10 Creative Ways to Use Pesto

10 Creative Ways to Use Pesto

If you’re trying to figure out how to use basil in large quantities, pesto is always the answer! Whether you’re looking for pesto pasta, pesto chicken, or some new ways to use pesto you might not have tried, we’ve got you covered. 

  • By Leila Kalmbach
  • July 14, 2020

One of the best parts of summer is the explosion of herbs that pops up in gardens (and grocery stores) everywhere. It’s hard to resist the fragrant, bright green leaves of mint, cilantro, thyme, oregano, parsley, and dill — but the herb that gets us most excited has to be basil.

Because with basil comes pesto. And with pesto comes endless possibilities (pestobilities?).

We’ll always love a classic bowl of pesto pasta, of course, but pesto can do so much more than just pasta. That’s why we wanted to share some of our favorite creative ways to use pesto so that the bounty of summer will never get old. But first, we’ll share our favorite pesto recipe, along with some general tips for making pesto your own and enjoying it to the fullest.

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Classic Pesto Recipe

This basil pesto recipe is just a starting point! Customize it using the tips below, or add your own favorite twist. We recommend making a large batch, so you can use it beyond a handful of meals.

Prep time: 10 min

Cook time: 3 min

Total time: 13 min

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • Pine nuts - 2 Tbsp
  • Garlic - 1 clove, peeled
  • Cheese, parmesan (opt) - 1 oz, cut into large pieces
  • Basil leaves, fresh - 1 1/2 oz
  • Lemon juice - 2 tsp
  • Oil, olive - 3 Tbsp

Instructions

Make

  1. Toast pine nuts in a dry skillet or frying pan until fragrant and golden, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Place pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese (if using), basil leaves, and lemon juice in a food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are well chopped. With food processor running, drizzle in olive oil until smooth. (Add some additional olive oil if needed to help everything blend.)
  3. Season to taste with some salt and pepper.

Mix and Match Pesto

There’s more than one way to make pesto! Here are our favorite tips for changing up the flavors, saving money, and making the process more efficient:

Add other herbs

Pesto doesn’t have to be made with just basil! Throw in whatever herbs you have on hand to round out the flavors (or to make up the bulk, if you’re short on basil). Cilantro, parsley, mint, dill, sage, chives, or alternate varieties of basil (such as lemon basil or Thai basil) are all great choices to be mixed with basil in your pesto. You can also omit the basil altogether if you prefer, and make pesto exclusively with other herbs.

Try with veggies

You also don’t need to limit yourself to only herbs! Throwing in some greens, such as spinach, arugula, or kale, is a great way to use up odd amounts of leftover leaves. Sun-dried tomatoes are also a great choice, as are roasted bell peppers and kalamata olives.

Swap the pine nuts

Pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts, which are delicious but can be pricey. To make pesto on a budget — or just to try out some new flavors — try using walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, sunflower seeds, or pepitas. 

Freeze leftovers

Making pesto can be time-consuming, so it’s often not worthwhile to make a small batch. It’s also more cost-effective to buy herbs in large quantities, provided they don’t go bad before you can use them. That’s why we’re such big fans of freezing pesto, which preserves the flavors and nutrients for much longer than they’d stay good in the fridge (up to a week, compared to six months in the freezer for pesto).

Our favorite method for freezing pesto is to portion it out into ice cube trays, freeze until solid, then transfer to an airtight container. Alternately, you can put it into a freezer bag, spread it thinly (about a quarter of an inch), squeeze out all the air, and freeze flat. This way, you can break off and thaw the amount you need.

Now that you have fresh pesto ready to go, let’s talk about some tasty ways on how to use it! (Click on the photos below to get the full recipe of each dish.)


Creative Ways to Use Pesto

1. Stir a Scoop Into Soup

Add a burst of flavor to your soup by stirring in a scoop of pesto after the soup has been taken off the heat and before serving. Summer soups tend to be broth-based and full of seasonal vegetables, which makes them a natural pairing with basil. The other ingredients in pesto, such as garlic and lemon, often go in soups anyway, and the pine nuts (or other ground nuts) add a touch of body to the soup. Plus, a swirl of pesto is just plain pretty!

2. Spread on Bread

Sure, you can add a few leaves of basil to your sandwich, but pesto adds additional flavors that really take a sandwich to the next level. Spread pesto on toasted hamburger buns, baguette, or regular sliced bread alongside mozzarella and tomato, thinly sliced steak with goat cheese, or shredded chicken breast and spinach. The pesto adds moisture to the sandwich that might normally come from mayonnaise, and it’s thick enough that it generally stays in place when you take a bite.

The same applies to pizza. Instead of the traditional tomato sauce, spread a thin layer of pesto onto your preferred pizza bread base – pizza dough, pita bread, naan, focaccia, lavash, bagels, etc. Then simply layer on your veggies and cheese as you normally do for pizza. You can even take pizza sauce to a whole new level when you mix pesto into marinara or Alfredo sauce to create a new pizza sauce!

