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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Pine Nuts
- Sea Salt & black pepper
- Olive Oil
Crush pine nuts.
Add your cloves of garlic and then crush them into the pine nuts using a circular motion until you get this texture.
Add fresh basil leaves and salt, and pound and crush and stir until they fall apart. Add fresh black pepper if using.
Add cheeses, olive oil, and stir until combined into a thick green paste.
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!
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.
- 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 ½, start with ¼ and see how you like the texture.
- pinch sea salt to taste
- pinch black pepper optional
- 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.