Roasted Garlic Pesto

This sauce is packed with basil and has a polite garlic flavor. Roasting the garlic mellows its flavor and removes some of the harshenss and bad breath that comes from raw garlic.


6 (~2 cups)

Prep Time:


Cook Time:


Total Time:


Roasted Garlic Pesto

Italian | Vegetarian

I think basil, rather than garlic, takes center stage in this recipe. Roasting the garlic mellows the garlic flavor to the point that I think even someone with a garlic aversion would enjoy this sauce.

I’ve spent years trying different pesto recipes and always feeling like something was missing. Finally I took the time to figure out what I liked about each recipe and what I felt they were missing and I came up with my own pesto recipe that I’m really proud of. I think the secret is really in the lemon juice. They say a good food should have fat, acid, and heat. The lemon juice adds some acid that brightens and lightens this sauce.


I first made this pesto sauce with raw garlic. My family and I really enjoyed the sauce while we were eating it, but immediately after we finished dinner we were all wishing we could escape the smell of our own breath. Google says that eating raw apples or pears can help with garlic breath, so I found myself making a run to the grocery store 30 minutes after dinner to pick up some apples. Eating the raw apple brought the garlic breath under control to the point that it wasn’t the only thing we were thinking about anymore..

So! That is why I decided to try roasting the garlic. You still get that garlic flavor, but it is a bit more complex and mellow. The spicyness of the garlic is lost a bit when it is roasted, so be sure to taste the sauce to see if it needs extra black pepper. To roast the garlic, leave the paper on the garlic cloves, cut off the root end of the cloves, and seal them in aluminum foil. The cut end of the cloves should be arranged so they are all facing the same direction and the cut ends are not touching the paper of another clove. This is because the garlic becomes really sticky when it’s roasted and it would be difficult to separate the skin of another clove. That being said, once the garlic is roasted, the garlic is very soft and to remove it from the paper, just squeeze the paper and the meat of the garlic just slides right out! 

Toasting the pine nuts adds some depth of flavor, however, if you don’t feel like dirtying a pan, just use raw pine nuts. When asked about the value of the toasty-ness of the pine nuts, my taste-testers said I should have made a control for them to compare it to. Translation: “We’re gonna want pesto again tomorrow, so you better get on that” ;-)

As for the parmesan, any parmesan will do, but this is one recipe where it is worth springing for a quality name brand parmesan cheese. The parmesan in this recipe is one of the key flavors, so a better parmesan will make a better sauce. On a more practical note, this recipe calls for grated parmesan instead of shredded. That is because I find that my food processor does not even try to cut shredded parmesan into anything smaller than the way it started. Also, the even/small pieces of grated cheese add a more consistent saltiness and cheesy flavor per bite in my opinion. 

This recipe calls for 5 cups of packed basil leaves. By “packed” I mean that you should try to shove as many basil leaves as possible into your 1 cup measure. This is about equivalent to 8oz of pre-packaged basil with stems that you can buy at the store. I can usually find basil packed in 4oz containers at the grocery store in the summer. If you measure out your basil and find that you have extra, add the extra – there’s no such thing as too much basil in pesto sauce!

I have to admit that this is one of the most expensive dishes I make. The pine nuts are expensive, I use quality cheese, and buying basil at the grocery store.. I’d recommend that if there’s a farmer’s market near you, you’ll get a significantly better price on basil there. I would usually buy two large bundles of basil from a farmer’s market. (Cool trick – you can put your stems of basil in a cup of water on the counter, like you would flowers, and it will stay fresher and perkier longer than if you just put it in the fridge). As for the pine nuts, I’ve read that sunflower seeds are a good alternative to pine nuts in pesto sauce, so you might try that if you’re looking for a way to make this sauce a whole lot more economical.

Let me know if you made this recipe and what you thought of it in the comments section below!

Happy cooking!

Roasted Garlic Pesto

This sauce is packed with basil and has a polite garlic flavor. Roasting the garlic mellows its flavor and removes some of the harshness and bad breath that comes from raw garlic.


  • 15 large cloves of garlic (~ 1 to 1.5 hands of garlic)
  • 4 oz (~1 cup) pine nuts
  • 5 cups packed basil leaves (around 8oz of pre-packaged basil on the stem)
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • Heaping ½ cup grated parmesan cheese (nicer brand cheese is better)
  • ¾ cup olive oil (or more if you prefer a thinner sauce)
  • 1/8 – ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/8 – ¼ tsp pepper

Step by Step Instructions

Step 1

Preheat oven to 400 F

Step 2

Without removing the paper on the garlic cloves, cut off the root end of the garlic cloves and seal the heads together in foil (with the cut sides all facing the same direction) and set directly on the middle rack in the oven to roast for 30 minutes. The roasted garlic is very sticky, so if one of the cut sides is touching the paper of another clove, they will stick together and it will be difficult to separate them

Step 3

Preheat a frying pan on medium high heat without oil for 3 minutes. Pour the pine nuts into the preheated pan and stir regularly until they begin turning golden brown (about 3 minutes). Remove from stove and allow to cool

Step 4

Pick the basil leaves off the stem and put them in a food processor

Step 5

Add the cooled toasted pine nuts and lemon juice to the food processor and pulse, until a rough paste forms (if using a blendor instead of a food processor, add the oil as well at this point)

Step 6

When garlic is cooled, squeeze the flesh of the garlic out of the skin/paper and into the food processor. Pulse a few times

Step 7

Add the olive oil and grated cheese and pulse to mix

Step 8

Add half of the salt and pepper to start, pulse, taste, add more as you like

Step 9

Layer in the rest of the eggplant and caramelized onions and cover it with the rest of the rice

Step 10

Serve immediately. The sauce is good left over, but the olive oil hardens in the fridge, so it will need a few seconds in the microwave and possibly a dash more olive oil to bring it back to its original consistency


*This sauce can be made with a blendor instead of a food processor but I recommend adding the oil in step 5 instead of waiting until step 7

**If you’re short on time, this sauce is good even without roasting the garlic and without toasting the pine nuts. However doing that cooking adds a lot of nuanced flavor

***Any parmesan cheese will work, but grated parmesan, as opposed to shredded, makes the sauce more even in terms of texture and the amount of salt in each bite

****Use a high quality parmesan if possible. It really brings the sauce up a couple notches

Did you make this recipe? Have a question?

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