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Heirloom Pesto Recipe

In honor of my grandmother’s 86th birthday this past weekend, I harvested an armful of basil and made pesto. My Nona was born in a tiny coal mining town in western Wyoming to immigrants from northern Italy. Italian was her first language and she learned to cook on a wood burning stove. Growing up she fed me a steady diet of simple, delicious food—polenta, gnocchi, fresh pastas, and pesto, lots of pesto!

She always grew a huge crop of ‘Genovese’ basil against the brick wall in her backyard. All summer long she’d make pesto, freeze small mounds of it, wrap each mound in plastic, and stick them in the deep freeze. Then, during the fall and winter, she would distribute little Tupperware containers packed with pesto to her lucky family.

I’m keeping up the tradition by growing lots of basil and freezing pesto so that I can share it with friends and use it in pasta dishes, dressings, and soups this winter. While my Nona isn’t able to cook anymore, I know that she’s happy I’m carrying on the tradition.

Nona’s Pesto
Pesto can be made with all sorts of herbs and nuts, but this recipe is traditional to the core, just basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. It is incredibly easy to make and absolutely delicious. If you scale the recipe up or down, err on the light side with the garlic at first because you don’t want it to overpower the basil’s sweet, spicy flavor. This pesto adds a welcome dash of summery flavor to winter dishes, so stock up on it now! You won’t be sorry come January.

What you’ll need:
4  packed cups of fresh Italian basil leaves (I use the variety ‘Genovese’)
3 cloves of garlic
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

1. In a food processor, blend the basil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese into a smooth paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then, with the blade running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Process until the olive oil is thoroughly incorporated and the pesto is smooth. Give the pesto a taste and add salt if necessary.

2. The pesto will keep for up to a week if refrigerated in a covered container. Bring it to room temperature and give it a good stir before using it in a recipe. To freeze, fill the individual cells of an ice cube tray with pesto and place in the freezer until solid. Then, wrap each cube of pesto in plastic and place back in the freezer. To freeze larger portions, line a small cookie sheet or pizza pan with waxed paper. Drop ¼ cup mounds onto the wax paper and freeze until solid. Wrap each mound tightly in plastic and store in the freezer. Drop the frozen cubes of pesto into soups or sauces. When using frozen pesto in a pasta dish, allow the pesto to unthaw and then stir in a few teaspoons of pasta water before tossing it with the cooked pasta—this helps distribute the pesto throughout the pasta evenly.

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17 Responses to “Heirloom Pesto Recipe”

  1. 1
    Kari Says:

    I was just about to ask you for a yummy pesto recipe and then voila, it is there! We have so much basil, I need to make some!

  2. 2
    Kyle Says:

    Lovely! I’ve been putting pesto by for the winter, too! I wish my basil was a bit more aggressive. This year has just been odd.

  3. 3
    Surf Spots of the Week | Gidget Goes Home Says:

    [...] Authentic italian pesto from DigginFood. [...]

  4. 4
    Jennifer Says:

    This is a great pesto recipe. Instead of using basil, I’ve been using spearamint because I have an abundance of it.

  5. 5
    Hillary Says:

    That is so nice that you are carrying on her tradition. And that is one beautiful pesto!

  6. 6
    Graeme Says:

    It’s always so much more exciting when it comes from your own back garden. It’s a beautiful colour.

    Jennifer’s Spearmint version sounds really interesting.

  7. 7
    Amy Says:

    When we decided to make a pesto with all of our basil (before it gets too much colder) we were thrilled to find a recipe on your site! We came straight here to look & see what ideas you had to share. Thank you!! We’ve put it in small containers in the freezer to give to friends for Christmas gifts…

  8. 8
    Arugula Pesto | DigginFood Says:

    [...] of both, but I did have a bunch of sunflower seeds on hand. So I threw them into the mix. I used my grandmother’s basil pesto recipe as a starting point for the ingredients’ proportions, but ended up adding in more cheese to mellow [...]

  9. 9
    » Oh, you pesto! - The Bemilie Blog Says:

    [...] found <a href =””&gt; this pesto recipe</a> from my new-found favorite gardening blog <a [...]

  10. 10
    Garlic Scape Pesto Two Ways | DigginFood Says:

    [...] Garlic Scape Pesto with Pasta and Fresh Peas I used my grandmother’s basil pesto recipe as a jumping off  point for this pesto. My friend Mary Ann (who blogs at Idaho Gardener) also [...]

  11. 11
    Cast Iron Skillet Pizza | DigginFood Says:

    [...] the technique in this recipe as a starting point for creating your own pizza topping combinations. Homemade pesto with goat cheese, roasted garlic, and sundried tomatoes is always a winner at our house. If [...]

  12. 12
    Museum of Modern Cuisinart: Cubist Pesto and Pollock | earthlytenthomestead Says:

    [...] had never tried pesto, but we have lots of Genovese Basil. So, I found a traditional recipe for it at Diggin Food using Genovese Basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. I went ahead and got [...]

  13. 13
    where is vix Says:

    [...] again, much of the guidance came from after totally diggin’ the brunch time recipe earlier in the day. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", [...]

  14. 14
    Late Season Basil Harvest | DigginFood Says:

    [...] looking stems and gave them to my chickens who gobbled them up. I then made a big batch of my grandmother’s pesto and froze it. Here are a few other ideas for using up late season [...]

  15. 15
    Sean Says:

    Love the pesto story and recipe but 2 members of my family seem to be allergic to pine nuts; any ideas for a substitute ingredient or just skip em?

  16. 16
    Willi Says:

    Sean–Walnuts make a great substitute for the pine nuts!

  17. 17
    HCG Drops Says:

    Great. Thanks for writing that. I will come here to read more and recommend my coworkers about your writing.

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