There are lots of recipes people claim taste better if made by hand, but there's no easier case to prove that than pesto. The intensity of the flavors is beyond compare, and as if by some kind of magic, this gorgeous spread develops an addictive spiciness. You can taste each ingredient, and yet when smashed together, new and wonderful flavors are released.

Recipe Summary

prep:
10 mins
additional:
25 mins
total:
35 mins
Servings:
8
Yield:
8 servings
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Ingredients

8
Original recipe yields 8 servings
The ingredient list now reflects the servings specified
Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Crush garlic and pinch of kosher salt in a mortar with the pestle until garlic is mashed and paste-like, 1 or 2 minutes. Add basil in 3 or 4 additions, crushing and pounding down the leaves until they form a fairly fine paste, about 8 minutes or more depending on size of leaves and thickness of stems. Add and pound in pine nuts.

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  • Transfer a handful of grated cheese to mortar and pound into the sauce. Add another handful of cheese and incorporate into the mixture. Continue adding cheese a handful at a time until completely incorporated, about 5 minutes.

  • Drizzle in olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time, pounding it into the sauce. When all the olive oil has been added and emulsified into the mixture, transfer pesto to a bowl and drizzle surface with olive oil.

Chef's Note:

The bunch of basil should weigh about 4 or 5 ounces.

Use a microplane to finely grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Two ounces should yield about 1 1/2 cups unpacked grated cheese.

Of course, you can play around with the ratios of the five ingredients, and easily adjust this to your tastes, but no matter how they're combined, taking the time to crush them by hand is well worth the effort.

Nutrition Facts

181 calories; protein 4.1g; carbohydrates 1.7g; fat 17.8g; cholesterol 6.2mg; sodium 169.4mg. Full Nutrition
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Reviews (47)

Read More Reviews

Most helpful positive review

Rating: 5 stars
07/03/2017
I have made pesto plenty of times using my Vitamix machine and I thought it was pretty good. Little did I realize how unprepared I was for the burst of flavor that hit my mouth when I tasted this ground pesto sauce. It has been an hour since I ate it and I still have the full taste of the pesto in the back of my throat! This is THE only way I will ever prepare pesto sauce for my family. Thank you Chef John for introducing us to this revolutionary technique. It almost makes me want to use my mortar and pestle on just about anything... Read More
(17)
63 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 57
  • 4 star values: 6
  • 3 star values: 0
  • 2 star values: 0
  • 1 star values: 0
Rating: 5 stars
07/03/2017
I have made pesto plenty of times using my Vitamix machine and I thought it was pretty good. Little did I realize how unprepared I was for the burst of flavor that hit my mouth when I tasted this ground pesto sauce. It has been an hour since I ate it and I still have the full taste of the pesto in the back of my throat! This is THE only way I will ever prepare pesto sauce for my family. Thank you Chef John for introducing us to this revolutionary technique. It almost makes me want to use my mortar and pestle on just about anything... Read More
(17)
Rating: 5 stars
10/03/2017
RIDICULOUS!!! This was ridiculously good!! First time I've ever made pesto and won't make it any other way!! OMG! My 13 year old and husband gave it a "10" (we rate all of my food). I understand that the secret to this amazing recipe is doing it a mortar & pestle. If you do nothing else in the mortar, at the very least add the oil and incorporate it this way as oils tend to get bitter when whipped in a Vitamix or other blender/processer. This is one of the (many) keys to why this is so amazing. Use all of the freshest ingredients available and you'll have yourself some RAVE reviews! I only wish I had a huge mortar!! This was gone in one night with three people eating it. It is amazing on fresh, toasted (wood-grilled preferably) buttered sourdough bread as an appetizer, too! DON'T heat it as it will ruin it. Just mix it into hot pasta or serve on buttered bread. Indulgent!! LOVE!! Read More
(12)
Rating: 5 stars
08/16/2018
Got a mortar & pestle just to try this with summer's bounty of basil. Outstanding! After my first batch I watched the video and it gave me a better idea of the technique. Thanks Chef John. Read More
(5)
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Rating: 5 stars
05/29/2019
Let me tell you that I did not want to love this recipe. I love an easy food processor recipe, so I hoped the hard(ish) work wouldn’t actually be worth it. But THIS...this recipe is worth it. It’s so good. Just try it. I bought a mortar and pestle at tjmaxx for about $12. My tip is to fold a kitchen towel and place it under the bottom so that it doesn’t bang as loud. And let the tool work for you, you don’t have to put a lot of force into it or your hand will start to cramp. Then buy 2 baguettes and enjoy your life. Read More
(3)
Rating: 5 stars
06/27/2017
Wow. This was a revelation. I made half a batch because I was alone and my mortar and pestle is small; there was already a fair amount of cursing as I went about making this. It’s really not that much work, even if it feels like it at first; I was surprised at how quickly the basil leaves were pulverized. I ended up putting the garlic through a garlic press into the mortar, because I wasn’t having much success pounding it into a paste. The variety of basil I had might have been spicier than the Genovese type I’m used to--this pesto was SO sharp, and so fragrant! I even pulled the green sprouts from inside the cloves of garlic to keep it from being overpowering. I only used about 1/2 ounce Parmesan and 2 Tbsp olive oil for my half batch; my cup nearly runneth over. I put a few tablespoons of my amazing pesto on penne pasta and inhaled it. I need bigger and better equipment because I want to eat this stuff all summer long. Read More
(3)
Rating: 5 stars
07/14/2017
May not have ground to a paste as in video or used the correct cheese but I loved not using my tiny food processor. No electricity? Make pesto! Taste is wonderful can't wait to have it on bread! Read More
(2)
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Rating: 5 stars
01/03/2018
I used a combination of almonds and pistachios. Read More
(2)
Rating: 5 stars
06/27/2019
R EEEE DICULOUS !!!! Wow! Follow this recipe and you'll fall off your chair. Definitely takes some elbow grease, but if you grow your own Basil this is a go too recipe for when you have too much and need to prune the plant back. Thank you Chef John! Read More
(2)
Rating: 5 stars
06/23/2018
We made this the other night, it was amazing!! My first pesto ever and I'm sold, we can handle the truth. Read More
(2)
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