Simple Garlic and Basil Pesto


Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh basil from the garden? I know we do! In fact, Basil is one of our favorite things to grow. Harvesting fresh leaves periodically. This stimulates branching and prevents bolting. The term bolting means flowering which will cause the basil to taste bitter. Basil is prolific, a half dozen plants can provide a family of four with more basil than they can probably use. You can dry out your excess basil for long term storage but there’s nothing like using it fresh. One of our favorite uses for fresh basil is this simple garlic and basil pesto recipe.

Ingredients for Garlic and Basil Pesto


The basic ingredients for pesto include basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and traditionally pine nuts. However, we’ll use sunflower seeds. More details below.

Fresh Basil from the Garden


Basil will, of course, be the main ingredient in your pesto. Fresh basil from the garden is best though it can be purchased at most produce stores. Sweet or Genovese basil are the most commonly used varieties in pesto. Although similar, they are different types of basil. Sweet basil has rounded, slightly cupped leaves. Genovese basil leaves are slightly larger, flatter, and come to a point. The taste of both varieties is similar.

Extra Garlic If You Please


Garlic is a key ingredient in basil pesto. You can adjust the amount to your own preference but I don’t think pesto would be the same without garlic so don’t skip it. Four cloves seem to be the right amount for the average person. We actually incorporate a little extra garlic in the pesto we use for ourselves. The size of the cloves is a factor as well. For practical purposes let’s consider each clove the equivalent of one teaspoon of minced garlic.

To Cheese or Not to Cheese


Cheese seems to make everything taste better. We prefer using Parmesan-Reggiano, a Parmesan that is aged for at least 12 months with a bit of a nutty flavor. Regular parmesan can be used without affecting the flavor much. You may want to hold off incorporating the cheese into the pesto depending on how you use it. For instance, if you intend on mixing the pesto with pasta you might prefer instead to sprinkle the parmesan on top of the dish.

Seeds vs. Nuts


Traditionally basil pesto is made using pine nuts. Personally, I don’t prefer the taste of pine nuts. Some people describe them as having a metallic taste. On top of that they’re expensive. In this recipe we’ll be substituting the pine nuts with raw, unsalted sunflower seeds. I’ve also seen pesto recipes that use walnuts which I’ve never personally tried. Subbing in the sunflower seeds can be a great option for those who suffer from nut or tree nut allergies.

EVOO = Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Extra Virgin Olive Oil is an unrefined oil. Since so little processing is done producing this oil it retains a lot of the olive flavor. Although any neutral oil could be used to make pesto, the extra virgin olive oil is what gives pesto its signature flavor combination. It takes somewhere between a 1/2 cup to one full cup of olive oil for every 4 cups of basil leaves. Since the olive oil is the last ingredient to be added you can just pour it in slowly until your pesto gets to the consistency you desire.


What’s the Process for Mixing Pesto?

When it comes to mixing the ingredients there are a couple ways to accomplish the task. The method you use will depend on the quantity of pesto you intend to make. 

Mortar and Pestle

For small batches of pesto, we like to use a mortar and pestle. It feels primitive grinding everything up with the mortar and pestle but gives you that “like grandma used to do it” feeling. The product you see here is the one we purchased on Amazon for making pesto, guacamole, and grinding our spices. Made of granite, we’re confident it will last for years to come. It does take a little work to make pesto with a mortar and pestle so we only use it to make small batches for immediate consumption. Be sure and properly season your new mortar and pestle before use.

Large Batch Method

Making large batches of basil pesto with a mortar and pestle is likely more work than you’d care to do. Enter modern technology. Food processors have a lot of uses in the kitchen in addition to making pesto. We had a basic Hamilton Beach food processor for many years. Recently purchased the one seen here. The reason we chose this food processor is because the side scraper eliminates the frustration of stopping and removing the lid to push food down stuck to the inside of the bowl. 

Mixing the Garlic and Basil Pesto

Now that you’ve decided on your batch size and the proper equipment, you’re ready to start making our simple garlic and basil pesto recipe. When we say this recipe is simple, we’re not kidding. There are very few steps to making this recipe and it takes only a few minutes to complete.

Mortar and Pestle

Use the pestle to grind the garlic, sunflower seeds, and parmesan together in the mortar. Once those ingredients are mixed well you can add the basil. You’ll want to chop the basil into smaller pieces with a knife first. As the basil becomes incorporated into the mix you can start adding your olive oil. Don’t add all the olive oil at once, pour in small amounts mixing in between. Don’t overdo it with the oil. Making basil with a mortar and pestle method produces a much more silky-smooth pesto when compared to the food processor. 

