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Make Your Pesto the Best-o: Recipes to Riff On

Basic pesto ingredients

Learn to Cook: Simple Pesto Recipe

Pesto and summer go together like, well, basil and parmesan. This tasty, zesty condiment is begging to be used all over your picnic menu. From a classic caprese to grilled meats, pesto can brighten up your plate in so many ways.

Plus, you don’t need to be worried about keeping to a recipe. One of the great things about pesto is that you can customize it to your tastes or what you have on hand. (Psst, that means you don’t need to keep it relegated to summer eats.) I like to use walnuts instead of pine nuts in my pesto, and I’ve even used carrot trimmings to make carrot top pesto!

Using what you have on hand allows you to experiment with a variety of flavors to find your favorite pesto. Try out some of these variations!

  • Basil + pine nuts + garlic + lemon
  • Cilantro + pumpkin seeds + cumin + lime
  • Parsley + walnuts + lemon + honey
  • Tarragon + almonds + garlic + sea salt
  • For classic: add grated hard cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Le Gruyere) and olive oil
  • For better-for-you version: skip the cheese and use a mix of olive oil and warm water
  • For fun in any combo: add crushed red chile flakes, pomegranate molasses, fresh dill, tahini, cayenne, smoked paprika

Once you’ve made your pesto, use it immediately or store in the refrigerator with a layer of olive oil on top to keep it fresh. Homemade pesto will last for up to a week in the refrigerator. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays so you have pesto at the ready!

Here are just a few of our favorite pesto recipes and ways to use it.

Engine 2 Kale Pesto

Engine 2 Kale Pesto Recipe

This Health Starts Here recipe adds kale for extra nutrients. It’s a great option for vegans.

Barley and Bean Salad with Herb Pesto

Barley and Bean Salad With Herb Pesto Recipe

Salads are a wonderful way to enjoy pesto, especially with hearty beans and grains.

Salmon With Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Salmon With Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recipe

This salmon recipe shows that pesto can be done in so many ways.

Mexican Red Lentil Soup with Cilantro-Almond Pesto

Mexican Red Lentil Soup With Cilantro-Almond Pesto Recipe

Here, pesto makes a gorgeous topping for a smoky vegetarian soup.

Don’t forget to check out our pesto recipe collection for more inspiration!

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Lorena says …

yes....I LOVE pesto! I've been experimenting with a Cilantro pesto because I have lots of it in my garden, and it's soooo healthy for you! It has Cilantro (2cups), garlic cloves (3), lemon juice (2Tbsp), olive oil (or toasted sesame), salt and pepper. It's very yummy. I've also tried it w/ the traditional parmesan and walnuts, instead of pinon for the nuts and walnut oil. (no lemon)

A.J. says …

Pistachios are a good substitute for pine nuts (that have become expensive) & Meyer lemon olive oil provides a nice brightness. One can choose basil and/or arugula (adds a peppery note) plus parm, gatlic, s&p. Smear this pesto on toasted bread, with sun dried tomatoes & feta for a Mediterranean bruschetta.

Alheniel says …

Today I made a pesto sauce using basil , parsley, oregano, rosemary and kale, from my garden. Seasoned with olive oil, also Parmesan and goat chesse, with little garlic ( I have noticed that garlic gets quite strong when after a couple of days. I do not add the pine nuts due to health reasons,,,and my family loves this pesto, Today I served it with salmon...yummy!

madeleine low says …

You left out the very best pesto of all! BLACK KALE pesto!