How do You Make Pesto Pasta?

I have tried using the dry basil leaves, putting them into the pot with the pasta as it is cooking, and you end up with regular pasta with a smell of (ordinary) leaves. What is the form of basil that they use for this and how?

I’m no expert but every time I’ve seen someone make a pesto sauce, they whizzed the basil and pine nuts in a blender or food processor to make it saucy.

Oh, my, no no no with the dry basil leaves for pesto.

All pesto is is basically fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt, and parmesan cheese (or similar) blended/processed together. That’s it. You can substitute another nut or even seeds for the pine nuts; you can make pesto out of other kinds of herbs or mix of herbs, but that’s the basic idea. I mean, right here is a perfect basic recipe. You don’t cook it with the pasta. You generally just cook the pasta, drain it, and toss it with the pesto and serve.

I think that most recipes call for the pesto to be made separately and then tossed with the cooked spaghetti. I suspect that anything done while the spaghetti is being boiled would dilute the flavor too much. I usually just use store bought pesto, but that’s just because I don’t want to make a pesto myself.

That is not how you make basil pesto. You have to make pesto by finely chopping or preferably crushing fresh basil (not dried basil spices) in a mortar and pestle with garlic, roasted pine nuts, and olive oil, and then blening with finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, and then tossing over thhe cooked pasta.

Also, spaghetti (and string pastas in general) are not good pastas to serve with pesto; you are better off with some kind of tubular or “bow-tie” pasta that will pick up the clumpy pesto better.


You heat up some pasta and crack open a tub or a jar or pesto and put it on the pasta once it’s done.

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I at least start with the packets… they are easier to customize!

How are we defining “string”, here? Because pesto with a linguine, fettuccine or trenette is both fairly traditional and works just great.

Also, if your pesto is clumpy, IMO you’ve got terrible pesto. Pesto should be creamy.

Creamy? Pesto is made with good quality olive oil - so oily. If you buy ready-made, buy small jars and keep any leftovers in the fridge.

2 oz (50 g) fresh basil leaves
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 level tablespoon pine nuts
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 oz (25 g) Pecorino Romano or parmesan, grated

Place the basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil together with some salt in a mini-chopper and whizz, then push any unblended basil leaves down with a spatula and whizz again until you have a smooth purée.

Then transfer the purée to a bowl and stir in the grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
If you don’t have a mini-chopper, you can use a large pestle and mortar to pound the basil, garlic and pine nuts to a paste.

Slowly add the salt and cheese, then very gradually add the oil until you have obtained a smooth purée.

If you want to make pesto in advance - cover it with cling film, making sure it actually touches the surface of the sauce.

You can keep it in the fridge for a week.

There is no comparison between pesto in a jar and freshly made - and freshly made is so simple, I can’t see any reason to use a prepackaged variety, full of salt and sugar rubbish.

Just whizz the FRESH basil leaves in a blender with pine nuts, garlic, plenty of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and grated parmesan (again, fresh, not pre-grated rubbish). Cook the pasta completely, drain it, then stir in the sauce - it doesn’t need further cooking, the warm pasta will heat it just fine as it is.

If it’s what I would call “oily”, you’ve used too much oil. The mortared pine nuts and garlic should give it the creaminess, and the oil should be completely emulsified.

IMO, of course, and if you like an oilier pesto, freak freely.
ETA: If you never have, try making it with an actual mortar and pestle, not a food processor. The difference is night and day.

And if you have any left-over pesto, stir some through your mashed potato, dot some around your pizza, or spread thinly on toast, cover with grated cheese and tomato slices and then grill.

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For a bit of a twist, throw some broccoli florets in with the pasta while it boils. Drain them both together then vigorously stir in some olive oil and Parmesan and it’ll make a pseudo pesto sauce.

The best basil pesto is made with a mortar and pestle. But you can use a food processor and it will get you a pesto 90-95% as good. It is not necessary to toast the pine nuts. Do not process the olive oil - stir it in after the other ingredients are finely chopped. Use a mixture of pecorino romano and parmesan cheeses, and use the stuff from Italy, not Wisconson. And use a very good extra virgin olive oil.

To help it keep it’s bright green color, especially when making large batches, you can blanch the basil leaves for 10-15 seconds Thoroughly cool them (ice water is the best way) and thoroughly dry them before processing.

How to Make the Best Pesto (mortar and pestle)

Interesting- I wonder if the name pesto comes from “pestle”? I’ll have to google that.

Agreed that fresh pesto is waaaay better than premade/packaged stuff, and super easy to make. And if you have a veggie garden with basil and tomatoes, you’ll have a ton of basil long before the tomatoes are ready for picking, so pesto is a great way to use all that early basil.

I like changing it up a bit and using pistachios in place of pine nuts. Almonds are a good ‘alternutive’ too.

Naah, more like 75% as good.

IMO, it’s actively counterproductive - you want the unctuousness of fresh nuts, not toasted nuts that have dried out.

Naah, they’re just cognates. Pestle comes to us from French, not Italian (the French have their own basil-garlic-cheese sauce, without the nuts - pistou - from the same root). They both come from the Latin for “crush”

I make a big batch of pesto once or twice I year when our basil plants are getting very productive. Then I freeze it in an ice cube tray and just grab a block or two whenever I need it.

Be really careful blending extra virgin olive oil.
It’ll bitter up on ya in a flash.
Blend the other ingredients and, if needed, add a little neutral oil
Stir in the olive oil at the end.

Ah, yes, good point, and also mentioned by D_Odds. If you use extra virgin olive oil, it can become bitter with extensive food processing. I forget the science behind it, but that’s why you should mix in the EVOO at the end.

I’ve done it with mortar and pestle vs food processor and, honestly, I can’t really tell the difference. Mainly, it’s that the mortar and pestled version has a more irregular texture, but you can get pretty close by just not processing the bejesus out of the basil, or by processing the basil in two or three additions, so you have a finely processed layer, and two more coarsely processed layers.

And yes about using a decent parmesan cheese. I have not been able to find a good domestic version of parmesan cheese. None of the major brands (Stella, Bel Gioioso, etc.) have the nuttiness and rich salt and umami-ness of imported parmesan. (If anyone has any suggestions of a decent domestic, let me know.) It has to be some Italian brand of Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated. It really is a night-and-day difference.