Authentic Italian Homemade Summer Pesto

Growing up in an Italian household fresh pesto was a traditional part of summer. We would grow as much basil as we could, savoring it for that special time of year when it was time to make pesto.

While it would seem like a lot of work in the summertime, we would always be thankful for the time spent making it when we would have fresh pesto in the dead of winter. A little taste of summer that would help get us through some of those long winter months.

Authentic Homemade Italian Summer Pesto - The Well Essentials

Growing basil for homemade pesto

This summer we grew four large genovese basil plants (the traditional Italian basil used for making pesto) for the purpose of using the basil in a lot of summer dishes, but mostly for making pesto at the middle/end of the summer.

If you decide to grow some of your own basil for really home-grown/homemade pesto then it's important to learn how to take care of your basil plants so that they will continue to grow leaves all summer long. Basil is a warm weather herb and needs 6-8 hours of sun everyday. It loves the heat but also needs to be watered frequently to keep the soil moist so make sure to plant your basil in a sunny spot where it will be easy to water.

When it comes to caring for your basil plants the general rule of thumb is every time a stem has 6-8 leaves on it make sure to trim the leaves back to the first set of leaves. You also want to make sure that you pinch off any flower buds that you see growing to ensure that your basil doesn't go to seed. 

If you do these two simple things each week with four plants you can expect to have about two cups of basil to harvest and store or use for cooking every week. 

Authentic Homemade Italian Summer Pesto - The Well Essentials

pesto is all about personal preference

When it comes to making your own pesto the exact recipe you will use really is about personal preference. Over the years my family and I have tweaked ours depending on what ingredients we had available and what we wanted to use it for. 

For example, for pasta dishes I like to make a thicker pesto to use for a pesto sauce that I know I will be adding olive oil to when cooking. But for something like pizza I like the pesto to be a little more runny. The only difference really is in the amount of oil used, and of course people have different opinions when it comes to how much garlic they prefer so as always remember to taste as you go, and use your own personal preference as a gauge for how you make your pesto.

One of the best parts of learning how to cook really is learning how to adjust recipes and sauces like this one according to your own personal taste and needs. My advice: Always start with less and add as you go. 

Authentic Homemade Italian Summer Pesto - The Well Essentials

How To Make Pesto The Old-Fashioned Way (Or If You Don't Have A Food Processor)

If you don't have a food processor, or are just trying to channel your Italian grandma (or mine) then using a mortar and pestle is the way to go. While I love how easy it is to make big batches of pesto using my cusinart food processor I sometimes like to go a little old school and make it the old-fashioned way. 

Using a mortar and pestle (this one is from ten thousand villages and I love it!) is actually pretty simple when it comes to making pesto. All you have to do is finely chop up your basil, nuts, and garlic, and use the mortar and pestle to really work the ingredients together. I then like to transfer the garlic/basil mixture into a separate bowl and will fold in the parmesan, olive oil, and sea salt. 

Authentic Homemade Italian Summer Pesto - The Well Essentials

Common Mistakes When Making Pesto

While pesto really is easy to make there are a few common mistakes that people may make that I want to help you avoid.

  1. Over processing: If you over process your pesto it will turn from more of a sauce or dip into a paste. While it still would taste great the consistency won't be as appealing so make sure you don't over process.

  2. Not Letting Your Basil Dry: In order to get the best pesto possible you really want to make sure that your basil leaves are dry. If they are wet when you go to freeze your pesto it could end up crystalizing on the inside of the jar.

  3. Not De-Stemming Your Basil Leaves: No one wants stems in their pesto, make sure you remove the stems of your basil before making your pesto.

  4. Forgetting To Add Oil To The Top Of Your Jars: If you want your pesto to avoid freezer burn and maintain its color/taste I always like to add a layer of olive oil to the top of each jar. Then when you go to heat up the pesto it will just melt into the sauce and will ensure that your pesto tastes just as good months later.

Other than that pesto is a really simple sauce that almost anyone can make, and I promise that once you start making it yourself you most likely wont be able to go back to the store bought kind. 

Authentic Homemade Italian Summer Pesto - The Well Essentials
Authentic Homemade Italian Summer Pesto - The Well Essentials

Authentic Italian Homemade Summer Pesto


  • 3 garlic cloves

  • 1/4 cup walnuts (you can also use the traditional pine nuts but opt for organic and not from China!)

  • 2 packed cups of fresh basil

  • 1/3-1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese (or Nutritional Yeast to make a Vegan Pesto)

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt


  • Place garlic cloves, walnuts, basil, cheese, olive oil, and sea salt into a food processor

  • Pulse on high for ~1 minute or until all ingredients are well combined.

  • Taste as you go and add more olive oil, garlic, or parmigiano as necessary.

  • With a rubber spatula scoop pesto out of food processor & place into a glass mixing bowl.

  • Drizzle with a layer of olive oil and store in the freezer for homemade fresh pesto all winter long.

  • Note: Make sure you don't over process as the pesto will form more of a paste if it is over processed.

Note: This pesto will keep in a refrigerator for up to a week and will freeze for a very long time if you place it in an airtight container. So make a whole batch this summer so you can enjoy it all winter long. Trust me you are going to want to!

This post does contain affiliate links however as always all opinions are honest and my own.