Classic Pesto That Will Change Your Life

by jenna on June 21, 2010

Like many home cooks, do you start to sweat when you pass the fresh basil in the grocery store during the summer months?

Okay, maybe you don’t actually sweat. That would be weird. But it might be in the back of your mind that perhaps you (you!) would like to make homemade pesto with said basil. Fresh pesto that could lovingly coat each slippery strand of noodle or dribble off the sides of a chicken breast, hot off the grill. Fresh pesto that could keep in the freezer for up to three months. Fresh basil that could classify you as a real chef because real chefs make their own sauces by scratch and you can surely do that as well.

Making homemade pesto is something that runs in our blood. We know we should take advantage of the basil bounty every summer. Our ancestors wouldn’t have left such things to go to waste. Neither would Laura.  And you know how I feel about that.

It’s not hard, people. Really!

First, gather your ingredients.

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Once you have your ingredients you can really wing it. It’s hard to mess this up….trust me, I’ve tried. However, for those of you out there with a slight hint of OCD, I’ll go through it step by step so I don’t get hate mail telling me that I ruined your husband’s boss’s dinner party or your child’s third birthday.
Into your VitaMix, food processor or just plain ol’ blender, throw in three cups of packed basil leaves, 3 garlic cloves (or in my case, 2 tsp chopped garlic) and 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.

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Blend on high until everything is smooth and combined. And now, with the blender running on low, slowly stream in 1/3 cup olive oil and the juice of 1/2 a lemon.

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Taste, and then add 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (small handful), 1/2 tsp sea salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Whirl that puppy one more time to get the end result.

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Ain’t it purdy? I love that vibrant green color.

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Keep covered in the fridge for up to one week or freeze for three months. A little goes a long way with this guy so usually, if I’m just feeding myself, I only use about two tablespoons on my pasta, chicken or salmon. This recipe is enough to feed a crowd. Think of it like hummus.
Classic Pesto

feeds about six

3 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves
Combine the basil, garlic and two tablespoons of the oil in a high speed blender or food processor. Blend on high until everything is smooth
and combined. Then, with the blender on low speed, slowly stream in the remaining oil, along with the lemon juice and the cheese. Taste and then
season with the salt and pepper.

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{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @ How Sweet It Is June 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm

I love pesto. I must say that my absolute favorite is made with arugula.

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Robyn @ Frugal 'n' Fit! June 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Lady, you are on a roll! First Vegan Walnut Lentil Loaf, and now this. I always thought pesto required pine nuts, so I’m glad to see a recipe that doesn’t (since they are so expensive). I will be making this soon!

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jenna June 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Yep, the reason I don’t use any nuts is to save on fat because pesto is already high in fat from the olive oil (even though it comes from a healthy source!). Plus, I think it tastes just fine without it and pinenuts are expensive!

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Therese June 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I love pesto oh so very much! I haven’t made it in a while but you’ve reminded me that I need to make a batch!

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Bethany @ More Fruit Please June 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I’m pretty sure pesto sauce completes my life!

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brandi June 21, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I love a good homemade pesto.

You don’t use any nuts in yours? My favorite is with a combination of walnuts + pine nuts. Yum.

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Mary @ What's Cookin' with Mary June 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I tried making my own pesto and failed… I think I tried to do it with too little oil. I must try this Jenna!! Seems pretty fool proof. ;)

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Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg June 21, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Mmmm…I love, love, love pesto. And there is nothing better than pulling some frozen pesto out of the freezer on a COLD winter night…it makes the whole kitchen smell like summer! Plus, it makes one feel very smug to have prepared for winter so far in advance (another thing Laura would like).

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Michaela June 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm

A trick my dad taught me was to put the prepared pesto in ice cube trays to put in the freezer…..that way you can take out the perfect portion size.

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Allie June 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm

i always thought pesto was so much harder to make…i may actually try this!

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Whitney @ Whitinspired June 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Pesto is really a classic summer marinade/topping/whatever. I probably make something with basil once a week!

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Laura (Starloz) June 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I had no idea this is how you made pesto, it’s relatively simple. A must try Jenna, thank you

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Suzanne de Cornelia June 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Yum. Am addicted to arugula, basil, spinach….usually w/basil just rinse an entire organic shell of it and use instead of lettuce for a big main course dinner salad. But will make this–have never made pesto–this looks delish. Thanks!

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Carly @ Happy Healthy Foodie June 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I MUST ask, how did you get that awesome blender shot without getting pesto all over your camera?! lol

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Claire June 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I made some delicious pesto the other day with walnuts…oh, and I made the Vegan Lentil Walnut loaf today…amazing!

