Carol Cunningham's Garden Pesto Recipe

Basil Pesto Straight from the Garden

Carol Cunningham

One of the most significant benefits of having fresh herbs in your home garden is being able to make fresh sauces and marinades. Basil pesto is my all-time favourite. It’s quick and easy, and once you taste homemade pesto, you will never be able to go back to store-bought. My kids love fresh pesto, and it can be adapted to their tastes (less garlic or more cheese). Using fresh, homegrown basil saves you money, gives the pesto an amazingly vibrant colour, and you know it’s free from preservatives or additives – not to mention the taste is sensational.

Fresh basil is delicious with homemade gnocchi, stirred through hot pasta, dipped into bread, or loaded on to crunchy crackers.

If you haven’t made pesto before you should know it is a gratifying process, especially if you have grown your basil plant from seed. Taking your garden produce to the kitchen is the best way to know exactly what ingredients are in your meals and what (if any) pesticides are sprayed on to maintain your crops. Pesto won’t take you long to make, just follow my simple steps below and enjoy!

Carol’s Basil Pesto

Watch Carol making her Basil Pesto in real-time HERE


2 cups fresh basil

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

20g Parmesan cheese

15g (about 1 tablespoon) of lightly toasted pine nuts

2-4 cloves of garlic

Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. First and foremost grab a sharp pair of secateurs or snippers to remove the basil leaves from the plant. I use Hoselink Secateurs with their comfortable grip and quick and precise blades, so this job is done in a flash.
  2. Next, toast the pine nuts, being careful not to burn them, you don’t want them browned, just slightly golden. Remove from the heat.
  3. Wash your basil thoroughly (check for any bugs that might like basil as much as you), and pat with a towel to dry.
  4. You can pound the dry ingredients in a mortar and pestle – then mix in the olive oil. Or if you have a blender, add all the ingredients together and blend for a minute or two, until you reach your desired consistency (I prefer mine slightly chunky).

Pesto is very versatile, and it really does not matter if you add more of one ingredient than the other or add your favourite spices for an extra kick to your sauce. Adjusting ingredients due to availability is easy. Often nuts fluctuate in price, so it is a good idea to use what is in season or available to you. I suggest substituting pine nuts for walnuts or macadamia nuts or vice versa. Parmesan cheese can be swapped for another hard cheese too. My tip for Parmesan cheese is to store in the freezer if you don’t use it often. Keeping Parmesan in the freezer will prevent the cheese from going mouldy.

Storing your homemade pesto is easy. I suggest a glass jar or ramekin with a lid. You can keep your basil pesto in the fridge for up to two days. You can drizzle a layer of olive oil on the top to keep it looking fresh and to prevent it from drying out. Otherwise, the pesto can be frozen in ice cube containers for convenience when adding to soups, stews or stirred through pasta. You could also adjust the recipe so that you use melted butter instead of olive oil. Once hardened, you can roll up your pesto into a log, wrap it in baking paper and store in the freezer for buttery pesto sauce, which can be sliced and melted on top of grilled meat or seafood. Play around with what flavour combinations you like and remember to write down or record your process each time you experiment with a new flavour so if you want to re-create it, you know precisely what to add.

Why not try…

My dad swears by adding a few anchovies to the mix, and I think some freshly squeezed lemon into the sauce gives it an extra hit of flavour too.

Follow Carol on Instagram @gardentogut for more recipes, growing tips and garden adventures

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