Pesto Recipe, Many Ways

Pesto is one of my favorite condiments to keep on hand. Try these easy, fun pesto recipe variations to brighten pasta, salads, roasted veggies & more!

Pesto Recipe, Many Ways

We’ve been making a lot of pesto lately. It’s one of my favorite condiments, especially for lazy summertime cooking. I like to dollop it on grilled vegetables, pasta, spaghetti squash, salads, eggs, toasted bread, pizza, sandwiches… you get the idea. With just a few easy steps, it makes anything an instant tasty meal whether you felt like cooking or not.

What is pesto, and how do I make it?

Traditional pesto is a blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. With a food processor, it comes together in just a few steps:

  1. Pulse the nuts and garlic in the food processor until they’re finely chopped.
  2. Add the herbs and lemon juice and pulse again.
  3. Next, drizzle in the olive oil with the food processor blade still running.
  4. Finally, add grated Parmesan cheese and process briefly until combined.

That’s it! It’s really simple to make, and it’s easy to vary according to the season or your mood. It will keep for a few days in an airtight container in the fridge, though its surface may start turning brown. As a result, it’s best to cover your pesto with a thin layer of plastic wrap before sealing your container. This will keep your pesto fresh and green!

Basil Pesto Recipe, Many Ways

Pesto Recipe Variations

Once you’ve made the classic basil pesto recipe, it’s time to change it up! You can make it out of so many different types of nuts, seeds, veggies, and leafy greens.

Here are some of my favorites…
  • Swap out pine nuts for any nut of your choice! I particularly like walnuts and pistachios.
  • Use any herb or leafy green. I like a combination of parsley & cilantro, or use part basil and part arugula. Finely chopped kale leaves are also a great combination with basil!
  • Don’t let your stems go to waste. Blanch kale stems and blend them into pesto with basil leaves or another herb.
  • Punch up the flavor! Add a roasted red pepper, sun dried tomatoes, a charred jalapeño, artichoke hearts, etc.

There possibilities are endless – let me know if you have a favorite variation!

Kale & Hemp Seed Pesto

Once you’ve made this recipe, add it to a quinoa salad, a summer Caprese salad, a grain bowl, toss it with pasta, scoop it onto spaghetti squash, or mac and cheese, or incorporate it into this yummy baked zucchini dish.


Pesto Recipe, Many Ways
 
Prep time
Total time
 
A classic basil pesto recipe, plus many more variations to try!
Author:
Recipe type: Condiment
Serves: 1 cup
Ingredients
Basic Basil Pesto:
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for a smoother pesto
  • fresh black pepper
Vary the herb or leafy veggie:
  • Mint
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
Or replace 1 cup basil with:
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1 cup cubed raw zucchini
  • 4 artichoke hearts
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • ½ an avocado
  • ½ cup kale stems (boil until soft)
Switch around the nuts with:
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pepitas
  • Hemp Seeds
For something extra:
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Charred jalapeño
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Splash honey or maple, if your pesto is too sharp
Instructions
  1. Pulse the nuts (or seeds) and garlic in a food processor. Add the herbs (and/or veggies) and pulse again.
  2. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper and pulse again.
  3. While the blade is running, drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape the sides of the food processor, if necessary, and pulse again. Season to taste. For a smoother consistency, add more olive oil.

 

 

38 comments

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  1. Rachel from studiocuisineblog.com
    08.03.2012

    Thank you SO much for interesting a note about what to do if you don’t have a spout on your food processor! I’ve been so lost up until now about what to do when recipes require that. Pinning this as a go-to for pesto 🙂

    • jeanine
      08.03.2012

      You’re welcome… I’m sure it does something to emulsify, but it totally works fine without it. Even when I forget to put the olive oil in last and I mix everything all at once, it works out just fine.

  2. val from dinkydoover.blogspot.com
    08.03.2012

    Great post. I thought arugula-pecan was my favorite, but then I made dandelion pesto. In addition to tasting amazing, it really holds its green color.