3. Use as a Veggie Dip

Even if you’re swapping out mayo for pesto in your sandwiches, it doesn’t mean that pesto replaces mayo completely. By mixing a scoop into mayonnaise, you can have a super easy pesto aioli! Or try stirring pesto into hummus, yogurt, sour cream, ranch dressing, vinaigrette, queso, guacamole, or any other favorite condiments, and use that as a dip for your celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, and more. The fresh herbs from pesto add delicious flavor to that raw-veggie crunch, making it a delectable snack for both kids and adults alike.

4. Elevate Roasted Veggies

Why stop at raw veggies? Topping pesto on roasted veggies adds so much flavor and takes them from good to amazing. To roast veggies such as potatoes, carrots, and brussels sprouts, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Spread the veggies on a sheet pan and cover tightly with foil. Cook for 12 minutes, then uncover and toss with a little oil, salt, and pepper. Continue to roast for another 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the type of vegetable and the size of the pieces. Lastly, top with pesto while the veggies are still hot, so all the pesto goodness can seep in.

5. Stir Into Mashed Potatoes

Brighten up mashed potatoes / cauliflower with a tablespoon or two of pesto stirred in! While mashed potatoes with gravy is a classic, nothing beats the ease and fresh flavor of pesto. The fresh herbs, salty cheese, and slight tanginess instantaneously adds flavor to mashes without having to rely heavily on butter, salt, and milk. Plus, you don’t have to use another pot to make gravy! After you boil, drain, and mash the potatoes, simply stir in some pesto and salt / pepper to taste. You can also turn leftover pesto mash into flavorful fritters or croquettes!

6. Make Pesto Butter

Compound butters are an easy way to make a simple meal feel instantly fancy, and mixing pesto with slightly softened butter may just be the easiest way yet to create a deliciously flavorful compound butter. We recommend two parts butter to one part pesto. Soften the butter slightly in the microwave, but don’t let it melt, then simply whisk in the pesto and go! This butter is great slathered on toast, or used as a topping to finish roast vegetables, rice, potatoes, chicken, or fish.

7. Stuff Chicken Breast

Alone or mixed with vegetables, cheeses, and / or nuts, pesto can make a great filling for stuffed chicken breast. This is a relatively easy way to make a meal look and taste more formal. Butterfly your chicken breasts by slicing them in half but keeping the two halves connected on one edge. Then open them up like a book, pound them thin, and season with salt and pepper. Add your fillings, fold them closed, and wrap them up with cooking twine (or prosciutto, as we do in the recipe below). Cook them in a 375 degree F oven for 8 to 15 minutes, or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165F.

8. Enjoy with Eggs

Eggs’ mild flavor means they pair well with a wide variety of bolder flavors, and pesto is no exception — in fact, we’d argue it’s one of the best! Whisk pesto into scrambled eggs before cooking or put a dollop on top of a fried egg. Mix a spoonful into quiche or frittata before pouring the mixture into the crust or baking dish, or artfully swirl in some pesto after the egg mixture is in the dish. Spread pesto onto an omelet after it’s cooked, or dot your veggies and cheese with it after filling. Any way you add pesto to egg dishes is bound to be delicious!

9. Pair with Grilled Meats

There’s nothing better in the summer than some charred meats straight off the grill. While chargrilled flavors stand strong on their own, adding a little pizzazz in the form of pesto makes everything even more exceptional. Grill steaks, chicken, pork, seafood, and kebabs as you normally do, then brush with pesto to combine the freshness of herbs with the smokiness from the grill. (Make sure to brush on pesto after grilling, so that it doesn’t burn.)

You can also mix in a tablespoon of pesto to ground meat as you’re forming burger patties. This will give a big flavor boost to burgers! (And yes, you can apply this to meatballs as well.)

10. Toss with Pasta

Last but certainly not least, there’s nothing wrong with going classic! Toss pesto into your pasta for a simple side to go with chicken breast, steak, or pork chop, alongside roasted or sautéed veggies. Or make it a full meal by mixing vegetables and beans or chunks of meats into the pasta. We also like to add a poached or fried egg on top, so the soft yolk can drip down to the pasta, mingle with the pesto, and create an even richer sauce. Yum!


We hope you’re ready to enjoy all the flavor possibilities that pesto can provide! The recipes featured above are all a part of our meal plan service, where we send you a carefully crafted meal plan menu once a week. For more info and to get a taste test with a free 30 day trial, sign up here. Now that summer is in full bloom, we’ve got more recipes that utilize pesto coming to our meal plan service!

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10 Creative Ways to Use Pesto | Cook Smarts10 Creative Ways to Use Pesto | Cook Smarts10 Creative Ways to Use Pesto | Cook Smarts

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