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How to Make a Basil Pesto Sauce (Italian and Peruvian Recipes)

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

Fresh Basil Pesto & Pasta

Fresh Basil Pesto & Pasta

Recipe for Pesto Sauce: Italian and Peruvian Pesto

We received a lunch invitation the day we arrived in Peru. What was on the menu? tallarín verde, or green noodles. Although it didn't sound especially appealing, the enthusiasm of the youngest member of the family was hard to ignore. Bouncing up and down, she licked her lips and rolled her eyes in ecstasy. "It's her favorite dish," the mother explained fondly.

Maybe it was an acquired taste, like green eggs and ham? Never one to turn up our nose at new foods, we dutifully showed up at the family's home at high noon. When a generous portion of pasta was set before us, we realized with surprise that tallarín verde is the Peruvian version of Italian pesto! A pourable green sauce made without olive oil, it is creamy and mild. Like America's macaroni and cheese, this dish is a popular comfort food and a favorite of many Peruvian children. Often served with potato slices smothered in an aji-based Peruvian sauce, this dish quickly became one of our favorites as well.

Of course, we still enjoy classic Italian pesto. Versatile as a condiment, it can be used as a sandwich spread and adds zest to lasagna. Swirl a dollop into homemade tomato soupfor an extra special treat. Although Peruvian pesto is lower in fat, both pesto varieties are full of antioxidants and calcium and form part of a healthy lifestyle.

Classic Italian Pesto

Classic Italian Pesto

Zesty and Fresh Italian Basil Pesto

Prep timeReady inYields

30 min

30 min

Serves 8


  • 1/2 cup walnuts and/or pine nuts (pignolias)
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 3/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 1 cup olive oil, extra virgin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Note: For sun-dried tomato pesto, use 1 (8.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil (both tomatoes and oil) instead of 1 cup of olive oil listed in the above ingredients.

Metric Conversion

  • 75 grams walnuts and/or pine nuts
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 65 grams parmesan cheese
  • 230 grams basil leaves
  • 240 mL olive oil
  • 5 mL salt
  • 5 mL ground pepper
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  1. Place nuts, garlic, parmesan, salt, and pepper in food processor container. Process until well blended.
  2. Add basil leaves and continue to process until a green paste has formed.
  3. While processor is running, slowly add olive oil in a stream until the ingredients come together.
  4. Toss fresh pesto with hot pasta. Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
  5. Buon Appetito!

Tips and Variation Ideas

  • If you don't have enough basil, you can substitute up to half the volume of leaves with baby spinach, kale, or chard.
  • Try cilantro instead of basil for a delicious variation on the classic.
  • Substitute pecans or almonds for the walnuts.
  • Choose your favorite pasta to toss with pesto. My husband is adamant about his pasta of choice: angel hair.
  • For creamier pesto, combine with heavy cream before tossing with hot pasta.
  • For lower fat creamy pesto, combine with a few tablespoons of pasta water before tossing with hot pasta.
  • Pesto can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. A thin layer of olive oil on the pesto's surface will keep oxidization to a minimum.
  • Pesto freezes well. Try freezing in ice cube trays and storing the cubes in ziplock bags.

Serving Ideas

  • Don't miss Mama Kim's delicious chicken alfredo and pesto vegetable lasagna!
  • Swirl a dollop of pesto into thick and creamy tomato soup.
  • Mix one tablespoon pesto with one tablespoon mayonnaise for a sandwich spread, especially delicious with chicken or turkey.
  • Blend pesto and ricotta for a unique party dip.
  • Add pesto to the ricotta cheese layer for extra flavorful lasagna.
  • Spread pesto on toasted baguettes and serve with soup.
Peruvian Tallarin Verde

Peruvian Tallarin Verde

Peruvian Tallarin Verde (Green Noodles)

This is Peruvian comfort food at its best. A pourable sauce, it's tossed with spaghetti or linguine pasta.


  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup or 35 grams raw pecans
  • 4 ounces or 110 grams fresh cheese (queso fresco)
  • 1/2 cup or 120 mL evaporated (canned) milk
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • extra fresh cheese, for grating

Note: 1 cup cottage cheese is a great substitute for the fresh cheese and evaporated milk.


  1. Place ingredients in a blender container and process until smooth.
  2. Serve with a sprinkling of grated queso fresco.

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