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Pesto Saves the Day When You Have No Idea What to Cook

Three images featuring recipes from the article below. The left image features pesto mac and cheese by Spend with Pennies, the middle image features smashed potatoes by Minimalist Baker and the right image features pesto grilled cheese by Gimme Delicious.
Spend with Pennies/Minimalist Baker/Gimme Delicious.

Having a jar of pesto in your fridge is a lifesaver when you are working with limited ingredients and don’t know what the heck to cook for dinner.

Let’s look at some of the quick and delicious ways to use this fragrant paste-like sauce with these seven pesto-inspired recipes. Whether you buy it premade or prefer making it fresh at home, pesto is one of those ingredients you should always have on hand.

What Exactly is Pesto?

Pesto means “to pound” or “grind,” which makes sense when you learn how this aromatic sauce is traditionally made. While there are several types of pesto, the most common is called Pesto Alla Genovese, which is the vibrant green sauce made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and salt.

Traditionally, it’s ground-up (old-fashioned style) with a mortar and pestle, but today most people use a blender or food processer to blend it. By pulverizing these aromatic and fresh ingredients, you’ll have one flavorful sauce to work with.

Other types of pesto use tomatoes, various nuts, like almonds, and other herbs beyond basil, like thyme and rosemary. But today, we’ll talk all about that bright green sauce you’ll find in just about any grocery store.

Pesto is for More than Pasta and Sandwiches

  • When you have a warm crusty loaf of farmers’ bread, try smearing a bit of pesto for an optimum flavor. It’s fancy, fresh, and oh-so flavorful.
  • Make a pesto garlic bread by slicing a large loaf of bread then coating the inside with pesto. From there, add shredded mozzarella and bake in the oven until the cheese has melted and begun to bubble into a golden-brown crust.
  • Pesto is one of the best ways to spruce up a boring jar of tomato sauce you might have in the back of your food pantry. It’ll also add a depth of flavor to any jarred alfredo sauce.
  • Combine pesto with room temperature butter, then let it chill in the fridge. This is a great condiment for bread, grilled meats, fish, baked potatoes, roasted veggies, and so much more.
  • After grilling your steak or chicken dinner to perfection, finish it off right with a drizzle of freshly made pesto. Serve with rice, potatoes, veggies, or anything else you can think of; it’s that versatile.
  • Potatoes love pesto. Mashed, baked, roasted, you name it; pesto will bring those tubers to life!
  • You can even mix pesto into several different style dips, like spinach artichoke or any hot cheese or cream-based dips.
  • If you ever want to try making a Bianca pizza at home, sans the red sauce, use pesto as your base instead. Then, add mozzarella, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, or mushrooms, and you have yourself a heavenly harvest pizza you will love devouring.
  • Grilled, roasted, or steamed veggies all love being tossed in a bit of pesto, but your tastebuds will love it even more.

7 Perfect Pesto Recipes

It’s easy to see how versatile this aromatic green sauce can be. So whether you’ve given this idea of cooking with pesto lots of thought or not, you’ll have to give some of these tasty recipes a try.

Pesto Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella

A sheet pizza topped with pesto, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
Once Upon a Chef

Here is a lovely example of pizza like we talked about above. By substituting a tomato-based pizza sauce out for pesto alla Genovese, you’ll learn to make a mouthful of joy in this fresh take on pizza.

The juicy tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and Parmigiano-Reggiano all work flawlessly, and the fresh mozzarella takes it up another notch too. Enjoy this on your next pizza night.

Get the Recipe: Once Upon a Chef

Grilled Pesto Shrimp

An oval platter topped with several skewers of pesto grilled shrimp.
Skinny Taste

That’s right; even seafood tastes delicious once coated with a fine pesto topping. You’ll start by making a quick and easy marinade from scratch, then let the shrimp soak a bit before cooking them up on a hot grill. Finally, serve this delicious meal with rice and grilled veggies.

Get the Recipe: Skinny Taste

Pesto Chicken Tortellini

A large bowl filled with pesto chicken tortellini, accented with sundried tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.
Chelsea’s Messy Apron

Oh, Tortellini, how we love you and your little pockets of warm cheese filling! Once covered in pesto and paired with sundried tomatoes and chicken, you’ll have a meal the whole family will appreciate.

Get the Recipe: Chelsea’s Messy Apron

Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Garlic Pesto

A large oval plate topped with roasted smashed potatoes, topped with pesto and pine nuts.
Minimalist Baker

Roasted smashed potatoes are such a hit in households! They boast both tender and crispy textures while exploding with flavor! It’s like a hit way to enjoy potatoes when you aren’t feeling mashed, baked, or fried.

You can take smashed potatoes even further by dousing them with a freshly made pesto. Feel free to use your own pesto recipe, or try this ultimate vegan recipe, replacing parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast.

Get the Recipe: Minimalist Baker

Pesto Mac and Cheese

A large bowl of pesto macaroni and cheese garnished with fresh basil leaves.
Spend with Pennies

If you thought you had discovered every version of mac and cheese, guess again because this pesto rendition is one for the books. After making a creamy white cheese sauce, using Havarti, you’ll add in a few tablespoons of pesto, which will provide optimal flavor. It boasts all the comfort of a classic mac casserole, with a fancy flair thanks to pesto.

Get the Recipe: Spend with Pennies

Pesto Grilled Cheese

A pesto grilled cheese sandwich made with sourdough bread, sitting on a piece of parchment.
Gimme Delicious

Grilled cheese is another homestyle classic that you can spruce up with a tad of that green stuff. Schmear pesto on the inner part of the sourdough (or any other bread you like) and add your favorite cheese. This recipe calls for provolone, but feel free to use mozzarella cheddar or whatever you see fit for your tastebuds.

Get the Recipe: Gimme Delicious

Chicken Pesto Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

A plate of shredded chicken pesto stuffed mushrooms.
My Recipes

Stuffed mushrooms make a popular appetizer-like food, but let’s be serious, you can transform most recipes (like this one) into a dinner.

Red onion, shredded chicken, mozzarella, and pesto all come together in this stuffed treat! Keep them small by filling white mushrooms, or go big with portobellos! Serve with the smashed pesto potatoes and grilled veggies!

Get the Recipe: My Recipes

As you can see, pesto works its way into a plethora of delicious meals! What’s your favorite way to cook with that tasty green stuff?

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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