Spread the word: pesto…


’Tis the season.

For ice cream, of course. Strawberry shortcake. Anything with berries.

And for outdoor grilling.

Sure, hot dogs, burgers, and chicken are givens. But bread – either baked entirely on the grill, or simply warmed over dying coals – is a wonderful addition to any outdoor table.

Whether you butter burger buns and slap ’em face down on the grill, wrap garlic bread in foil and set it on the upper rack while steak sizzles down below, or go all the way – grilled pizza, anyone? – your grill is a wonderful adjunct to your oven. Which, face it, as temperatures climb into the 90s, becomes one of your lesser-used appliances.

So, one way or another, grilled bread should be a significant part of your summertime culinary repertoire. And if you’re going to grill bread, you need the dips, spreads, and toppings to go with it.

Enter pesto.  It’s traditional with pasta, but pesto is delicious on bread, too – think bruschetta.

And hummus, perfect with pita. Onion dip is great with chips, but our version, made with caramelized onions, marries wonderfully well with all kinds of crusty breads, too – including grissini.

Salsa cruda, just about the simplest thing you can do with sun-warmed, garden-fresh vegetables. It’s the ideal dip for tortilla chips. And it’s a splendid topping for gorditas.

And last but not least, homemade Greek-style yogurt made into cucumber-garlic-mint tzatziki is a cool, refreshing counterpoint to crunchy focaccia sticks.

First step: fresh herbs. Basil is traditional, but I often use Italian flat-leaf parsley. It makes a vibrant green pesto that doesn’t turn brown or fade; and parsley’s flavor, while different certainly than basil’s, is just as compelling.

Plus, parsley’s a whole heckuva lot cheaper to buy than basil, if you don’t grow your own herbs and have to go to the market for them.

I’ve put an entire bunch of parsley in the food processor, minus the coarse bottom stems, which I’ve chopped off. I don’t bother laboriously picking off the leaves, one by one – I’m not that crazy!

To make basil pesto, use 4 to 5 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed (about one large bunch, 6 ounces before trimming).

Pile the following on top of the herbs:

1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely grated or chunked Parmesan cheese
4 to 8 large, peeled garlic cloves (to taste)
1 cup (8 ounces) walnuts or pine nuts (use pine nuts only if you’re independently wealthy)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Process till everything is coarsely chopped.

Start drizzling in about 5 tablespoons (about 2 1/8 ounces) olive oil, as the machine’s running. Stop midway…

…to scrape down the sides of the work bowl.

Continue drizzling in the oil, adding more for a thinner pesto, less for a thicker version.

When it’s as thick and smooth as you like, stop the processor, and pile the pesto into a bowl.

Pesto is a wonderful complement to pasta; but it’s also a great dip or spread.

Store pesto in the refrigerator, its surface covered with plastic wrap, if you plan to eat it soon. Or freeze it; even when frozen, it’ll be soft enough that you can dig out chunks of it to warm up for sauce. Yield: about 20 ounces, a scant 2 1/2 cups.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Pesto.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...


  1. Wei-Wei

    I wanted to comment on every single spread post you guys have done, but unfortunately there’s just too much to say. I love pesto, and I love hummus, and salsa, but I’ve never tried onion dip or tzatziki. Thanks to your tutorials, I can now try them all! :)


    Wei-wei, go for it! By the end of the summer you can have tried them all… :) PJH

  2. Laura

    Yay! I’ve always wanted to try making pesto, but I don’t have a food processor. Is there a way to make it without one?

