Pesto with Pine Nuts

a jar of pine nut pesto

The words “farmer’s markets” and “February” clearly don’t belong in the same sentence… Unless it’s  “I can’t wait for the farmer’s markets to open, but it’s ONLY February.” Equally ridiculous would be opining about making a big batch of pesto in the dead of winter… unless you live in South Florida, where it’s prime Farmer’s Market and basil season. THEN, making a batch of pesto with pine nuts is practically mandatory.

Fresh washed and dried basil leaves.

First, the basil. At my farmer’s market, they sell basil right out of the ground… I’m talking the roots and dirt and everything.  Mr. Gregg displays them tightly packed in cardboard boxes.  When you pull a bunch from the bin, you have to hit the roots against the side of the plastic folding table to get rid of all the excess dirt and sand before bagging it.  This bounty, which usually yields about 8-10 cups of basil leaves, costs me about $2.50.  Not bad.

Adding basil to a blender.

Making Pesto with Pine Nuts

When I get the basil home it either goes into a glass vase with water, until I get around to using it, or the roots get trimmed and the whole plant gets submerged in cold water and swished around so that the detritus and grit falls away.  You may have to do this several times to be assured that the dirt and sand are gone.  Lift the leaves from the water (the dirt will sink to the bottom of the bowl)- then run the leaves through a salad spinner and lay on paper towels to dry completely.

I am toasting Pine Nuts on a sheet pan.

While the basil leaves are air drying, toast the pine nuts.  It sounds simple, right?  But pine nuts burn FAST.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve burned pine nuts because I was in a hurry and turned up the temperature on the oven.  They change from golden to char broiled in an instant. I’ve learned to be patient with a lower oven temperature  and a timer at my side.  They should smell toasty and fragrant and look like the picture above when they’re done.

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Ingredients to make the pesto with pine nuts.

Aside from a boatload of fresh basil, freshly grated parmesan cheese is a must.  You can tell if it’s “real” parmesan by the pin point dots on the rind (they spell out Parmigiano Reggiano on the big wheel of cheese). I use my microplane grater to make whisper fine tufts of cheese. Garlic and a bit of crushed red pepper give it a kick and a bit of lemon zest brightens this homemade pesto recipe.

collage of the steps of making pesto in the blender...

You can use a good blender or food processor to make your pesto, either one will do an admirable job and it only takes about 5 minutes to blend everything down to a beautiful Parmesan pesto sauce.  You may have to use the tamper on the blender or scrape down the sides of your food processor when chopping the basil, but once that’s done, add in the rest of the ingredients — and drizzle the oil into the basil mixture while the machine is running.  When the sauce is creamy and emulsified, give a taste and add seasonings as needed.

A jar of pine nut pesto.

This recipe yields a fairly big batch of pesto.  It makes about 2 cups, but a little goes a long way when your talking about parmesan pesto sauce. Most recipes will only require a few tablespoons… So the question is how to save the excess.

How long will pesto last?

The short answer is 5-7 days in the refrigerator.  The longer answer is 3-4 months.  But how?

I freeze it. In ice cube trays.  On the surface that might seem easy, but I’ve actually had a problem getting the frozen basil pesto out of the trays (I guess I’m not strong enough). If you don’t have this problem — or if you’re stronger than I am, then you can skip this step — but I line the ice cube trays with a bit of plastic wrap. Individual pieces  – one for each cube.  They pop right out after they’re frozen.

a jar of fresh basil and pine nut pesto.

Then just transfer the frozen cubes to a storage container or freezer bag. Each cube is about 2 tablespoons of pesto – so depending on the recipe, one or two cubes is usually all I need.