  3. Linda
    08.03.2012

    Last night I brought home a big basil plant which I bought because I love basil and pesto. I found myself wishing this morning that I knew some interesting, delicious variations for pesto. Presto! Your post came this afternoon. When I finish typing, I’m going in to the kitchen to make, yes, pesto. Thank you.

  4. Eileen from hampiesandwiches.blogspot.com
    08.03.2012

    Yay pesto! I usually make mine without any nuts at all, and it still turns out beautiful and delicious. 🙂

  5. I’ve been doing the Green Goddess thing for the last few weeks, but I want to mix it up a bit, so I guess it’s going to be a pesto summer! I love these kinds of recipes, that are more like guidelines. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Shira from inpursuitofmore.com
    08.03.2012

    Fabulous post! I’ve been loving your blog (ever since you featured one of my recipes here – thank you!) – and this is a wonderful post for the adventurous pesto lover! Thanks for the gorgeous shots, this is so elegant!

  7. great ideas! my favorite is ramp pesto, but sadly those are only around for a short time :(.

  8. I love pesto. So I’m into this. It’s so darn versatile!

  9. Kathryn from londonbakes.com
    08.04.2012

    I’ve had a lot of fun this year experimenting with pesto. My favourite version used sunflower seeds which I always seem to have on hand in vast quantities. There is such a world of difference between home made pesto and store bought pesto that it’s very hard to go back.

    • jeanine
      08.04.2012

      Ah yes, I’m going to add sunflower seeds to the list, love them.

  10. Jenn Beck from jennbeckeats.blogspot.com
    08.04.2012

    I love these suggestions. I’m eager to try adding avocado to some pesto. My basil plants have been going crazy lately so I’ve been stock-piling my freezer with pesto to get me through the basil-free winter months. A couple of my favorite non-basil pestos are ramps with walnuts, as well as arugula with goat cheese.

  11. Kathleen
    08.04.2012

    My favorite pesto these days is made with garlic scapes (also not in season very long…) along with almonds, olive oil, and some sea salt. The scapes add bulk to the garlicky flavor and a lovely green color. Wonderful post. Thank you!

  12. Julianna from Www.juliannacollettphotography.com
    08.05.2012

    Eeeeek…lemons on th marble LOL! Thanks for taking the time to take to me I appreciate your generosity. I hope my food looks half as good on our counter.

    • jeanine
      08.05.2012

      ha! …but note that it’s not a lemon cut in half where juices could drip out 🙂

  13. Great idea! Love all the fantastic substitution suggestions.

  14. Peanut from peanutincookingland.blogspot.it
    08.05.2012

    Just discovered your blog,and as soon as I’ve seen the first two pages I have fallen in love yet. (oh,sorry for my mistakes,but I’m italian!)
    You’re kind of GOD,i swear!I’m a vegetarian and your dishes are simply a dream came true. From now I’ll follow you faithfully:) sincere congrats! <3

    • jeanine
      08.07.2012

      you’re so sweet, thank you!

  15. Pesto just SCREAMS summer to me. I can’t wait to take my basil crop and make a fresh jar of pesto to last me throughout the winter months. Is it scary that I’m excited to kill all of my basil? At least it’s for a good cause. 🙂 Cheers!

  16. I made arugula pesto just last night. Basil is still my favorite kind, but this was refreshingly pepper-y from the greens. Coming to my blog later this week.
    http://www.loveandlemons.com/

  17. Mmm, just what I need for dinner tonight! We love fresh pesto tossed with pasta (homemade on a good day). Don’t you just love summer and all the fresh food it brings with it?

  18. Eugenia from everylloc.blogspot.co.uk
    08.09.2012

    I love pesto too! Thank you for your tips.
    I use to use almonds or sun dried tomatoes and they really work very well.

  19. Recently I tried pesto made with almond and capers, it was very good! Your blog is awesome!

  20. ali from livingintolerance.wordpress.com
    08.14.2012

    Awesome recipes! I love a good pesto, and basil and pinenuts taste wicked together! Beautiful blog 🙂

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.