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Jessica June 21, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I love pesto and waiting to try my hand at actually making it. Thanks for posting this!

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Jaya June 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Thanks for sharing this recipe, Jenna. I have to say, I’m really on a sage-walnut pesto kick these days. The versatility is amazing. I use the absolute best quality olive oil and parm that I can get my hands on. I also love romano in pesto!

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Ellie June 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Jenna thanks so much- I’m totally going to try this out this weekend! I love your recipes!

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Ellie June 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Oh and thanks so much for the recipes- you kept me from blowing up today- thanks God for working out and cooking! Your rock- also any news on the cookbook- I’m so excited about it

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Lindsay June 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Oh my good gosh, please please tell me no one has actually ever written you a letter saying that one of your recipes “ruined” X event?!? There can’t possibly be people that ridiculous in this world!

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Nora@LiveLifeEatRight June 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm

AHH!! I cant believe you made pesto! There is NOTHING like the real deal. It has the most extreme flavor. One taste and my heart is taken!

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Angharad June 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm

So, i just bought a blender last week and literally five minutes ago my husband and i were talking about making our own pesto and hummus. Win.

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Angharad June 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm

So, i just bought a blender last week and literally five minutes ago my husband and i were talking about making our own pesto and hummus. Win.

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Erin June 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

This looks delicious! Yum, I love pesto and can’t wait to try this out. I actually have a basil plant in my apartment–the only thing I haven’t killed!–and need to use it faster.

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Lisa (bakebikeblog) June 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm

LOVE LOVE LOVE pesto! So simple – yet oh so tasty!

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Krystina June 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Every time I pass by fresh basil I get an itch to buy it all and make oodles of pesto and marinara sauce, but for some reason I never buy it. Must buy basil asap!

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Staceyhttp://stacey-healthylife.blogspot.com/ June 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I love basil right now and can’t get enough of it. That’s why every summer I grow my own. I think I will be making some pesto.

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Sahar June 21, 2010 at 5:47 pm

You make it look so easy! Thanks, Jenna!

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adrienmelaine June 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Everything you make changes my life- I’m still hung up on the lentil loaf!

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Lauren @ Eater not a runner June 21, 2010 at 5:52 pm

That looks good and easy! I’ve never made pesto before :-)

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Kaz June 21, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Oh, yum! That looks so good, and simple, too! Thanks, Jenna. :D I definitely need to buy some basil and try it soon.

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Rebecca June 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm

The pesto looks SO good! Need to buy a basil plant from the farmers’ market!

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Heather (Heather's Dish) June 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm

homemade pesto is seriously the best! super flavorful…you can’t get that kind of flavor in a jar! :)

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Mom June 21, 2010 at 6:20 pm

The last time we had pesto (homemade) was when you were living at home and made it. So good and reminds me that I can try making it too! Thank you!

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Marilou @ Mostly Healthy June 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm

I’ve always made my pesto pine nut free too. I love to add sundried tomatoes to the mix.

BTW, who serves pesto at a 3 years old birthday party? ;)

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Lilly June 21, 2010 at 6:33 pm

C’mon…… she’s giving an example in a joking manner, don’t u get it?

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Marilou @ Mostly Healthy June 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm

C’mon ……. of course I do :)

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Nancy in Naples June 21, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I made the lentil loaf over the weekend and it was GREAT!!! We put some of the leftover loaf in a burrito along with some salad fixings and mango salsa the next day and it was also great! Love the recipe, Jenna, and will definitely pass it along.

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Cynthia (It All Changes) June 21, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I want to grow my own basil just to be able to do this. I love fresh sauces.

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Cara June 21, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Looks so fresh and delicious!
Nice work.
I love how simple it is.

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Bianca June 21, 2010 at 6:59 pm

If you quickly blanch the basil before blending you won’t have to worry about it turning brown overnight in the fridge. Pesto is also really good with several other types of buts. I can’t afford pinenuts, so I usually use unsalted cashews or almonds. Sometimes I also throw in a package of cherry tomatoes, totally changes the flavor, but it is the perfect light summer pasta sauce.

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Jenn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog) June 21, 2010 at 7:35 pm

That looks amazing! I like to use spinach in pesto when I am low on basil. :)

Jenn

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Jessica @ The Process of Healing June 21, 2010 at 7:35 pm

You may have just convinced me to try my hand at pesto.. I made your lentil loaf and it was out of this world!!

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kalli@fitandfortysomething June 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm

nothing like fresh basil pesto!

