Basil pesto perfectly represents the Mediterranean diet as it is incredibly delicious, satisfying and heart-healthy. In fact, all 3 of the main ingredients of basil pesto (basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil) have beneficial effects on the heart. These include anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Garlic is a heart-health powerhouse – if eaten multiple times a week, it has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve blood pressure.
These effects are particularly potent with pesto because it is not cooked – so all of the healthy properties of each ingredient are fully intact.
Basil pesto goes well with typical Italian dishes like pasta, pizza or polenta. But it’s also fabulous with many other types of foods – seafood, chicken, steak, eggs, rice and rustic bread just to name a few. And, it’s an amazing sandwich spread if mixed with a little mayo.
This is a creamy, rich pesto recipe due to the addition of toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. A few drops of fresh lemon juice helps keep the beautiful green color nice and bright.
2 cups fresh basil leaves (1 large clamshell package of basil)
4 or 5 garlic cloves
½ cup pine nuts
Fresh lemon juice (few drops)
¼ cup parmesan cheese (finely grated)
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Toast pine nuts over medium heat for about 5 minutes – watch them carefully as they can get overdone and burn quickly. As soon as you smell the aroma of them toasting, shake the pan to redistribute and as soon as they start to get just a little bit golden brown, take them off the stove and add them to the food processor.
Add the basil, garlic, parmesan and a few drops of lemon juice to the food processor and close the lid tight. While the food processor is going, drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil through the feed tube at the top – start with ⅓ cup of oil – if it’s still a little thick, continue and drizzle in a little more oil until it loosens up a little bit. Process until the puree is fairly smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Use right away or you can refrigerate it covered until ready to use. It will keep for 1 week in the fridge. Extra pesto can also be frozen in ice cube trays. Recipe can be doubled.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 1 cup
Vegan/reduced fat version: Eliminate the parmesan and/or pine nuts from the recipe. Sauce will be thinner, but still delicious and packed with all the nutrients of the 3 core ingredients.
*Warfarin note: Basil is a rich source of Vitamin K, a fat soluble nutrient which is involved in the natural process of clotting in the blood. It’s a healthy nutrient, but people who are on a blood thinner like Warfarin need to watch their intake of Vitamin K to keep it consistent each week.
Copyright 2022, Lisa Henderson, RDN / Vitalita Health, Original recipe