20 Absolute Best Uses For Pesto

There are so many contenders in the race for the best condiment. You have ketchup and mustard, and barbecue sauce is probably right up there, too. But, in truth, these condiments don't hold a candle to a favorite: pesto.

A classic pesto recipe is made with a few simple ingredients: basil (though you can swap it out with whatever herbs are aplenty), garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, and often a cheese, like Parmesan. You'll often see it adorning an array of pasta shapes, but it's absolutely more useful for other things than just pasta.

To help you broaden your culinary horizons, here is a list of the best and most creative ways to put pesto to use in your kitchen. It's important to note that while making your own gives you some control over the flavors, you can just as easily grab a container of store-bought pesto and integrate it into your favorite recipes.

Whip up a summery salsa dressing

Pesto is often seen as a dressing for pasta, but you can also transform this herby condiment into the perfect simple salad dressing. All you need to do to give it a looser, dressing-like texture is to add a bit of oil and vinegar to the pesto jar, or scoop out your desired serving size into a separate bowl or container. You'll need to use about ⅓ cup of pesto for each ½ cup of olive oil, along with a few tablespoons of vinegar.

This dressing can work well on a variety of different salads ranging from grain bowls with quinoa and beans to chilled salads with pasta. It can just as easily subdue the flavor of spicy arugula and fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and cucumbers.

Add a swirl of pesto to your egg salad

Pesto and egg salad is the unexpected duo you didn't know you needed to try. And when you think about it, egg salad could use an especially bright condiment that can stand up to the dense, creamy texture of the mayonnaise. You can add a spoonful of pesto to your mayonnaise, or dial back the mayo entirely.

You can also get even more conventional with a pesto and egg potato salad. This is the perfect salad for folks who don't like the gummy texture of conventional egg salad. Leave your eggs chunky and mix in some diced fingerling potatoes. Then, dollop your pesto on top, give the whole thing a stir, and season it to your liking. The pesto really acts as the bridge and transforms these ingredients into a true salad perfect for a balmy afternoon.

Give your crab cakes extra flavor with pesto

It's not a true mid-Atlantic summer without crab cakes. Rather than reaching for the conventional tartar sauce, try some pesto and see how it can brighten your favorite crab cake recipe. The subtle nuttiness of the Parmesan and the pine nuts add a bit more depth to the patties, while the freshness of the basil really balances this pan-fried staple out and makes it feel much lighter.

The key to getting the most out of your crab cakes experience is eating them when they're hot, rather than after they've cooled and the oil has a chance to soak back into the patty. It's an unbeatable combination, especially when it's served with an extra lemon wedge for drizzling.

Make your Alfredo sauce dynamic with pesto

There's nothing wrong with adding pesto directly to your pasta with a bit of the reserved pasta water, giving everything a shake, and calling it a day. But the better way to use pesto is to join it with another classic Italian pasta sauce: Alfredo. Just plop in a little dollop of the green sauce into the sea of white, creamy goodness and watch your pasta instantly become much lighter in flavor.

This sauce hybrid isn't just great for fettuccine. You can also slather a little bit on your pizza or flatbread dough, or smother a piece of bland chicken with it to breathe new life into an otherwise dull protein. You can also be clever and reserve a little ramekin of it for dipping your breadsticks into, too.

Start your day off right by adding pesto to your breakfast sandwich

Ketchup? Check. Hot sauce? Check. But have you ever considered adding pesto, instead of these classic condiments, to your breakfast sandwich of choice? It might seem a bit ritzy to forgo these blue collar condiments in favor of something green, but it's easy to see how a blast of bright, herby flavor could uplift even the heaviest and greasiest of sandos. Slather pesto on your croissant, or even drizzle it on top of your salmon and lox bagel for an herby twist.

Alternatively, you can build your whole sandwich around pesto, as is the case with our pesto prosciutto breakfast sandwich. This sandwich pairs mature flavors, including roasted heirloom tomatoes, aioli, arugula, and prosciutto, with the pesto on a soft, brioche bun.

Use pesto as a burger topping

Everyone shouldn't rise up and disown the classic lettuce, tomato, and onion trio in favor of pesto. But, has a little variety ever hurt anybody?

Pesto is an excellent condiment for burgers for several reasons. The first is that it has the umami component, from the Parmesan, that really meshes well with the meatiness of the burger. It also has that acidic, fresh pop that not a lot of other condiments can deliver.

There are several ways you can add pesto to your sandwich. While a drizzle straight from the jar is always a solid option, you could also make a flavorful aioli base by combining the pesto with mayo, like in this basil pesto smash burger recipe. Add a couple of roasted red peppers on the top, and you have a dynamite sandwich that kicks the other condiments to the curb.