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Amber K @ sparkpeople June 21, 2010 at 7:59 pm

I always make broccoli pesto because I find it to be cheaper. Broccoli is cheaper than basil and almonds are cheaper than pine nuts.

But that pesto looks so good, I might have to try it!

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Deva (Voracious Vorilee) June 21, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I love pesto, and this recipe sounds sooo yummy, fresh.. I am salivating just thinking about it! I love pesto on pizza- it’s amazing!

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Ashley June 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm

No pine nuts?

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Mindy June 21, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Ah, my mouth is watering just looking at it! Must try SOON!

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Kerri Beth June 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Thanks for the classic recipe!

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erin*sparkle&hay June 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm

oh yum oh yum oh yum!!!

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Mastering Public Health June 21, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Agree with you on omitting the pine nuts (for fat and money-saving), though I am biased for other reasons (*cough*: http://masteringpublichealth.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/i-will-never-eat-pine-nuts-again). Awesome-looking recipe! I wonder how this would work with non-dairy cheese like Daiya… think it needs to be attempted.

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Jessica June 21, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I think it’s worth it to add the pine-nuts, life is too short not to! You could always make it the way the French do, with walnuts as well.

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Camille June 21, 2010 at 11:23 pm

I love pesto but I never knew how to make it. Thank you so much for this!

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Anneline June 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Hmm… ok, it does look really yummy, and I don’t want to upset anyone but… where are your pine nuts? I live in France, and over here pesto is like the essence of life ;) and the ingredients should exclusively be fresh basil leaves (20 leaves), 2 cloves garlic, 3tbsp parmesan, olive oil, and… pine nuts (2tbsp)! Pleaaase don’t put any lemon juice in there, it makes the basil go black and alters the beautiful green color of legitimate pesto!!

Sorry but the French girl in me just felt had to rebel :o)
You did make me crave for pesto though, so I’m going to my garden right now to see if I have enough basil to whip up some delicous pasta !

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Vicky June 21, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Pesto in the summer is so great. I can’t wait to get home so I can FINALLY use a blender again! I usually also use pine nuts and a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, but I love your addition of a squeeze of lemon juice! Thanks for the recipe! (PS your blog is kind of amazing!)

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Amy @ForDGRedial June 22, 2010 at 12:12 am

Since you’re a girl who likes a challenge how about a tweaked recipe that doesn’t involved
the parmesan? I can’t do milk an generally try to eat vegan Recently I tweaked a recipe, by bascially just leaving out
the cheese but it tastes of olive oil rather than the gorgeous fresh basil I used…

Ta x

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Amanda June 22, 2010 at 1:58 am

Do you know if there’s a way to make this pesto vegan?

I guess taking out the cheese would solve the problem, but I’m not sure what that would taste like.

Amanda

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Amanda June 22, 2010 at 1:58 am

Do you know if there’s a way to make this pesto vegan?

I guess taking out the cheese would solve the problem, but I’m not sure what that would taste like.

Amanda

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Becky June 22, 2010 at 5:33 am

Would nutritional yeast work as a sub for the cheese? If you added the nuts back in (pinenuts or some other nut), and subbed nutritional yeast for the parmesan cheese, you might end up with something that tastes similar and has the “right” consistency.

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Becky June 22, 2010 at 3:15 am

I can’t really imagine a pesto without pinenuts or some other nut (we make a homemade pistachio pesto that is amazing!), but I guess to each their own. What did you serve your pesto on/with last night?

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Kristin (Cook, Bake and Nibble) June 22, 2010 at 3:58 am

Mmm, I love me some classic pesto- so perfect for the summer!!

xo
Kris

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Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down) June 22, 2010 at 4:12 am

I am pretty much obsessed with pesto. Sometimes I’ll add walnuts or pine nuts to the mix for an extra touch of nutty creaminess. It’s lovely. :D

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Heather @ Side of Sneakers June 22, 2010 at 4:38 am

Pesto is one of my favorite things- the first time I ever made my own from fresh ingredients I was absolutely floored. SO GOOD!! :)

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Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman June 22, 2010 at 5:01 am

The basil I’m growing is getting out-of-control huge, so I’m totally making this. Though my batch, what with all of the extra basil I have, may feed a small army.

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Sabrina June 22, 2010 at 5:14 am

We sometimes put a bit of lemon zest over pasta before adding pesto, but I’ve never seen pesto with lemon juice before… where did you learn that?

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Kelly June 22, 2010 at 5:27 am

Why have I never made pesto? I’ve let many a bunch of basil go bad in the fridge because I really only needed a little. I definitely won’t let this happen again. Thanks for the recipe Jenna!

