I have a confession.  Writing out recipes is much more challenging that I thought it would be.

For the past month I’ve been consistently sharing mostly my own recipes, which live in my head and not in an actual recipe book, here on my blog.  Every time I go to make something I have to remind myself to grab a notebook and pen and jot down what I’m throwing into it.  It’s tedious work, but it’s really opened my eyes to 1) how “on-the-fly” my own cooking style actually is 2) how most of cooking has a basic method and once you understand that, you will also be able to cook on-the-fly, aka intuitively, too.

Making pesto is a great exercise in testing your culinary intuition.  I’ll write out the recipe below, but let me first describe to you how I actually made it, in non-standardized recipe form (kind of like how Grandma would tell you how to make her chicken soup over the phone):

When I want to make pesto and I have all my ingredients on hand, the first thing I do is get a small pan and drop a handful or two of pine nuts in it (my hands are small, so this measures out to about 1/3 cup give or take).  While those are toasting I get out the food processor and add about 2 handfuls of spinach to it.  Yes, I use spinach as my base for pesto because I think it balances the basil so nicely and makes a better pesto.  I make sure to check the pine nuts because they can burn if you’re not careful to shake the pan around.  Honestly, this is the most difficult part of pesto making – not forgetting about the pine nuts!  I have burned many batches due to being distracted.  Focus on those nuts!!

Next, I add a good amount of fresh basil to the food processor, probably a cups worth, maybe more.  I add a handful of parmesan cheese, I add the warm and toasty pine nuts.  Then I put that small pan back on the stove over low heat and add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a few cloves of minced garlic.  Once I smell the garlic (about 30 seconds) I know that the spicy bite of it has cooked out and I move the pan to a back burner to cool or even to my granite countertop, where the cold granite will cool the oil quickly.

I put the lid on the food processor and through the opening I add olive oil and process on high.  While its processing, I also add the garlic and olive oil infusion from the stove, along with a big pinch of salt and pepper.  I taste it and adjust my seasonings.  I don’t measure anything and if something is off, I mess around with it until it works.

My challenge to you is to make pesto sometime without following a recipe or any steps.  Just do it and see what happens. Worse case scenario is that it’s way off and you throw it away (please don’t do that!  Message me immediately and we’ll fix it!). 🙂

Image by thealisonhoward.com

Recipe by: Alison Howard


1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 cups spinach
1 cup basil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 – 1 cup olive oil (depending on how loose you like it)
Salt & pepper, to taste


  1. In a small pan, toast pine nuts over medium heat.
  2. In a food processor, add spinach, basil, and parmesan cheese.  Once pine nuts are toasted add them to the food processor.
  3. In the same pan as you toasted the pine nuts, over low heat, add a tablespoon or two of the olive oil and cook the minced garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  You do not want any color on the garlic.  Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.
  4. Put the lid on food processor and pour olive oil through the liquid spout as you process on high.  Add the garlic oil mixture, salt, and pepper.  If too thick, adjust consistency by adding a bit more oil.

If you end up taking my challenge and making this without the recipe I’d love to know!  If you don’t, that’s okay, you now have a bomb pesto recipe to add to your collection.