Traditional Mortar & Pestle Basil Pesto {Made In the Correct Order}

Traditional mortar and pestle pesto. Genovese basil pesto is an easy Italian classic that is always better freshly made. It only uses a few simple fresh ingredients.

A wooden bowl of pesto on a wooden table.

This is the traditional method for homemade pesto Genovese — and the still the best way to make it — in a stone mortar.

Pesto alla Genovese is an uncooked cold sauce. This authentic recipe for pesto uses a mortar and pestle but you can also use a food processor instead. Although, I highly recommend you at least try making it once with a mortar and pestle — it makes a difference to texture and taste.

Use this pesto in countless recipes. Like in my leftover turkey (or rotisserie chicken) pesto sliders or my pancetta pesto pasta recipe.

And if you love this mortar and pestle pesto, try making my wild ramp pesto too.

An overhead shot of all of the ingredients needed to make mortar and pestle pesto sauce.

Ingredients

  • Basil | Fresh basil leaves picked off the stems. Did you know herbs picked fresh first thing in the morning have the best flavor? Try and use Genovese basil if possible.
  • Pine Nuts | Yes, pine nuts are very expensive. You can use walnuts if you don’t have pine nuts, or try other nuts too, but it won’t be the same.
  • Garlic | Whole garlic cloves, fresh, not dried or old.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese | you can also use Grana Padano. These aged cheeses really give the sauce depth of flavor.
  • Pecorino cheese | If you don’t have both cheeses on hand, use just one and it will still be delicious.
  • Olive Oil | A Genovese olive oil is traditional but you can use whatever you buy and prefer.
  • Sea Salt | Just a pinch of salt is all that’s needed but use it to your own tastes.
  • Black Pepper | Optional, but I like just a pinch.

I grow basil indoors in pots year-round, and outside all summer too. Basil is very easy to grow and very versatile. I grow several varieties, including the Genovese used in this recipe.

Equipment

  • Microplaner | to grate your hard cheese. That is the exact one I’ve used for years.
  • Mortar and pestle | I have three personally (large granite, marble, wood), and find them to be very useful in the kitchen for many jobs. A new marble mortar also makes a lovely gift for a cook.
A close of shot of Genovese basil pesto inside of a black mortar with a black inside stirring it.

Instructions

The Proper Order of Traditional Mortar & Pestle Pesto

There is a proper order to making traditional Genovese mortar and pestle basil pesto. Properly finish up with one before moving on to the next step.

I’m not being pretentious. It will be easier for you to do it this way and in this order. The ingredients will combine effortlessly and you will have a perfect traditional basil pesto.

  1. Pine Nuts
  2. Garlic
  3. Basil
  4. Sea Salt & black pepper
  5. Cheese
  6. Olive Oil
Pine nuts being crushed inside of a black mortar with pestle.

Crush pine nuts.

A spoon full of pine nuts and crushed garlic held over mortar.

Add your cloves of garlic and then crush them into the pine nuts using a circular motion until you get this texture.

A mortar full of green basil leaves.

Add fresh basil leaves and salt, and pound and crush and stir until they fall apart. Add fresh black pepper if using.

Olive oil being poured from a wooden measuring cup into a mortar full of pesto and cheese.

Add cheeses, olive oil, and stir until combined into a thick green paste.

A wooden bowl of pesto on a wooden table.

Hint: Enjoy your pesto With Pizza!

Substitutions & Variations

Nuts | Use whatever nuts you have on hand, like walnuts or pistachios, instead of pine nuts which can be expensive or hard to find.

Herbs | Make a wild ramp pesto, or add some other herbs like a bit of parsley and/or cilantro. It won’t be a traditional Genovese pesto anymore, but it is still a pesto!

Storage

Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Basil pesto is best fresh.

I hope you love this traditional pesto recipe.If you have any questions or comments, let me know below.

Close up of pesto in mortar with pestle stirring it.

