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Classic Pesto Orecchiette – A Homemade Pesto Recipe

Classic Pesto Orecchiette – A Homemade Pesto Recipe

Pesto Orecchiette is one of Italy’s simplest and most popular pasta dishes. More than half of the ingredients can always be found in an Italian kitchen making it a go-to recipe in the house. As an Italian-American, I can say the same for myself.

What I love about Pesto Orecchiette is how easy it is to make. Once you learn how to make pesto, you will never buy the expensive ones in the store ever again!

Furthermore, I like to toss my homemade pesto with orecchiette because it’s a thick pasta with vessels that can hold extra pesto for the perfect bite. With that said, you can always use your choice of pasta to make this classic Italian recipe.

What is Pesto?

A bowl of bright green pesto with pine nuts and small basil leaves surrounding it.

Pesto is a flavorful and bright green sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. It is made of fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, garlic cloves, parmesan, and pecorino romano cheese.

Traditionally, all of the ingredients were crushed together by using a mortar and pestle. Today, it is more common to blend all of the ingredients in a food processor.

Once you learn how to make a classic pesto, you can definitely get creative to make different types of pesto. I have seen recipes that substitute the pine nuts for walnuts or pistachios and the basil for spinach or kale. People use these substitutions to help with food cost or to get a different flavor profile.

Personally, we love to add pesto to almost anything! From tossing it with pasta and cheese ravioli to using it as a spread on our sandwiches, drizzled over mozzarella cheese, on pizza, and more. Pesto is such a flavorful and profound sauce that a little bit can go a long way.

Pesto Orecchettie in Italy

A spoon of pesto orecchiette close up with a big bowl of it blurred behind the spoon.

Fresh basil is grown in almost every household in Italy. Moreover, you can also find other essential ingredients in an Italian kitchen such as fresh tomatoes, garlic, pasta, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. The only other ingredients needed to make pesto is pecorino romano and pine nuts. So it makes sense why we enjoyed fresh pesto with pasta countless times with our Italian hosts.

The first time we had pesto was in Brescia. Our host, (who also happened to be a chef), tossed his homemade pesto in orecchiette pasta. Further into our trip in Italy, we had pesto several other time but with other types of pasta. However, pesto orecchiette remained our favorite. Hence, my inspiration for this recipe.

Before trying pesto orecchiette, I always tossed pesto sauce with ravioli or thin spaghetti. So when we had the pesto orecchiette, I quickly found a new way to enjoy pesto. I liked that the pasta shape of orecchiette is thick and has a vessel to stick and hold more of the delicious pesto. Now orecchiette is my go-to when I make a pasta dish with pesto.

List of Ingredients for Pesto Orecchiette

A bowl full of pesto orecchiette with grated parmesan cheese on top.

The star ingredient for Pesto Orecchiette is the fresh basil. If you have ever wanted to get a green thumb and grow an herb, this is the best time to do it! A pesto sauce requires SO MUCH fresh basil. So rather than purchasing fresh basil at the grocery store, I recommend purchasing a pot of fresh basil.

You can either use all of the fresh basil leaves from your pot and never touch it again. Or you can try your hand at gardening to grow more basil leaves to make more pesto in the future. Personally, I am able to get enough basil to make homemade pesto at least once a month!

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Pine nuts
  • Garlic cloves, minced
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

How to Make Pesto Orecchiette

This is seriously one of the easiest pasta sauces you will ever make. First you make the pesto sauce. Then you boil your orecchiette pasta. Toss the pasta with the pesto sauce, and viola!

How to Make Homemade Pesto

A mortar of homemade pesto with pine nuts and basil leaves around it.

The first step is prepping all of your ingredients. Start with washing, gently patting dry, and removing any long stems on the fresh basil leaves. Toast the pine nuts on a baking sheet at 350°F for 3 minutes or until lightly golden. Lastly, mince the garlic and grate the cheeses.

Add the toasted pine nuts and minced garlic to the food processor and pulse together. The mixture will look gritty. Then add the fresh basil leaves and cheeses. Pulse together again.

While the food processor is running, slowly pour the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. This recipe should make about one cup of pesto.

Adding Orecchiette Pasta

Boil a pot of water with a pinch of salt. Once the water comes to a boil, add the orecchiette pasta and cook as directed on the box (about 11 minutes).

Ladle a cup of the pasta water and reserve it for later. Drain the pasta.

Dilute the pesto with 1 – 2 tablespoons of pasta water. Start with one tablespoon and if you want a more runny pesto sauce, add another tablespoon as needed.

Toss the pesto with the orecchiette pasta. Grate more parmesan cheese to add on top. Serve and enjoy.

A close up on a plate of pesto orecchiette with a big bowl of it in the background.

More Italian Pasta Recipes

Homemade Pesto with Orecchiette Pasta

Homemade Pesto with Orecchiette Pasta

Yield: 4 - 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 11 minutes
Total Time: 21 minutes

A delicious homemade pesto with orecchiette pasta. A simple and authentic Italian dish.


  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • 2 cups (packed) fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated (plus more for garnish)
  • 3 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Prep your ingredients first - wash, pat dry, and remove stems from the basil leaves. Mince the garlic, and grate the cheese.
  2. Toast the pine nuts at 350°F for 3 minutes or until lightly golden.
  3. In a food processor, add the minced garlic and toasted pine nuts. Pulse the ingredients together, it will look gritty. Add the basil and cheeses. Pulse again until all the ingredients are mixed well.
  4. With the food processor running, slowly pour the olive oil until the pesto is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  5. Boil a pot of water with a pinch of salt. Add the orecchiette pasta and cook as directed on the box (about 11 minutes). Reserve one cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  6. Dilute the pesto with one tablespoon of pasta water. You can add another tablespoon as needed if you want a thinner pesto sauce.
  7. Toss the pesto sauce and orecchiette pasta together. Grate more parmesan cheese on top as garnish. Serve and enjoy!


Feel free to substitute the pine nuts for other nuts such as, walnuts and pistachios. Additionally, you can also substitute all or some of the basil for spinach or kale.

Orecchiette is my favorite pasta for pesto because it has vessels to hold more pesto and it also sticks to the pasta, but you can use your favorite pasta too.

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