    Mortar & pestle? hat would be my best guess… since you say your blender won’t work. Other than that – lots and lots and LOTS of knife work! PJH

  3. Jennifer

    Okay, at least with the dip recipes you’ve provided I should do too much damage to my diet. I can’t wait until I’m done with school. I’ve a stack of recipes from you guys that I haven’t had a chance to try out yet. 2 more days and then I can get baking. Thanks

    Have fun, Jennifer – hope you have a great summer of creativity in the kitchen! PJH

  4. April in CT

    If only my husband didn’t absolutely HATE parmesan. All of the spreads look so tasty and I’ve been wanting to try making my own yogurt. I was going to try the crockpot method, but that yogurt maker certainly looks appealing and much less fussy!
    The Wave Yogurt Cheese Maker shown in the picture is a wonderful way to make delicious and healthy Greek yogurt out of your already made yogurt. It drains the liquid, giving it a thicker consistency. Molly @ KAF

  5. jjmcgaffey

    I love making my own pesto. You can use just about anything green – it makes different flavors, which can be yummy. I like spinach, especially since I can buy it frozen and make pesto any time of year. Hmmm, wonder how broccoli would work? Maybe a little too tough.

    I mostly use walnuts (as you say, pine nuts are pricey!), but have also used almonds and peanuts (dry roasted unsalted). Actually, peanuts and spinach work very nicely.

    I do grow my own basil and parsley – I’ve got a parsley plant that’s bolting, so it’s just about time to chop it down and make more pesto!

    It keeps very nicely in a small Mason jar (half-pint or pint) with either the two-part lid or the plastic storage lid. I never tried freezing it – I eat enough of it that my usual batch is gone before there’s any trouble with mold or even darkening!

    Your recipe is interesting – more cheese and less oil than I usually use. I think – not sure about amounts because I usually make it with “this much” leaves and whatever I feel like of the other stuff – and enough oil to make it smooth. I may try with more cheese. I’ve always grated it pretty fine, which is a pain and why I don’t use that much – if I can chunk it, that makes it a lot easier. Thanks!

  6. ATL Cook

    I always make pesto in a blender. It is a 40 year old Oster and I only use it in the summer now. Bought it to make baby food for my children.

    Last year I put 2 Tablespoon portions on Press and Seal and froze it–1 quart or more. I expect to make 2 qt this year. I have cinnamon and lemon basil in addition to the traditional kind. I often buy the $2 pot at the grocery store and plant it. Did this year and that pot had 4 starts–all growing just fine in our heat and humidity. Basil is one of the few herbs that does not overwinter in ATL. Picked my first tomatoes Sunday; great to stuff with pesto.

  7. Kristin

    We have been making pesto but we make it with frozen but thawed edamame. It is delish!

    Wow, heard of using asparagus, but never thought of edamame – and so healthy, too! Thanks, Kristin- PJH

  8. Audrey

    Hi, I love these recipes! I make them and freeze the extra into a silicon ice cube tray (it’s easier to pop them out of silicon). When the cubes are frozen, I transfer them to ziplock bags. That way I can just grab one or more “cubes” at a time!

    Great tip, Audrey – thanks for sharing here. PJH

  9. Dottie McFadden

    I love the pesto made with basil (I grow my own) but the turinig brown thing is getting to me, is there anything I can add to it to make it turn brown a little slower? maybe lemon juice or something????


    Dottie, I always coat the top of my basil pesto with olive oil. That definitely keeps it green longer. I wouldn’t want to add anything that would change its flavor, like lemon juice, but you may want to give it a try and see what happens – PJH

  10. Yanasa

    How funny…
    even yesterday in the morning I made Pesto alla genovese.
    I used roasted pine nuts and Pecorino cheese – gives more taste to the pesto.
    Got my recipe from an old Italian.

  11. SoupAddict Karen

    This is my favorite time of year to make pesto – plenty of homegrown basil, plus garlic scapes from my garden. I’ve never made pesto with parsley before. Isn’t that weird? But I’m happy to have another use for use for all the parsley I usually end up with.

  12. amy

    May I ask what mixer you are using in the grilled bread, grilled pizza and garlic bread recipes? You make it look so easy and now I want a mixer to make these breads. Thank you!

