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10 Things You Can Do With a Jar of Pesto

10 Things You Can Do With a Jar of Pesto

Every summer, I grow bushels of sweet and lemon basil. I love transforming the herbs into a fresh-tasting, bright green pasta sauce by combining them with garlic, Parmesan and pine nuts.

But you can match up just about any green with any nut to produce a pistou (as the French call it). Pine nuts can be pricey, so I often substitute walnuts, which produce a darker green sauce. And since parsley grows in my garden year round, I’ll use parsley as a base after my basil crop is spent.

Here are just 10 things you can do with a jar of pesto. But really, you’re limited only by your imagination.

1. Pasta sauce: If I know I’m making the pesto for pasta, I’ll leave out the cheese and add it when I’m pasta-ready. I fold the cheese into the steaming pasta, then mix in the pesto.

2. Salad dressing: Add more olive oil for a thinner consistency, then toss with greens.

3. Italian tortellini soup: Drop a tablespoon of pesto into the bowl to give soup stock and tortellini a kick.

4. Rice topping: The bright green basil pesto gives white rice a festive look.

5. Sandwich spread: Spread the pesto on toasted Italian bread, then top with grilled chicken breast and roasted peppers.

6. Couscous topping: For a quick and fancy lunch, toss couscous with the pesto, then top with grilled shrimp or vegetables.

7. Tomato Caprese Dressing: Instead of pouring plain olive oil onto this tomato and mozzarella salad, drizzle a small amount of basil pesto.

8. Pesto meatballs: Mix pesto into ground beef and turkey, to give your meatballs a garlicky taste. Or, add pesto to these veganblack bean “meatballs.”

9. Grilled corn: Spread pesto over ears of corn, cover with aluminum foil, then toss on the grill.

10. Marinade: Coat chicken, fish or meat with pesto, then marinate for at least 8 hours.


Basic Pesto Recipe

I’ve used this basic Joy of Cooking recipe for years. Sometimes, I substitute walnuts for pine nuts, and parsley for basil. Most of the time, I’ll double the recipe, because I want to make good use of basil during its limited, hot-weather growing time.

Often, I’ll freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, and then transfer the single-serving nuggets into a plastic bag until Im ready to use.

1-1/2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 garlic cloves

cup pine nuts.

cup thinly grated Sardinia or Parmesan cheese

cup olive oil

In a food processor with a chopping blade, add and chop in order:

  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Pine nuts
  • Cheese

While the processor is running, pour in olive oil until you have the consistency of creamed butter.

Cover and refrigerate or freeze.

Read more: Food, All recipes, Basics, Eating for Health, Entrees, Soups & Salads, , , , , ,

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Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Lisa Kaplan Gordon, creator, is an award-winning journalist, avid gardener and fly-fisher. She lives in Northern Virginia on a half acre that always needs weeding. Please visit her on Twitter (@kaplan_lisa) and Facebook (Lisa Kaplan Gordon)


+ add your own
3:38PM PST on Feb 27, 2015

Hi Lisa;

First of all, THANK YOU for your "10 things you can do with a jar of Pesto"! I've been in "Pesto Mode" for about 2 weeks now:) It's my first time, and I'm pestoing up a storm.

In this article you said every summer you grow bushels of basil. THAT got my attention immediately. I tried growing basil last year, and I failed miserably. It never got out of a 3" pot before going to live with the Basil Gods":( I'm a horrible mother.

I read that they don't transplant well. Could you please me HOW you grow bushels of basil??? Do you start them in those peat cups or what?

I have NO idea how to begin this year. I can grow the heck out of rosemary though:) OH, by the way, I kill tomatoes too.

Any help you could offer would be GREATLY APPRECIATED!

Thank you so much for your time.


5:42PM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Love it, thanks.

7:16AM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

Have been guilty of eating it straight out the jar. Have also made my own fresh using veggies from the garden - but wrong time of year right now, so I convert to using the jar.

3:14AM PDT on Aug 5, 2014


11:09AM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

Pine nuts are too hard to find here in the Midwest, but I've successfully subbed in pecans or walnuts. Slightly different taste, but still good.

10:12PM PDT on Jul 23, 2014


8:49AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014


9:46PM PDT on Jul 16, 2014

Thank-you for posting. Thinking about pesto bring back some very pleasant memories....mmmmmmm!

6:53AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

Thank you for the recipes and suggestions. I am new to the pesto flavor.

9:50AM PDT on Jul 9, 2014

Thank you :)

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