Purple Basil Pesto

Pesto is something I don’t make all that often, as it usually tastes too heavy and rich for me.  After all, it’s got nuts, cheese, and a vat or two of oil, and the classic Marcella Hazan recipe I use adds butter.  Put that on top of pasta and I’m asleep 10 minutes after dinner.  But I do like the flavor of pesto and I appreciate having it on hand to dollop (a la pistou) into vegetable soup, spread onto sandwiches or flavor salad dressings or cooked vegetables.

As I mentioned in my other purple posts, I am in a color cooking phase, and favoring purple for some reason.  With a giant bunch of purple thai basil on hand, I put it to use in a purple salad (recipe forthcoming), and then made some pesto.  I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe, adapting it with a squirt of lemon for a blink of lightness and tang.  I then did something Marcella would be turning in her grave at:  I put it atop rice vermicelli.  Yep, I did.  That’s what was in my cupboard and I wanted to see what it would taste like.  It was so good that seconds, though not available, were very much wanted.

The second night we ate it with our leftover Beetburger mix, broken up and cooked in a saucepan for a few minutes.  Also very good, even if not photo-worthy.

The third night I made the classic Ligurian pasta dish, Trofie with Potato and Green Beans in Pesto Sauce.  Probably the best of the three, and yes, I was in bed 10 minutes afterward.

Pesto 3 (1 of 1)

Pesto (1 of 1)

plated (4 of 5)

forked (1 of 3)

trofie (1 of 1)

trofie 2 (1 of 1)

trofie 3 (1 of 1)

As promised in the Beetburger Recipe, here is the recipe for our purple pesto, adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, probably the single most reliably awesome collection of recipes I own.

Classic Pesto

Servings: 6


  • 2 cups fresh purple basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped fine before putting in the processor
  • salt
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 2 tablespoons pecorino romano cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced


  1. Briefly soak and wash the basil in cold water, and gently pat it thoroughly DRY with paper towels.
  2. Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, and an ample pinch of salt in the processor bowl, and process to a uniform, creamy consistency
  3. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the two grated cheeses by hand. It is worth the slight effort to do it by hand to obtain the notably superior texture it produces.
  4. When the cheese has been evenly amalgamated with the other ingredients, mix in the softened butter and lemon juice, distributing it uniformly into the sauce.
  5. When spooning the pesto over pasta, dilute it slightly with a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta was cooked.



33 Comments on “Purple Basil Pesto

  1. So pretty! 🙂 I am always upset when I have an ingredient with a beautiful color and then after cooking it- the color is lost. The beauty of pesto- lovely color preservation!! Great 🙂

  2. Oh my, how absolutely gorgeous, I love those purple noodles. I think purple basil is so beautiful and like you I don’t make pesto that often and never used the purple stuff, will have to try it.

  3. Beautiful culinary pictures Birgerbird! Also, you are a clever writer…”with a squirt of lemon for a blink of lightness and tang”…pretty cool verbiage here!

  4. Personally, I think Marcella Hazan would be very pleased with you. No doubt, it is a great recipe to begin with, but you really know how to sell it. Love your purples.

  5. I have never made one myself but I absolutely pasta with basil pesto and pinenuts! This recipe is super easy and exotic…Thanks for sharing such wonderfully warm images as well..! Purplez my fav as well..

    I have a Beety Sesamy Flavour-Burst Rice Bowl post up at my space . Do check out out the same if you would. Would love your views..

  6. Hey, I don’t think I’ve seen PURPLE basil before! I really like pesto. It’s easy to make and it tastes great. I try not to remember how much fat there is in it though LOL Gotta make it again soon sometime! I have this new little blender that’s perfect for the job!

  7. Sue, your photos are so incredible and unique!! I love them, and this equally unique recipe. Pesto is such a fabulous condiment to have on hand. Bravo!!

  8. Wow Sue! That’s beautiful! I have that cookbook but I really haven’t given it the attention it deserves, and now you’ve pointed me that way again :). I love that you posted this because I saw a place advertising purple basil the other day and I was going to buy but I thought that maybe I should get a bit more familiar with it first. so I take this post as a sign 🙂

    • It is a wonderful cookbook, I especially love the bolognese sauce and the simple tomato sauce with tomato, butter and half an onion steeped in the mixture and then removed. Sometimes I use ghee instead of butter — the sauce is AMAZING!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: