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World’s Best Basil Pesto Recipe (Yes, It Won)

Winner winner, basil pesto dinner.

You don’t have to go to Italy to enjoy the best basil pesto recipe in the world. You can eat it right in your kitchen! This recipe, from an Italian chef, won the basil pesto world championships in Italy. And now, it’s all yours. With Genovese basil, good olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a secret technique.

basil pesto recipe pasta with cheese

This Basil Pesto Recipe Background

Food and recipe writing is full of hyper-enthusiastic hyperbole, bluster, and puffery. You know what I mean: “Guaranteed the best, most delicious [insert food] ever!” That kind of thing. Except sometimes, it is an actual fact. Sometimes, you really do get the world’s best basil pesto recipe. The one that actually won the award in Italy, at the World Pesto Championships. And now it’s yours.

Winning the World Pesto Championship in the Liguria region of Italy — the birthplace of Genovese basil — is like winning the World Cheesesteak Contest in Philadelphia. (Which, to my knowledge, does not exist, but should.) In other words, if you win it there, you really are the world’s best. Now you can make this silky, fresh, absolutely delicious pesto at home.

best pesto recipe ingredients basil pine nuts cheese garlic oil

A Little Background on the World’s Best Pesto Recipe

This recipe’s origin story gets a little muddled, but here are the answers. In 2008, up-and-coming (now famous, and controversial) American chef Danny Bowien worked at Farina restaurant in San Francisco. Italian chef Paolo Laboa owned Farina. Paolo made his mother’s pesto recipe in the restaurant, which Bowien entered in the pesto championships and won, under the umbrella of working at Farina. So, though Bowien was the technical winner, the recipe belongs to Laboa and his mother.

Discovering this pesto was like getting hit with a bolt of lightening, in a good way. Fast forward to today, and you will find Chef Laboa in the kitchen of unassuming, but amazing, rustic Italian restaurant Solo Italiano in Portland, Maine. I ate at Solo Italiano last summer, tasted the pesto, and needed to know more: Why is this so smooth and silky? How is it possible for pesto to taste this good? Why am I finding this in Portland, Maine and not some obscure trattoria on the northern Italian coast?

The answers lie in a combination of some cool — literally — techniques, and the use of the very, very best ingredients: the right basil, the right olive oil, and the right cheeses.

best pesto recipe ingredients basil pine nuts cheese garlic oil in bowl

Washing the Basil for the Pesto: Important Pesto Techniques

A couple of interesting techniques happen here, which I have never seen before.

  1. First, this recipe calls for soaking the basil in cold water for 15 minutes, with several rinses. This not only washes the basil, which can be sandy, but adds weight to the leaves as well. The water that clings to the leaves when they go into the blender helps emulsify the pesto.
  2. Second, get your blender ice cold to reduce oxidation of the basil leaves. Oxidization can cause bitterness.

Chef Laboa suggests freezing the bowl of the blender. I do not have room for a big blender bowl in my freezer. Instead, I add ice cubes and water to the bowl and chill it that way until it is time to blend.

The Ingredients: The World’s Best Basil Pesto Recipe

As noted above, this recipes uses the very, very best ingredients: the right basil, the right olive oil, and the right cheeses.

  • Chef Laboa uses young Genovese basil. This is the most common type of basil you see in the store. But he makes sure to use only young, bright green leaves, and not the large, tougher leaves. He says that these have a different, less delicate flavor.

That said, not everyone can source cold-pressed Ligurian olive oil and Italian pine nuts. I will say that this recipe will still taste very, very good with even regular, above-average olive oil, regular-sized basil leaves, commonly-available pine nuts (likely from China), and authentic pecorino-Toscano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses.

The cheeses are the two ingredients you definitely cannot cut corners on.

  • Do not use regular parmesan. Use the real-deal, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. And pecorino-Toscano — don’t tell Laboa I said this — can be substituted with the more common pecorino-Romano cheese, which you may see branded as Locatelli at the store. This tastes saltier, though, so use a pinch less salt.

bowl of basil pesto in wooden bowl with pasta

Sourcing the Best Basil Pesto Recipe Ingredients

If you want to go for the gold and make the world’s best basil pesto recipe to the exact specifications, here is where you can source the ingredients:

  • Italian or Portugese pine nuts, or pignoli: Nuts.com or Gustiamo
  • Fruity, Ligurian olive oil: Gustiamo
  • Fiore Sardo or aged Pecorino Toscano cheeses: DiBruno Brothers
  • Genovese basil: This is the most common basil found in grocery stores, but look for containers that have smaller, bright green leaves, and not the bigger, tough leaves of late summer. I even buy a whole supermarket basil plant, or some living basil, which usually costs about the same as the plastic clamshell variety.

How Long Will Basil Pesto Last in the Fridge?

This basil pesto recipe will last for up to 3 days in the fridge. But you’ll want to prevent oxidization by covering the pesto with olive oil on top, which forms a seal.

And if you want to know the best way to store fresh herbs, including basil, check out the linked article.

Buon appetito.

overhead shot of pesto recipe pasta with basil and cheese

If you love Italian pesto pasta, you will also love:

overhead shot of pesto recipe pasta with basil and cheese

The Best Basil Pesto Recipe

The world's best basil pesto recipe, adapted from chef Paolo Laboa, which won the award in Italy. A few ingredients and techniques make this perfect basil peso sauce fragrant and silky.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Active Time5 minutes
Course: dinner, sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Keywords:: basil, best basil pesto recipe, how to make basil pesto, italian, pesto, pesto pasta, sauce
Servings: 1 1/4 cups
Print

Ingredients

  • 6 cups loosely-packed Genovese basil, preferably young, bright-green leaves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, preferably Italian
  • 1/3 of a small, fresh garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup fruity, mild extra-virgin olive oil, preferably from Liguria
  • 1 teaspoon medium or coarse flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel (use less if using saltier pecorino-Romano cheese)
  • 1/3 cup freshly-grated pecorino-Toscano cheese (pecorino-Romano is an ok substitute)
  • 1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions

  • Chill the blender bowl either in the freezer or by adding water and ice cubes until ready to blend. Meanwhile, rinse, then soak, the basil leaves in water for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Combine the nuts, garlic, and olive oil in the blender. Blend until the nuts are very finely chopped and the mixture is creamy. Add the salt.
  • In several handfuls, lift the basil from the bowl of water. Shake some of the excess water off, but not all, and add it to the blender. Pulse in the blender until it is a smooth, beautiful green color. If necessary, add more water a teaspoon at a time until it blends and emulsifies fully.
  • Add the cheeses and blend again until fully incorporated and serve.
    PRO TIP: To store pesto, place it in a container and cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil. This acts as a seal, preventing oxidization. This pesto can be frozen for up to 3 months. Do not heat to defrost; let it thaw at room temperature for about an hour or two, or overnight in the refrigerator.

22 comments

  • Aaron Walker

    4 stars
    I never leave comments on these recipe sites but I gotta gives props to this one. Truly the most authentic, balanced and freshest pesto I’ve ever had. Limiting the garlic is key and the two cheese blend is a great choice. Never buying jarred ever again. Need to watch the salt because if you’re also salting your pasta (which you should!) ,then the additional teaspoon of salt probably isn’t necessary. IMHO

    • Unpeeled

      Great notes; thank you so much for writing! It’s true that it seems like it’s short on garlic–but it’s not. Raw garlic is such a strong flavor, and a little goes a long way and still lets the basil flavor shine.

  • Bonnie

    4 stars
    Delicious recipe. Though I admit to using more garlic, But I do have a important question. How much pesto do you use for let’s say a pound of pasta? Maybe it’s I your description and I missed it. And do you use pasta water to thin it.Thank you

    • Commenting since I had similar questions. I’m not an expert but I do know the average pesto to pasta ratio is about 2/3 the weight of pasta used should be the amount of pesto you use. So for 1lb of dried pasta use about 1 1/4 cups of pesto. Careful using pasta water I did use some out of habit and needed to thoroughly mix and emulsify in the pan as it was pretty watery.

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Bonnie! Glad you liked it. Pesto really is to taste. but for a pound of pasta, you can use between 3/4 cup to 1 cup, so you’ll have a little extra.

  • Clickchick

    Do you really mean just ? of 1 garlic clove?

    Thank you

    • Unpeeled

      Yes! I know. It’s surprisingly little right? But that is accurate; the basil and cheese are really the stars here. Use a medium-sized clove, not a small one.

  • Can you freeze the pesto? If so, what method do you recommend?

    Thank you!

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Sherri! Sorry for this very delayed response. The answer is yes. You can definitely freeze the pesto. The main issue you’ll run into with pesto is the color oxidizing (like if you leave an apple or avocado out in the air once cut). It’s still fine to eat; you’ll just lose some of that vibrant green color. To prevent discoloration, just pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto in the container. This acts as a “seal.” Then add the lid and freeze. You can defrost overnight in the fridge, or on the countertop for several hours before use.

  • 4 stars
    I have a question– does the recipe mean blender or food processor? I started out with a chilled glass blender but it does not have a pulse option and the basil would not blend, so switched to my Cuisinart. The mix was also very salty but maybe my flaked salt was not the right kind. I had to add more garlic, basil and nuts to help that issue.
    The bright green is great though and I will use this technique. Just wondering about the blender vs. food processor and if others found this too salty and not quite garlicy enough?
    Thanks.

    • 3 stars
      I encountered challenges to the recipe, as well. The recipewas so small and I didn’t have enough ingredients to double it, that it didn’t even blend well in my blender nor my magic bullet nor my Cuisinart..

      • Unpeeled

        Argh…so sorry to hear this! The recipe calls for 6 cups of loosely-packed basil, which is admittedly a measurement subject to variation. It sounds like maybe you needed some more basil, since the pesto should be enough for a full pound of pasta, maybe with even a little leftover. And if you make it again, just add basil water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is loose enough to blend. If there’s not enough liquid, it won’t process/blend very well.

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Beth! Great questions and thanks for writing. You can use either a blender or a food processor, though a blender will get the pesto a little smoother. If you don’t have a pulse setting, you can just turn the blender on and off in stages manually, and add a little water as necessary to loosen the leaves so they blend. As for the salt and garlic, Chef Laboa only uses a tiny amount of garlic to let the basil flavor come through, though you are right to adapt it to your own taste. As for salt, Pecorino-Toscano is less salty than Pecorino-Romano, so if you sub Romano, you should cut back slightly on the salt. I mentioned this is the text of the article, but will add it to the recipe as well. And different salts vary in salinity depending on type and brand, so it can indeed be a bit of a “choose your own journey.” But sounds like you did a wonderful job tweaking it! Thanks for writing.

  • Raquelle

    5 stars
    Outstanding. Blanching the basil leaves is a game changer!!!

  • Bonnie B.

    5 stars
    Silky and fabulous. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be this good but it really is. Good techniques here, too.

  • Charlotte

    5 stars
    This is better than anything I’ve tasted anywhere!!!! Fantastic and sooo easy Love it !
    Thankyou
    Charlotte

  • 5 stars
    Made this tonight and it was fantastic! Followed the recipe and used the same pasta as pictured. An easy wonderful dinner !!
    Thankyou

  • dr.sarah

    5 stars
    When this recipe posted I rushed out and made it that day because I have so much basil in my garden right now. I did not use the big leaves, which seemed wasteful at first, but I do think that there is a difference. I used authentic Locatelli cheese and parmigiano-reggiano as described. This was so wonderful. I also added a little water to make it blend smoothly.

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