Classic Pesto Pasta: The Proper Way to Prepare It

September 11, 2018

Pasta with pesto is one of my favorite things to order, whether or not there’s a star or thumbs-up icon next to it on a restaurant menu. And since it’s a basic (and deceptively easy to make) sauce, I usually judge Italian restaurants according to the quality of their pesto.


Pesto4 upload

Said to have originated in Genoa, this green purée is comprised of only 6 ingredients: basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil. While the sauce itself is the stuff of legend, the process of making it is quite ordinary. You simply gather the freshest ingredients, throw them all in a food processor, pulse, and voila! You’re done!

Pesto1 upload

The secret of a good first-rate pesto sauce lies not just in using the best ingredients, but also in the technique employed in making it. So, set your monster food processor or blender aside, and bring out your dusty mortar and pestle. And don’t start without reading the following pointers first:

  1. Pesto is actually Italian for “to pound”. Purists insist, however, that traditionally-made pesto is not pounded, but ground in a circular motion using the pestle. In contrast, the blade of a food processor heats up during the grinding process, “burning” the basil and affecting its flavor and color.
  2. Always use young, vibrant basil leaves. They give a fuller flavor and a smoother texture. Also, blanch and shock them before use. This prevents the pesto from discoloring over time.
  3. Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano are the only acceptable cheeses. Period.
  4. Use only extra-virgin olive oil. We’re talking about proper pesto here, so stop compromising!
  5. Toast pine nuts prior to use. This will not only thicken the sauce, but bring out the flavor of the nuts as well.

Lastly, follow the recipe to the letter (and don’t forget to come back here and comment!).

Classic Pesto Sauce

Total Time: 20 minutes / Yield: 4-6 servings


  • 2 cups young basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 2 cloves minced garlic (you can start with 1 clove, but I like my pesto garlicky so…)
  • A pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3 tablespoons freshly-grated Pecorino Romano
  • 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 500 grams of your pasta of choice, cooked according to package instructions (I like linguine)


  1. Blanch, and then shock the basil leaves. Pat dry, and then set aside.
  2. Place pine nuts, garlic, and salt in a large mortar. Grind into a smooth paste using circular motions.
  3. Add basil leaves, one leaf at a time (or in batches), and then grind until fully incorporated into the paste.
  4. With a wooden spoon, stir in the freshly-grated cheeses.
  5. Drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil, continuously mixing until everything is combined. Set aside.
  6. Serve with pasta.


  1. You may add a bit of pasta water to the sauce to thin it as needed.
Hanna Sanchez Hanna Sanchez

A self-proclaimed chef with baking fiasco tendencies, Hanna is diagnosed with the addiction of buying cookbooks that she never reads. Aside from forever cheating South Beach, Paleo, GM, and the Lemonade diet, she loves to stay awake at night to prepare herself for airline companies' midnight promos with a large serving of Pic-A chips (cheese-flavored!!!!) under her study table. 

21 comments in this post SHOW

21 responses to “Classic Pesto Pasta: The Proper Way to Prepare It”

  1. Home-made pesto is the best. The thing is that italians are using sweet basil leaves, while in the Philippines there’s mainly thai basil available, which taste is different. That will make a great pesto anyway, but if you’re going for the original stuff (being picky with cheese, etc.), you might wanna pay attention to this. By the way, sweet basil is very easy to grown indoors.

    And may I make a suggestion : Filipinos would be astounded to learn what the real carbonara is. For an italian, what you do is heresy, haha ! That would deserve an article !

    • Hanna Sanchez says:

      Thanks for the suggestion @twitter-19852475:disqus! And yes, HOMEMADE PESTO is like the best ever! 🙂 As for the proper way of preparing Roman Carbonara, we’ll definitely look into it. 🙂

    • HappyToEatREALcarbonara says:

      I love the Italian way of cooking Carbonara, and I love the taste too! MUCH BETTER THANK WHAT THEY DO HERE! 😀

  2. Andi says:

    Where would you say are the best restos that serve pesto pasta? 🙂

    • Hanna Sanchez says:

      Hello @e6c15d4beed51c7ac6d5d1a37f05106a:disqus! I haven’t been to a restaurant that’s been
      consistent with their pesto, or maybe it’s because I’ve tasted proper
      pesto (one that is homemade) that’s why others fail in comparison. 🙂

  3. […] Pesto Pasta – a proper way to cook it. […]

  4. Gin Chung says:

    AMAZING! I tried it over the weekend and I got a thumbs up all around. 😉

  5. where do you guys get fresh basil leaves here in the ph? thanks

  6. Yanna says:

    Where do you buy pine nuts? I have been looking for it since then but to no avail, wala pa rin.

  7. kat says:

    instead of all the cheese my mom adds tuyo or daing flakes to make it salty…

  8. […] If you’d like to know how to serve a proper pesto sauce, I suggest that you click this link: Classic Pesto Sauce […]

  9. […] Follow the recipe to the letter which you can find here. […]

  10. […] follow the recipe to the letter, which you can find here, and don’t forget to come back here (after you’re done with Pepper) to thank […]

  11. Nina Carlos says:

    ok… no other cheese. So where do I get to buy this Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano?

  12. Carl Tomacruz says:

    “…I usually judge Italian restaurants according to the quality of their pesto.”

    So, Hanna, what if you’re eating in a Sicilian restaurant? Pesto isn’t traditionally part of Sicilian cuisine.

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