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Kristy June 22, 2010 at 5:41 am

I use a similar recipe but never added the lemon. Def next time! :-)

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Pesto Lover June 22, 2010 at 6:04 am

My husband hates pesto.

This is a tragedy….

until I get to eat it all.

Mwahahaha!

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Ally June 22, 2010 at 6:39 am

It looks good, I always plant some basil so I can make my own pesto, its so delicious. Like a couple of others said, I would have to add the PINE NUTS!!

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Amanda June 22, 2010 at 6:43 am

I just harvested the Arugula from my garden last night because it was starting to bolt with the warm weather. I used the arugula along with some basil from my herb garden to make a wonderful pesto.

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Andrea June 22, 2010 at 7:06 am

Looks delicious! I just adore pesto and could truly slather it on anything. Thanks for the recipe!

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Annie D. @ Annie's Simple Life June 22, 2010 at 7:08 am

Pesto is one of my most favorite things in the world!!!!!

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Amanda @ Cakes and Ale June 22, 2010 at 7:20 am

I’m growing basil on my back deck right now because we go through so dang much of it in the summer time! Can’t wait for not only pesto, but margherita pizzas, caprese salads, and long chiffonades of basil leaves on pretty much everything!

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allison @ livingoneday June 22, 2010 at 8:01 am

i wish i saw this a few weeks ago. my mom and i have a PLETHORA of fresh basil growing in our garden and we want to make pesto. she snagged a bag of pine nuts at sams club for TWENTY DOLLARS, and we both agreed we would never have bought them if we knew what they cost. does the parm in your recipe take the place of the pine nuts? i also know a few chefs that use walnuts instead…

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Miranda @ Mirandasjeans June 22, 2010 at 8:06 am

I love some good peto. Sadly though this post just made me relize I forgot to pick some basil for my sandiwch for lunch today lol.

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Diana @ frontyardfoodie June 22, 2010 at 8:12 am

There is truly nothing like a proper pesto…on crackers, as pizza sauce or in a salad dressing.

My basil is JUST getting big enough to harvest for pesto…….I also for the first time in my life have a really nice mortar and pestle and they say that makes that most aromatic pesto. I must try this!

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Jil @ Peace, Love & Munchies June 22, 2010 at 8:23 am

Lovin the pesto action – I always forget just how much I love the stuff. Crazy, I know.

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Rachel June 22, 2010 at 8:26 am

I made a hummus and basil sandwich for my dinner tonight (I work full time and then go straight to school). And now my hands smell like basil. Would it be inappropriate to smell my hands all day?

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Melissa June 22, 2010 at 10:10 am

Oh this looks deliciously easy!

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Sarah June 22, 2010 at 11:49 am

mmm i love pesto and love making my own too! i grew up with my mom making it for us! cilantro pesto is really good too…just sub cilantro for the basil (saves a lot of money!).

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Kate June 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Jenna- I have been following your blog for over a year now and LOVE LOVE LOVE it, however I was surprised and slightly disappointed to see that in your pesto recipe you chose to use jarred garlic as opposed to fresh garlic. As a connoisseur of fresh pesto I was bummed because jarred garlic is just NOT the same nor does it carry the same kick. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, was just wondering why you chose one over the other.
Kate

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Paola June 22, 2010 at 6:47 pm

OMG, had to do a triple take at the picture of the inside of the blender, it looks like an eyeball in the middle of all that green, lol.

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Mary June 23, 2010 at 6:14 am

Just stumbled onto your blog, and this pesto recipe looks AWESOME! Definitely need to try it ASAP.

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R @ learningasichop.wordpress.com June 23, 2010 at 8:50 am

Thank you for sharing! Definitely plan to make this at some point this summer

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The Healthy Apple June 23, 2010 at 11:01 am

This looks so yummy, Jenna…I’m gunna whip this up tnite…thanks for sharing…I love making pesto!

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Morgan @ Healthy Happy Place June 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I just made this and LOVED It. I blogged about it, too! thanks for posting!

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Ingrid June 24, 2010 at 11:06 am

i was surprised by the jarred garlic too. what a bummer, it just isn’t the same at all! i love me some pesto, but as a garlic lover and pesto lover you gotta go with the fresh!

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Leslie June 25, 2010 at 7:21 am

Ah, pesto! I’ve been making my own since college when I worked in the gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and we got to take home what we harvested. Yummy!

I like to freeze mine in an ice cube tray, then once it’s frozen I can pop out the cubes and put them in a baggie. One cube is enough for a single serving of pasta.

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