    Hi Amy – I happen to use a KitchenAid stand mixer. Others in our test kitchen use Viking stand mixers. It’s just a matter of personal preference. But stand misers do indeed make many, MANY baking taska a lot easier… PJH

  13. Beth in Texas

    Thanks KAF, I tried two of your pestos. Great taste. I do have a question. In your last picture, you show pesto being spread on some type of bread or cracker. What is the pesto being spread on? Thanks

    Beth, it’s Carta di Musica, recipe coming to this blog June 21. It’s currently in our King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion cookbook. PJH

  14. Paul Scofield

    I make pesto frequently. Try pecans or toasted sun flower seeds – pecans are great!! I substitute Romano for the the Parmesan over Angel Hair Pasta.
    Skip the cheese, use cilantro in place of the basil and use toasted pumpkin seed!

    Wow – who knew, Paul? Very imaginative – thanks for sharing! PJH

  15. Paul Scofield

    More on Pesto: Pesto is great, spread on toasted dark rye or “Pump” with a good steak.
    In the winter I make pesto with baby spinach leaves, Parsley and dry Basil.

  16. Danielle

    I will try this soon — I have a bunch of herbs planted and they are growing faster than I can use them up. I wanted to try making pesto last summer but never got around to it. Your post is the inspiration I need to get started this summer. Love the idea to use walnuts! I also have lots of cilantro — I will try Paul’s idea to use pumpkin seeds.

  17. Danielle

    An after thought… Have you tried making a mint pesto? Any suggestions??

    Haven’t tried mint pesto. Anyone have any ideas? I’d go mint, walnuts, touch of sugar, touch of vinegar? PJH. I used to make mint and orange, also adding sugar. Frank

  18. vel

    I make a pseudo pesto/chimichurri with half cilantro and half parsley, lime juice, oil, garlic cloves and salt. No nuts in it, though it does get pretty thick just with the two big supermarket bunches of each herb that I use. We generally us it on steaks. Great idea from paul to use sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds to thicken it up to be more of a dip/spread.

  19. linda

    I love basil pesto, and now I will try some of the other options too. Blanching the basil before adding it to the food processor will help it maintain that bright green color without changing the flavor.

    Never knew that, Linda – I love how I’m constantly learning from you guys! Thanks- PJH

  20. Siiri Sampson

    Loving the pesto redo! Thanks for the reminder that we don’t have to only use basil! I forgot it’s time to start using all the green around me, so I’m making this on Friday night for my sister with dinner, and I’ve reposted a link to it on my blog today. I was planning to review all your other dips over the next couple of weeks: onion dip, hummus and Tzatziki. Hope it throws some traffic your way! Cheers!

    Thanks so much, Sirii – we appreciate it! And I need to try both edamame and asparagus pesto, per reader suggestions… PJH

  21. Andrea

    Do you ever make pesto without nuts? Wonder about the flavor.

    Andrea, nuts don’t add all that much to the flavor, but they do add texture and body. Without them, the pesto would be very smooth, and somewhat thin. AND – you can certainly leave them out, no problem. Or substitute bread crumbs… PJH

    I spoke with some very nice guys who make gluten free & nut free pizzas, and specifically asked about nut free pesto. They said they use sunflower seeds, very finely ground for great texture and taste. Might be worth a try.
    ~ MaryJane

  22. Gabrielle

    just tried basil pesto on pizza instead of tomato sauce- definitely delicious! I would also like to try it with parsley pesto- also the pizza was cooked on the grill instead of in the oven, which added an interesting flavor.

    Good for you, Gabrielle, trying grilled pizza – it’s easier than you’d think, isn’t it? :) PJH

  23. Gail

    My springtime pesto: spinach, green garlic, walnuts and a bit of olive oil. yum.

    Also just finished with cherry/green garlic preserves. great on pork!

  24. John

    Would it be possible to substitute sunflower kernels for the pine nuts & walnuts due to my nut allergies?
    Thanks. I think that would work. Give it a try and let us know how it comes out. Mary@KAF

  25. Cecelia

    WOW! I love pesto, and while I don’t have any fresh parsley or basil growing, I just might have to try the spinach.