How To Use Pesto

This is the fun part — there are endless possibilities.  These are just a few…

More pesto sauce recipes: 

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basil pine nut pesto in a jar.
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4.46 from 22 votes

Pesto with Pine Nuts

Make batches of fresh spring pesto and freeze them in ice cube trays so you’ve always got them on hand.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil, pesto, pine nuts, sauces
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 16


  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 8 cups basil leaves packed tight
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes I use a heaping 1/4 teaspoon
  • cups parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper


  • Preheat the oven to 325°.  Place pine nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 7 minutes.  Stir the pine nuts and continue baking for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned.  Do not let the pine nuts burn.  Set aside.
  • In a blender or food processor, combine the basil leaves and garlic.  Pulse until finely chopped. (Note, if using a blender you may have to scrape down the sides and stir several times or use your tamper).
  • Add the red pepper flakes, parmesan cheese, pine nuts and lemon zest. Turn the blender or processor on and in a slow, steady stream add the olive oil until it’s incorporated.  Add the salt and pepper and pulse to combine.
  • This makes 2 cups of pesto, so if you don’t need to use it all (that’s a lot of pesto) at once, I recommend lining an ice cube tray with plastic wrap and spooning the pesto into the cube containers.  Freeze the pesto. 
  •  Line a small sheet pan (that will fit in the freezer) with parchment paper. Remove the frozen pesto cubes from the tray and lay them on the parchment paper so that they don’t touch. Freeze again.  Transfer the cubes to a freezer bag and store in the freezer.  When you need some pesto remove one or two cubes at a time, place in a small bowl and defrost.  Stir the pesto before continuing with your recipe. 


Calories: 80kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 6mg | Sodium: 296mg | Potassium: 69mg | Vitamin A: 715IU | Vitamin C: 2.4mg | Calcium: 133mg | Iron: 0.7mg

Pin “Pesto with Pine Nuts” for later!

Need a good homemade pesto recipe? Pesto with Pine Nuts is a classic combination that's ready in minutes. This parmesan pesto sauce has a hit of red pepper flakes and lemon zest for a bright flavor and a bit of kick. Learn how to use pesto in a multitude of recipes. #pesto #pestosauce #homemadepesto #pinenutpesto #parmesanpesto #basilpesto #basil #pinenuts #parmesan #lemonzest #homemadesauces #herbsauce #pastasauce #nocooksauce #italiansauce

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  1. Jaques Joyce says:

    5 stars
    Yum, yum, yummy!
    This will be my go to pesto recipe! I was a bit skeptical about the red pepper flakes and the lemon zest but decided I would keep the recipe as is and I was not disappointed. I did use very good olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano as well zest from a fresh lemon. I think high quality fresh ingredients is key. I am freezing some and using some tossed with fusilli pasta and of course a bit more Parmesan for good measure.

  2. Doc Blase' says:

    5 stars
    The best fresh pesto recipe I’ve tried, it’s remarkable how the dash of red pepper and lemon zest make a big difference, considering the small amounts used. Thanks!

  3. 5 stars
    This was the best pesto recipe I’ve made-full of flavor roasting the pine nuts and adding the subtle lemon to brighten (I used a little less in case since I didn’t want a distinct lemon flavor). This will be my go to. Thank you!

  4. 5 stars
    Your recipe doesn’t state when to add the pine nuts!

    1. It does now!!! Thanks for alerting me! Add the pine nuts with the parmesan.

  5. 5 stars
    Will definitely try this. My food processor is down do you think nutri bullet will do the trick?

    1. I would think a Nutri Bullet would do the trick easily.

    1. In South Florida — this is our garden season – so we’re loving this!

  6. 5 stars
    I love homemade pesto, and whenever I have large amount of basil this is what I make with it. I love the use of pine nuts, which is something I rarely use in my kitchen, but actually really love. Looks delicious!

  7. 5 stars
    There’s so much you can do with pesto sauce, which is why I love it. Your recipe looks great!

  8. 5 stars
    Lisa, as always…YUMMM! Everyone needs a go-to pesto recipe…and tricks for freezing 🙂 Thanks for sharing another great recipe. Gorgeous photog too! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Traci! I agree – everyone needs a go-to pesto!