A couple of months ago, I happened across a most magnificent vendor at the farmers’ market. She was selling tie-dyed shirts and bright green basil—lots and lots of it. I felt like a kid in a candy store when I scored six cups of basil for nine dollars under the shade of her colorful tent. I went home feeling giddy about my purchase, which turned into a big batch of pesto the next day.
I froze the pesto in ice cube trays for later, just like I did with the arugula pesto, and I’ve been putting pesto on practically everything since. I’ve found that adding flavorful homemade pesto to a quick, ordinary meal makes it seem like a gourmet special.
A few of my experiments weren’t worth sharing, but I managed to come up with ten fantastic, easy ideas for you. Plus, I’ve typed up a basic basil and walnut pesto recipes and some tips on making pesto at the bottom of this post. Buon appetito!
Pesto pasta with extra protein: Toss steamed, shelled edamame, lightly sautéed spinach (optional) and whole wheat rotini in pesto. The buttery texture of edamame complements pesto surprisingly well.
Pesto tortilla pizza: Top an organic whole wheat tortilla with pesto, reduced fat mozzarella and sliced tomatoes. Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably on a baking rack, until the cheese is golden and bubbling.
Pesto scrambled eggs: cook your scrambled eggs as usual and take the pan off the burner once the eggs are mostly set. Stir in pesto and top with Parmesan and diced tomatoes.
Pesto popcorn: stovetop popcorn lightly tossed with pesto and grated Parmesan (optional).
Pesto grilled cheese: layer pesto, mozzarella, and roasted red peppers or tomatoes on good whole wheat bread. Grill. Amazing!
Pesto quesadilla, take one: pesto, tomato and mozzarella between a whole wheat quesadilla.
Pesto quesadilla, take two: pesto, cannellini beans and low fat mozzarella turned into a quesadilla. Highly recommended!
Arugula pesto pizza bagel: Oh my. Top a 100% whole wheat bagel with pesto, mozzarella pearls and cherry tomatoes. Bake at 450 for about ten minutes, until the cheese is melted. Let the bagels cool slightly and top with arugula that has been lightly tossed in lemon juice, salt and pepper. I can thank Joy the Baker for inspiring this creation.
Avocado pesto pasta: This might not be the prettiest pasta around, but it sure is tasty. Combine roughly equal parts avocado and pesto in your food processor. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Blend thoroughly. Drizzle in extra olive oil if necessary. If you’re feeling adventurous, blend in some goat cheese, too. Toss with whole wheat pasta.
Pesto lasagna: mix pesto into the ricotta cheese. This lasagna was beautiful, yes, but the recipe wasn’t quite right.
- 1 lightly packed cup of basil
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- ¼ cup walnuts, lightly toasted
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (Alice recommends twice this amount, but my food processor couldn’t take any more oil and I felt like this was plenty)
- salt, to taste
- squeeze of lemon juice
- Over medium high heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant, about three to five minutes.
- In a food processor, combine the basil, walnuts and garlic.
- Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil.
- Remove the mixture from the processor and pour it into a bowl. Stir in salt and a squeeze of lemon (optional), to taste.
- Based off Alice Waters' recipe in The Art of Simple Food.
- I did not include Parmesan cheese in this recipe because pesto tends to freeze better without cheese. That also means this pesto recipe is vegan.
Tips on making pesto in bulk:
- Make pesto as soon as possible after procuring fresh basil, because basil goes bad quickly. The woman at the farmers’ market recommended leaving it in a bowl at room temperature, and covering it with a damp kitchen towel.
- Some pesto purists insist on making pesto the traditional way, with a mortar and pestle. They say it has more flavor that way. I wasn’t about to grind up 6 cups of basil by hand, so I used my food processor.
- Basil oxidizes quickly, which is why freshly made pesto is bright green but darkens with time. If you want to retain the bright green color, you can apparently blanch the basil beforehand. I didn’t bother with this step, but you can read more about it here.
- To freeze pesto, spoon fresh pesto into an ice cube tray. Freeze for a few hours, then pop out the cubes and store in a freezer-safe container for later. I got the idea from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
- Some instructions on freezing pesto suggest that you leave out the parmesan altogether, and add fresh parmesan to your pasta when you’re ready to eat it. I haven’t had any trouble with the arugula pesto, which did have Parmesan in it, but I left it out of the recipe above just in case.
- Save money on your homemade pesto by using toasted walnuts instead of the more traditional pine nuts. Walnuts taste just as good!
Feeling adventurous? Here are some unconventional pesto recipes that are on my radar:
- Easy Homemade Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto by Perry’s Plate
- Broccoli and Hazelnut Pesto by Green Kitchen Stories
- Green Giant Cilantro Pesto by My New Roots
- Oil-Free Basil Pesto with White Beans by Oh She Glows
- Spinach Cashew Pesto (on Hasselback potatoes!) by Joy the Baker
- Cherry Tomato Pesto by Carrie on Food52
- Susan’s Low Fat Basil and Tomato Pesto by Moosewood Restaurant
- Edamame and Cilantro Pesto by A Nutritionist Eats
Whew! Now that I’ve shared everything I know about making pesto, what are you waiting for? Go make a big batch of pesto!