    Just a question (for anyone)… Is there some recipe out there that uses an herb called pineapple sage? I have it coming out of my ears in the garden, but nothing to do with it.

    I LOVED the hummus. I never have made it before because of all the exotic ingredients (tahini, chickpeas) but when I used butter beans with KAF ‘s recipe, it was wonderful!

  26. davesnyd

    Here’s something to try:

    Make a good batch of white or white wheat dough.

    Roll it out into a recangle– I dunno; maybe 12 to 13 by 16 to 18.

    Spread the pesto inside it, almost to the edges.

    Roll it up.

    Cut round pieces about half an inch to an inch thick.

    Place one in the center of a large pie pan; then start tiling around it.

    Bake at about 350 for 20-30 minutes.

    Sorry for the imprecision– done from memory.

    I think I got this or something like it from Father Dom’s first cookbook. Makes incredible pull apart pieces.

    Savory “sticky” buns – love it! Thanks for sharing, Dave- PJH

  27. Danielle

    I just came across a recipe at npr.org and thought it was worth mentioning here.
    Mint-Cilantro Chutney
    1 cup packed cilantro (leaves and stems)
    1 cup packed mint (leaves only)
    1 green serrano chili (optional, and if you don’t like too much heat, remove the seeds)
    1/4 small red onion, sliced
    1 tablespoon dried pomegranate seeds, fresh or dried (optional)
    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    Up to 2 tablespoons water

    Blend cilantro, mint, chili, onion and pomegranate seeds (if using), lemon juice and salt in a blender to a smooth paste. To aid in the blending process, add up to 2 tablespoons water, if needed. Taste and add more salt if needed.
    Transfer to a covered container and chill for about 30 minutes.
    Serve cool. This chutney will keep, refrigerated, for four days.


    Wow, that sounds fascinating – and I have both mint and cilantro growing, side by side, in my herb garden. Alas for the pomegranates at this time of year, though… I’ll have to figure out a source. Thanks for sharing, Danielle. PJH

  28. Heather

    My basil plants have been going nuts in the heat, so I’ve been making tons of pesto lately. It freezes really well if you don’t add the cheese — just whirr up the garlic and nuts (I usually process these first), greens, and olive oil. I re-purpose my tablespoon cookie scoop because one scoop is usually good for a portion of pasta, freeze, and then pop into freezer bags. Later, just thaw and stir in a bit of Parmesan — I also stir in some cooking water from the pasta, it gives it a nice silky texture and helps it cling to the pasta. Great for quick dinners on those nights you just can’t be bothered…

    For those without blenders/food processors, the traditional Italian way to make pesto is with a cutting board and knife — just keep chopping and chopping and chopping until you get the right texture!

  29. S. Lee

    I read that powdered vitamin c can be added to basil pesto to stop the darkening. I don’t know how much, or if it affects the flavor. I think I saw it on the web pages of Michael Chiarello.

  30. Maxine

    I have just harvested a big crop of basil. Should one bother to wash it first, then spin it? I know basil bruises.

    Oh, yes, wash it. Place it in your sink filled with not cool, but tepid water. Let soak for a little while, then spin. Basil does bruise which is why pesto can take a more brown color than green. I recommend you add some fresh spinach to your pesto for a nice green color. Just pulse the spinach along with your basil ingredients. Elisabeth @ KAF

  31. shaneandreafell

    This pesto looks great. Thanks for your tip on using Italian flat-leaf parsley for the winter. I am part of a CSA that delivers fresh produce during the summer & fall and I get big bunches of basil & flat-leaf parsley. Now I have another use for the flat-leaf parsley. This fall I made pesto with pistachio nuts and omitted garlic (I cannot eat garlic – it upsets my stomach) it was excellent. We had a group of friends over for a pasta bar dinner – I served two different kinds of pasta with three different sauces and one of the three was the pistachio pesto – it was a hit. I will definitely try making the pesto with walnuts the next time. Thanks for all your wonderful tips and ideas on your blog.

    Glad we could add to your store of parsley recipes… PJH


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