cook it in salted boiling water before placing it in the blender. Since it’s cooked and wet, this pesto requires less olive oil than the others, making it a light and dietetic option. Blend the following:

  • 80g pine nuts
  • 80g parmesan cheese
  • 250g boiled spinach (the salted water is important)
  • A simple extra virgin olive oil like our 100% Italiano blend
  • Salt to taste

Sicilian Pesto

In the winter, when fresh greens are less available, an easy and unusual pesto is made from dried tomatoes. The original Sicilian pesto involves fresh tomatoes, but we suggest this variant for when the cupboard is almost bare. Blend the following ingredients:

  • 80g peeled almonds (or walnuts, if you prefer it less sweet)
  • 250g sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil (strain first)
  • 150g fresh ricotta
  • optional garlic
  • salt to taste

Kale Pesto

Kale also makes a great base for pesto and is full of healthy antioxidants! Watch this video we made with our chef demonstrating how to make pici with kale pesto.