Purple basil is a vibrant, fun variety of basil that adds a gorgeous pop of color to any herb garden. I grew some last year, but then I really had no idea what to make with it. It has a slightly different flavor than Italian basil; it’s not as sweet, and has a baking spice (specifically clove) aroma and flavor to it.
Luckily, it’s PERFECT for making pesto. The flavor is robust, delicious, and perfectly paired with toasted pine nuts, fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, and parmesan cheese. I love to spread purple basil pesto on toasted crostini, or mix it into fresh pasta and top with creamy buratta cheese. This small batch recipe makes a heaping 1/3 cup of pesto, and comes together in about 15 minutes.
- 1 cup Fresh Purple Basil Leaves (tightly packed)
- 2 tbsp. Toasted Pine Nuts*
- 1 clove Garlic (smashed)
- 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the best you can find)
- 1/2 tsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
- 1/4 cup Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese**
*Toasting pine nuts changes the flavor of the nuts and creates a deep, toasted flavor that completely changes the taste of the pesto for the better. Toasting pine nuts is easy, and I break down how to do it in the recipe below. If you absolutely cannot toast the nuts, don’t stress – but if you have access to a way to toast them, it’s a must.
**I use a microplane (zester) to grate my parmesan, so I actually grate 1/3 cup of cheese when using that method. If you love to grate parmesan on top of salads, pastas, or any other dishes, a great microplane is a good investment! It creates pillowy, soft shreds of parmesan that effortlessly melt into any recipe. If you’re using pre-grated parmesan cheese or the small grating holes on a cheese grater, stick with 1/4 cup of parmesan to start and increase as desired.
Is Purple Basil Different than Green Basil?
There are a LOT of basil varieties, and they all offer a slightly different flavor than the next. Purple basil is less sweet than typical green basil varieties, (like sweet basil or Genovese basil), and purple basil has a warm, baking spice aroma and flavor that is very similar to clove. It’s an absolutely delicious varietal to use in this pesto recipe, but it’s also delicious when tossed into salads, sprinkled on top of fresh pasta, or used in caprese salads.
How to Make Purple Basil Pesto
Pesto is a simple recipe, but making the best pesto requires toasting the pine nuts before blending them into the other ingredients.
First, spread the pine nuts in a single layer in a dry skillet. Cook the nuts over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, tossing regularly, until they’re a darker, golden brown color and very fragrant. (Alternatively, you can bake the pine nuts on a small, rimmed baking sheet at 350 F for 10-12 minutes, tossing regularly, until dark golden brown and very fragrant.) Set aside to cool.
In a mini food processor, combine basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, and smashed garlic clove.
Pulse on “high” until all ingredients are minced. (The pesto will be thick and chunky at this point.)
Slowly drizzle in olive oil, pulsing frequently, until totally combined. (The pesto will be smooth and glossy at this point.)
Add finely grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and lemon juice. Pulse until the cheese is just combined.
Transfer the pesto to a bowl and scrape down the sides of the mini food processor to stir in any Parmesan cheese that didn’t get combined. Serve immediately, or refrigerate in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
The pesto itself won’t be very purple, but it will be a rich, dark green color. The flavor is more robust compared to fresh pesto made with green basil! The subtle baking notes (like clove) make purple basil pesto more complex, and it’s a welcomed, noticeable difference.
What To Eat with Purple Basil Pesto
You should feel comfortable with using purple basil pesto as freely as you would use any other pesto. Some of my favorite ways to use pesto are through simple recipes that allow the fresh ingredients to shine! Some crusty bread is a great vessel for soaking up fresh pesto, or a fresh caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and some balsamic glaze would be great. Use the fresh basil pesto in place of fresh basil leaves! If you’re looking for recipes, here are some of my favorites:
- Turkey Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
- Creamy Pesto Gnocchi for Two
- Baked Pesto Turkey Meatballs with Feta
- Oven-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta with Mozzarella and Pesto
- Avocado Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwiches for Two
- Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup for Two (this is an excellent soup to drizzle fresh pesto on top)
I hope you love this purple basil pesto recipe! If you make it and share it on Instagram, be sure to tag me so I can see your beautiful pesto! If you really love it, a comment and star rating below would be amazing, too. If you have any questions while making it, send me an email so I can help out!
Small Batch Purple Basil Pesto
- 1 cup Purple Basil Leaves tightly packed
- 2 tbsp. Toasted Pinenuts
- 1 clove Garlic smashed
- 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil the best you can find
- 1/2 tsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/4 tsp. Kosher Salt Diamond Crystal brand
- 1/4 cup Finely Grated Parmesan*
- Spread pine nuts in a single layer in a dry skillet. Cook the nuts over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, tossing regularly, until dark, golden brown and very fragrant. Set aside to cool**
- In a mini food processor, combine basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, and smashed garlic clove. Pulse on "high" until all ingredients are minced.
- Slowly drizzle in olive oil, pulsing frequently, until totally combined.
- Add finely grated parmesan, salt, and lemon juice. Pulse until the cheese is just combined.
- Serve immediately, or refrigerate in an airtight container for 2-3 days. Alternatively, freeze pesto for up to 6 months.***