Perfect Pasta with Basil Pesto

Spaghetti al Pesto Genovese

Basil pesto originates from the coastal region of Liguria, Genova to be exact. 

Traditionally, it consists of basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino. 

Most people like to eat it with fresh trofie or trenette, but it also goes well with Spaghetti or potatoes. It also goes very well with freshly made flatbread.

Naturally, as with most classic Italian recipes, there are as many versions as there are cooks. In fact, everyone seems to have a secret recipe. 

You will unlikely ever find two versions of pesto that are exactly the same. 

The main variables tend to be the choice of oil and which cheese to use. 

I personally prefer a to not use Pecorino cheese as I find that it can be overpoweringly pungent for this delicate dish.

Spaghetti al Pesto Genovese

History of Basil Pesto

Basil pesto was invented in Genova, an ancient port city in Liguria, and has added a fresh herbal twist to countless dishes. 

It is said that pesto originated from the ancient Romans who ate a paste called moretum

Moretum was made by crushing together ingredients such as cheese, herbs, and garlic.

Its name stems from the word pestare, which means to pound or to crush. This, of course, refers to the original method of making the sauce with a pestle and mortar. 

Following tradition, I use a mortar and pestle to crush and grind our pesto by hand.

Modern food processors or blenders will also do the trick, but avoid over mixing, which releases too much oil from the pine nuts and bruises the greens.

Spaghetti al Pesto Genovese

Cooking tips

Making pesto properly is another good case for slow food because it should ideally be made shortly before it is eaten, like so many good pasta recipes

It is also one of the many recipes where you need to be very flexible in terms of quantities. Tasting and adjusting them during preparation is a must. 

The quantities in the recipe are just a guideline, and you will have to adjust them based on how the ingredients interact during the pounding process.

Some purists will insist that you have to use a pestle and mortar to make real pesto. I like to say, whatever works for you. If you are in a rush, use a food processor. 

If you fancy making pesto by hand use a pestle and mortar. It’s as simple as that.

Spaghetti al Pesto Genovese

However, to my mind, there is no substitute for pounding by hand, and I recommend using a stone pestle and mortar. 

Traditionally, pesto is made using a wooden pestle and marble mortar, but how many of us have one of those sitting around?

For me, pesto made in a food processor tends to require extra olive oil and the machine is too harsh on the ingredients. This makes both the texture and flavour somewhat bland. 

A stone mortar and wooden pestle make sure that the basil leaves do not darken. The steel blades of the food processor can produce very dark green and slightly bitter pesto.

However, people have been getting great results by putting the blades in the fridge and the basil leaves in ice water before gently blending. Thanks for the tip, Christoffer!

If you’ve made this recipe, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a little note in the comments below on how you got on and don’t forget to rate the recipe.


Spaghetti al Pesto Genovese
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5 from 2 votes

Pasta with Basil Pesto

Traditionally Basil Pesto, also known as Pesto Ligure, is made with a pestle and mortar to avoid the bitter taste often produced combining ingredients in food processors. Using the traditional way also ensures a creamier and softer pesto.
Course Main Course, Vegetarian
Cuisine Italian
Keyword Italian Cuisine, Pesto, Pesto Genovese
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 2 servings
Calories 431kcal
Author Cooking with Gunnar


  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • 20 g Pine nuts
  • 25 g Basil leaves
  • 25 g Parmegiano
  • 25 g Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 200 g Spaghetti
  • 1 pinch of Salt


  • Cut the garlic into small chunks and grind them into a smooth paste in the mortar.
    Spaghetti a Pesto Genovese
  • Once the garlic is crushed into a smooth paste, add the pine nuts and salt and grind them in a circular motion to combine with the garlic into a smooth paste.
    Spaghetti a Pesto Ligure
  • Now add half of the basil to the paste and continue grinding until the basil is fully broken down and incorporated into the paste. Repeat with the rest of the basil. This might take 5-10 minutes.
    Spaghetti a Pesto Ligure
  • Once the ingredients are combined into a smooth paste, add the Parmegiano and keep mashing to integrate into the pesto.
    Spaghetti a Pesto Ligure
  • Finally, add the oil to the paste and give it a final mix, ensuring that all of the ingredients have thoroughly combined.
    Spaghetti a Pesto Ligure
  • Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Do not throw away the pasta water when done!
  • Once the pasta has cooked, mix it with the pesto and a ladle of pasta water in a bowl. Mix thoroughly to break up the pesto and fully combine.
    Spaghetti a Pesto Ligure
  • Serve with a helping of freshly grated Parmegiano and Enjoy!
    Spaghetti a Pesto Ligure


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Pasta with Basil Pesto

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Cooking With Gunnar - Gunnar Mallon

Gunnar Mallon

Ever since I started running the kitchen of the University’s Sports Bar during my undergraduate days, I knew that cooking needed be a part of my life. I love to teach and hopefully inspire other about the wonderful cuisines found around the world.

30 Responses

    1. 5 stars
      I love doing my own pesto but I have to admit my first try was a disaster. You are so right about using a stone mortar and wooden pestle I discovered this the hard way. I am definitely trying your recipe coz it looks so delicious. Thank you for sharing

    1. How lovely, thank you for letting me know and I’m glad you enjoyed it. We grow the basil in our garden too, it just makes it so much more fragrant.

  1. Wow, I am a new Basil pesto convert and had no idea it was so simple to take with so little ingredients. I can’t wait to try it and see the difference in taste.

    1. Thank you, Kimberlie! We used to make our pesto in the food processor but ever since we started making it by hand it is so much creamier and sweeter. Let me know how it turns out 🙂

    1. Thank you for the nice words, Michelle! I’m not a big fan of pesto from the jar, but making it with a pestle and mortar has really changed it into one of our favourites 🙂

  2. I love pasta, and it’s even better with pesto sauce! Your sauce looks so bright in color, creamy, and most importantly, tasty! I will have to grab a mortar and pestle and get to making this sauce. Thank you for sharing!

  3. 5 stars
    So, come to find out, I have never made proper pesto, and I am sad about this realization. I have always used a food processor. I am now inspired. I have a mortar and pestle, but it’s wood. I hope it works. And my basil is growing wild.

  4. 5 stars
    I love pesto! It’s the ideal ingredient for pasta but works for so many other things, sub for salad dressing, ingredient in homemade bread, grilled chicken topping, add to softened butter to make a compound butter, etc. Endless possibilities! Thanks for this tasty recipe.

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Cooking With Gunnar - Gunnar Mallon

About Gunnar Mallon

I am absolutely passionate about cooking and sharing my culinary adventures with other keen cooks. Instead of using fancy expensive ingredients, I like to make simple honest ingredients shine.

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