Food Processor

There’s no need to pre chop the basil when using a food processor, you can just add whole leaves (no stems). Add your basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and sunflower seeds to the food processor. Use the pulse feature to grind everything to a coarse mixture. Be sure to scrape the sides periodically to keep everything the same consistency. Once everything is incorporated set the food processor to run continuously and start adding the oil slowly. You’ll see all the ingredients pull together into the oil. When you see a smooth texture stop adding oil. You don’t want the ingredients swimming in oil.

Versatility of Basil Pesto


Sure, you can eat your pesto on a nice slice of fresh bread but, how else can you use it? Pesto is very versatile and can be used on any dish the pairs well with basil.

Pesto Bruschetta


Cut a few slices of fresh bread. Slather on some basil pesto. Add a little mozzarella cheese. Top with some chopped tomato. Toast in the oven until the cheese melts. You’ve just created some heavenly basil pesto Bruschetta! 

Pesto on Pasta


Cook some noodles of your choice. Spaghetti, Fettuccini, or Linguine work great. Rinse the pasta after draining. Allow it to cool for several minutes. Stir in the pesto and sprinkle with some parmesan. If you add the pesto to hot pasta the basil will turn brown. This doesn’t affect the flavor; it just looks less appealing.

Next Level Steak


Have you ever put pesto on your steak? Trust me, it’s a winner. Cook your steaks to the desired tenderness. Let the steaks rest for several minutes. Top with your fresh pesto. The olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and of course the basil will make this melt in your mouth steak.

I Made a Huge Batch, Now What?


So, you’ve made a nice big batch of pesto with all the fresh basil from your garden. But you’ve got more than you can eat right now. How do you store it?

Storing and Preserving Garlic and Basil Pesto

There are several ways you can store your extra basil. The duration that you intend to store it will determine the method of preservation. If not stored properly the basil will turn brown or worse could lead to botulism. 

Refrigerator Jar

If you just have a small amount that requires short term storage, less than two weeks, you can just put the pesto in a jar and store it in the refrigerator. Although the basil in the pesto is mixed with oil, pouring an additional light coat of olive oil on top will help ensure the pesto doesn’t brown.

Ice Cube Trays

Pack the excess pesto into ice cube trays and freeze it. Once frozen, the pesto cubes can be transferred into a Ziplock bag and returned to the freezer. This is a good method for using small amounts in a recipe. Just pull out one of the cubes and thaw it or drop it right into the recipe while it’s cooking.

Vacuum Seal and Freeze

Our vacuum sealer is indispensable and our ideal solution for long term storage of pesto. Removing all the air from the bags and freezing all but guarantees there will be no spoilage. After vacuum sealing your pesto, you can press the bags flat (see photos) before freezing making it easy to store a lot of pesto in a small space. Since the package is thin it thaws quickly when you need to use it. The pesto stays nice and green with this method, even when thawed.

FoodSaver VS0150 Vacuum Sealer

Vacuum sealing is not limited to pesto. We seal many of our fresh vegetables for long term freezer preservation, everything from asparagus to zucchini. 

If you don’t own a vacuum sealer, I highly recommend picking one up! The FoodSaver vacuum sealer pictured here is similar to ours. If purchased on Amazon it even comes with a starter pack of bags. Rather than the premade bags, we like the 11″ wide vacuum sealer rolls that can be cut to size without wasting space in the bags.

Well, that’s it. Below is a printable or downloadable version of our garlic and basil pesto recipe. I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful! Let me know in the comments below.

Be sure and check out our article on How to Grow Basil Plants Successfully!


Simple Garlic and Basil Pesto

This is a simple garlic and basil pesto recipe. We use sunflower seeds in place of the traditional pine nuts. Not everyone likes pine nuts; some people say they taste metallic. Additionally, they’re expensive. Sunflower seeds are a tasty, cost effective, substitute.
Total Time 20 mins
Course Side Dish
Servings 8
Calories 268 kcal


  • Food Processor


  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves stems removed
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil


  • Add basil, garlic, parmesan, and sunflower seeds to food processor
  • Pulse until coarsely mixed
  • Turn on food processor and slowly add olive oil until desired consistency


  • You may only need as little as 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • You can substitute 1/2 cup of pine nuts or walnuts in place of sunflower seeds
  • Omit the parmesan cheese for vegan
Keyword basil

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