How to make Pesto like a real Italian Mamma

How to make Pesto like a real Italian Mamma

If there is one thing I have learned from my many trips to Italy, its that to make the perfect pesto you need great fresh ingredients.  Traditional Italian pesto is made from the sweetest young basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and the finest extra virgin olive oil.  If you’ve ever tasted pesto in Italy you will immediately taste the freshness of the ingredients, unlike store bought pestos around the world.

Michelle and I were so lucky to have a once in a lifetime cooking experience in the culinary school at the beautiful 1000 year old abbey, Badia a Coltibuono in Italy, belonging to the famous cook and cookbook author  Lorenza de Medici, who has been named  one of the world’s most famous cooks.

Take a peek at our trip to this amazing place.


Chopping all the ingredients by hand is the key to perfect pesto.  Don’t be tempted to use your blender, you will end up with a gooey paste, which may taste ok, but there will be no definition between the taste of the ingredients. So if you are really serious about making great pesto, do it the way the Italian Mammas have done it for years.  Toss aside all thoughts of easy blending, and get out your sharpest knife, or make things easy with a mezzaluna.  If you don’t have one, go out and buy one, or get someone to give it to you for your next  “I think you are a great cook and I think you should have one of these”  gifts.  They can be found at any kitchen shop and are very inexpensive.


 This mezzaluna  is double bladed, but you can also get the single blade ones, chopping board included.  They are fantastic to chop any herbs especially the hard wood types like Rosemary.  Whatever you decide to use, make sure the blade is sharp, this prevents the basil from turning black, and there is nothing more unappealing than a pesto that has turned dark.

how to make pestos

We are no longer confined to making basil pesto, switch out the basil for other delicious leafy herbs, and replace the pinenuts with your favourite nut, your choices are endless.  Red pesto can be made with Sun Dried Tomatoes,  try Rocket and Pecan Nut pesto or Walnut and Sage.  Toss it in salads, add to pastas, spice up your vegetables and soups, or spread it on sandwiches.  My favourite way of eating it is mixed with a little mayo and tossed over chicken.

basil pesto

Traditional Basil Pesto
Cuisine: italian
Serves: 1 cup
Prep time:
Total time:
  • 2 cups (60g) lightly packed basil leaves
  • ¼ cup (40g) lightly toasted pine nuts
  • 2 large chopped cloves of garlic
  • Pinch of Salt
  • ⅓ cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Chop basil, pine nuts and garlic with a sharp knife or mezzaluna, and add a pinch of salt .
  2. Gently pour in the olive oil and mix to combine.
  3. Add the Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper .
  4. Transfer to a sterilized jar and cover the surface with a thin layer of olive oil. If you don't do this, your pesto will go dark and will not keep its beautiful green colour.
  5. Store in the fridge
  6. This will make one cup.

Red Pesto
  • 200g sun dried tomatoes
  • ⅓ cup basil leaves
  • ⅓ cup flat leafed parsley leaves
  • 2 chopped cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp rinsed and drained capers
  • 1 large anchovy fillet or 2 small ones
  • 4 tablsp lightly toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablesp red wine viegar
  • ½ extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablsp parmesan cheese
  1. Chop finely - basil, parsley, garlic, capers, anchovy fillet and pine nuts using a sharp knife or mezzaluna.
  2. Pour in the red wine vinegar and olive oil.
  3. Add the parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top to preserve the colour of the pesto.
  5. Transfer to a sterilised jar and refrigerate.
  6. Makes 1¼ cups

Rocket and Pecan Pesto
Prep time:
Total time:
You can replace the pecans with walnuts if you prefer
  • 1⅔ cups young rocket leaves
  • ⅓ cup flat leaf parsley
  • 12 large pecan halves
  • 2 chopped large garlic cloves
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅓ cup freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Chop rocket leaves, parsley and pecan nuts with sharp knife or mezzaluna, until well combined .
  2. Slowly add the olive oil.
  3. Add the parmesan until combined.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer to a sterilized jar and pour a thin layer of olive oil over to preserve the colour.
  6. Keep refrigerated.
  7. This makes ¾ cup

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply Eric August 6, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Try it. It is delicious with everything. All types of Pasta, as a snack on crackers with drinks in a Salad.
    Especially with a Chicken Salad also delicious with Fish.

  • Leave a Reply

    Rate this recipe: