Basil pesto Basil pesto Israeli Kitchen Classic basil pesto brings bright flavor to any food you choose to pair it with. (Photo: Miriam Kresh)

Basil pesto

The classic Italian pasta sauce, more versatile than you think.

  • Yield: About 1 cup
  • Prep time: 10 minutes

Italian food came very naturally to the Israeli culinary scene. The same Mediterranean herbs that enhance Italian cuisine grow easily in our climate. When Israelis began shaping a cuisine decades ago, fine restaurants would be more likely to serve Italian and French food than the North African-influenced dishes we revel in today. Still, the taste for Mediterranean-style food lingers. And why not, since there’s so much to love about it?

Oregano, tarragon, basil … they’re only a few of the fresh herbs you can pick up at any open-air market in Israel. Just buying the basil that enriches so many tomato-based dishes is a joy. I love to hold a bunch of those soft, fragrant leaves to my nose and take a mighty sniff – ah! Pesto! Basil is said by aromatherapists to center emotions and clear up fuzzy thinking. I think I agree. When I’m buying basil, I’m really focused – on pesto.

Classic basil pesto brings bright flavor to any food you choose to pair it with. Because pesto isn’t just about pasta. Spread it under and over salmon to be baked. Shmear it on bread, instead of mayonnaise, for sandwiches. Top a baked potato with pesto; or drop a dollop of pesto on steamed green beans. Slather pesto on steamed corn on the cob. Fry a tomato in olive oil, heat some pesto through in the same skillet, and there’s a filling for an omelet. Dilute pesto with a little more olive oil and vinegar, and you have a tangy salad dressing. Stir pesto into thick sour cream to make a dip. Blend with softened butter for, well, just about anything. Pesto even belongs in soup.

Pesto should be fresh, vibrantly green, and to my taste, thick. It keeps for a week in an airtight container, refrigerated. Drop a film of plastic wrap right on its surface to keep the top from turning brown.


  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Rinse the leaves on the stalks, then pat dry. Strip the leaves from the stalks and place in blender jar or food processor.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Blend or process until you obtain a thick, oily paste.

Taste the pesto. Add more of any given ingredient, if desired.

Tips and notes:

Pesto freezes well, but without the cheese. If you foresee having extra to freeze, simply omit the cheese and when serving, put a bowlful of grated Parmesan on the table for everyone to stir into their dish as they please.

You may toast the pine nuts in a low oven for 5 minutes; this gives a creamy texture to the pesto.

Related Topics: Vegetarian

Recipes from the Israeli KitchenRecipes from the Israeli Kitchen