Traditional Mortar & Pestle Basil Pesto {Made In the Correct Order}

Traditional mortar and pestle pesto. Genovese basil pesto is an easy Italian classic that is always better freshly made. It only uses a few simple fresh ingredients.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Course: Sauces
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keyword: cheese, cold sauce,, fresh herbs, Italian, summer
Servings: 2 cups
Calories: 812kcal
Author: Jana Dziak

Ingredients

  • ½ cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ¼ cup Pecorino
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil up to 1/2, start with 1/4 and see how you like the texture.
  • pinch sea salt to taste
  • pinch black pepper optional

Instructions

  • Add your pine nuts into the mortar, pound gently until no discernible individual pieces remain.
  • Add the garlic and keep pounding until a paste is formed.
  • Add the basil leaves, a pinch of sea salt, and keep pounding until the basil completely disintegrates into the rest of the ingredients.
  • Once a thick paste has formed, add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses, olive oil, a crack of fresh black pepper, and stir well to combine.
  • Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

Notes

Store refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Nutrition

Serving: 3tablespoons | Calories: 812kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 84g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 17g | Monounsaturated Fat: 48g | Cholesterol: 22mg | Sodium: 353mg | Potassium: 307mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 1426IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 335mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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Recipe Rating




16 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This is the best pesto recipe I’ve ever tried. I had a lot of basil from the garden, so I actually made a batch in the mortar and another batch of the same recipe in the food processor. I didn’t expect it to be that different but there definitely is! The one made in the mortar was creamier and just had a fantastic texture. It’s a little more work but now I know it’s worth it.

    1. It’s pretty amazing the difference it makes. Both ways are great, but there’s something about the mortar…

  2. Your recipe is just what I was looking for. I purchased that same mortar and pestle 3 days ago “on sale” at Amazon for 69.99. It arrived today but I saw online that the price has dropped to 47.99. A quick chat and I received a 22.00 credit. I will be making this tomorrow.

    1. I have a browser extension that keeps track of pricing like this on Amazon. It’s crazy how prices fluctuate!

    1. Honestly, any size will work, including the small ones you can find everywhere. Just try to keep stirring and less pounding to avoid everything falling out everywhere! I always make a mess regardless, but that’s me.

  3. Pingback: Smoked Spicy Beef Jerky - The Peasant's Daughter
  4. 5 stars
    This recipe is perfect! I have so far made a few batches of pesto using the motor and pestle and each batch was (and confirmed by my husband) way superior to any other pesto I have made when using a food processor. But, as I researched recipes, I saw that they varied on the order in which ingredients should be pounded. This recipe is the best! It came together quickly due to the order of ingredients with no prep needed except picking the basil leaves from the stem, peeling the garlic, and grating the parm. And, Jana, thank you for confirming that I picked the right type of mortar and pestle when I purchased mine about a year ago. 🙂 Note: I am a “weigh by the gram” girl: 70 grams basil leaves for the 2 cups, and I used about 50 grams freshly grated parm on the medium side of a box grater.

    1. Thank you Wendy, I’m so glad it worked out and met your expectations. Thank you for the gram conversion information as well, I will eventually have my recipes include that information too.

  5. That is the wrong type of pestle and mortor. You need a Mediterranean one. The one in the picture is a Thai pestle and mortar.

    1. A well-made pestle and mortar of granite will not impart any “rocky” bits into the pesto or any other sauces. Cheap and poorly made ones definitely will. I have a marble mortar too with a neat little wooden pestle but I find myself reaching for the Thai more often.

  6. Total time ten minutes? Ot took me more like 90, what with deveining each individual basil leaf… My mortar and pestle are exactly like yours, and my basil was fresh and dry (unwashed from my garden) just beforehand. Is your pounding time on “fast forward”? 😏

    1. 90 minutes?! How much pesto did you make! 🙂

      I do use my mortar and pestle time to work out some aggression in fairness.

    2. Be kinder to yourself Patricia, as the leaves don’t need to be “deveined”. In fact a little stalk is no major issue as it will be pounded with the rest and is quite flavourful and non fibrous. It will be an impediment to making future pesto otherwise, and that would be a shame. Take care 🙂

  7. 5 stars
    Not all pizza is truly Italian and there are some things to look out for so you can eat pizza like an Italian.