Pesto-palooza! Ten Ways to Eat Pesto

basil walnut pesto recipe

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, edamame and whole wheat pasta

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.

healthy pesto tortilla pizza

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

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 recipe

Pesto popcorn: stovetop popcorn lightly tossed with pesto and grated Parmesan (optional).

grilled cheese with pesto

Pesto grilled cheese: layer pesto, mozzarella, and roasted red peppers or tomatoes on good whole wheat bread. Grill. Amazing!

pesto and tomato quesadilla

Pesto quesadilla, take one: pesto, tomato and mozzarella between a whole wheat quesadilla.

pesto and white bean quesadilla

Pesto quesadilla, take two: pesto, cannellini beans and low fat mozzarella turned into a quesadilla. Highly recommended!

pesto, tomatoes and mozzarella pearl bagel pizza

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 basil pesto with whole grain pasta

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 with fresh tomatoes

Pesto lasagna: mix pesto into the ricotta cheese. This lasagna was beautiful, yes, but the recipe wasn’t quite right.

4.5 from 2 reviews
Basic Basil Walnut Pesto Recipe
Author: 
Recipe type: Sauce
 
This basic recipe is easy to make in bulk. Simply multiply the amounts provided below based by how many cups of basil you have. Freeze the leftover pesto for later!
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. Over medium high heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant, about three to five minutes.
  2. In a food processor, combine the basil, walnuts and garlic.
  3. Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil.
  4. Remove the mixture from the processor and pour it into a bowl. Stir in salt and a squeeze of lemon (optional), to taste.
Notes
  • 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:

Whew! Now that I’ve shared everything I know about making pesto, what are you waiting for? Go make a big batch of pesto!

Comments

  1. says

    Looks delicious! I love the bean and pesto quesadillas. Have you ever had a piadina? I plan on doing a post this month on them, but they are essentially fat Italian tortillas with a variety of toppings. Yours would fit right in.

  2. says

    What delicious suggestions! I’m most intrigued by the scrambled eggs, popcorn, and quesadillas. (Coincidentally, I actually just posted about a pistachio and cilantro pesto on my blog today – i hope you’ll check it out!)

  3. says

    And what a winning round of ideas they are! Love the popcorn especially, though I wouldn’t say no to any of this. I need to get on board with your practice of freezing pesto in little cubes.

  4. says

    As of right now, I’m totally sold on the whole pesto thing. I need to hunt down a food processor to try some of these recipes! They look absolutely phenomenal. I’m especially loving the tortilla pizza idea!

    Beautiful pictures and awesome food? For the record, your blog is super awesome.

  5. says

    We LOVE pesto around here & I always have some version or another in the freezer. It is really fun to try different varieties! Your ideas are great– I have never thought of adding it to popcorn. Yum!!

  6. says

    Kate, I made the arugula pesto recipe, which was a treat! I was amazed at how easy and delicious it was. I added it to some whole wheat pasta and later on made tortilla pizzas and fell in love!! My family ate everything in less than 10 minutes. Your blog is a godsend!!

  7. says

    Just made a fresh batch of pesto yesterday in my VitaMix, with all my leftover basil plant leaves. Didn’t have pine nuts or walnuts, but substituted some sunflower seeds. It was quite good, actually. This post is wonderful! Now I can find some amazing new ways to use this end of summer treat. Thanks!

  8. Emma says

    Walnut pesto is salsa di noce, a Northern Italian (ligurian) sauce very yummy! It pairs up really well with a Ligurian (Genoa area) ravioli recipe called Pansoti, my favorite thing in the world! We make them every Thanksgiving & Easter from scratch as a family tradition. :) Yummy variations! I love your site!

  9. Marie says

    Hi Kate, I was wondering how you unfreeze the pesto for use when you have bulk batches in the freezer?

    • says

      Hi Marie, I’m sorry for my slow response. It’s best to defrost the pesto slowly, either in the refrigerator or at room temperature, but you can also microwave it.

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