Pair pesto with a savory cheese for an unforgettable appetizer

We've all experienced the hectic feeling of trying to pull together a last-minute appetizer with any and all of the ingredients in the fridge. If you have a roll of crescent dough, a jar of pesto, and a wheel of Brie cheese, you can whip up a simple snack-worthy batch of pesto brie bites. While this recipe does call for sun-dried tomatoes, you can always skip them to focus on the star of the show: the pesto.

You can also make a simpler batch of pesto pinwheels. Just unroll a sheet of puff pastry dough, slather on the pesto, and roll it up into a tight log before slicing out your individual pieces. This sauce could also be an excellent topping for a warm batch of garlic knots.

Take your savory scones to the next level

Savory or sweet? It's a question that's plagued eaters everywhere. But when it comes to scones, ditch the chocolate chips and blueberries for all things cheese, chive, and, of course, pesto.

You can easily turn savory scones into something sensational with pesto. It's as easy as adding your pesto straight to the batter before you pop your scones in the oven. Or, you can just pulse down the basil with a bit of sugar, as is the case with this tomato pesto scones recipe. Although it might seem a bit odd to add sugar to a savory recipe, the sugar helps extract the natural oils in the herb, which helps heighten its flavor. Cheese, bacon, and ham are also all great add-ins to pair with your green condiment.

Add pesto to your cocktails

Is it a step too far to drink your condiment? That's for you to answer, but dirty Mozzarella Martinis may help convince you that pesto is worthy of your cocktail glass. The beverage was first popularized at New Jersey's Annabella's House of Mozzarella. Instead of using olive juice for this unique rendition of a dirty martini, the staff adds a bit of pesto.

But that's not the only odd element to this beverage. It's also made with mozzarella cream that's been skimmed off the top of the restaurant's homemade cheese recipe. It's super creamy, thick, and distinctively cheesy. Pair this with strong vodka and a mozzarella ball garnish and you'll have a cocktail only a pesto and cheese lover can truly appreciate.

Pair pesto with guacamole

There's nothing wrong with a bowl of guacamole brimming with jalapeños, cilantro, and chunks of red onion. But, you can always give your guacamole an edge with a new ingredient — like pesto. Adding pesto to the party may seem like not only a cultural clash, but also a head-butt of flavors. However, if you give it a shot, you'll find that the herby flavors of the pesto mellow out the fattiness of the avocado and the residual heat from the jalapeño.

The key to adding pesto to your guacamole is to always work in small doses first. Try a teaspoon or 2 at a time, give it a taste, and then go from there. You can also layer in different ingredients to alter the flavor, like chile peppers or extra cumin, or alter your pesto recipe with a different nut or a squirt of lime instead of lemon.

Season your favorite fish with a spoonful of pesto

Fish and pesto are, unsurprisingly, the best of friends. The flavor of fish tends to be more mellow than other proteins, and it can get watered down easily depending on how you cook it. A drizzle of pesto will bring your attention right back to the protein on your plate and make for a well-rounded dish brimming with brightness and herbs.

Salmon is one type of fish that's well-suited for a pesto drizzle. You can add it to your grilled filet, or try a pesto-crusted baked salmon to harness all things textural. Dorade, aka gilt-head or sea bream, is another fish that craves the herbal notes of pesto. Try to grill it whole and then slather it in pesto before serving.

Incorporate extra flavor to your grilled cheese with pesto

Grilled cheese seems like one of those foods that you'd reach for when you want nothing to do with anything green. But pesto and grilled cheese are actually strange bedfellows.

Think of all of the best parts about a grilled cheese. It's salty, savory, and cheesy. The same can be said about pesto. Not only will you get the subtle garlicky kick that your tastebuds are craving, but the pesto will pair well with an array of cheeses besides just plain old American. Mozzarella seems like a natural pairing for pesto — plus it will give you an Instagram-worthy cheese pull. Add a slather of this condiment to your next grilled cheese and see what all the hype is about.

Lighten up your favorite mac and cheese recipe with pesto

Don't worry: We're not trying to make your mac and cheese healthy. But now that we have your attention, it may be easier to convince you that pesto is a worthwhile ingredient to add to your favorite mac recipe.

The cheesy base for this pasta dish shares a similar conundrum with Alfredo. It's heavy — and eating it is downright exhausting. But, even a spoonful of pesto helps the mac and cheese go down. You can add the pesto into the cheese sauce with the noodles and give it a good stir. From there, serving it straight from the pot is perfectly acceptable, but you can also add a handful of breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan before giving it a quick turn in the oven.

Combine pesto with ranch for an out-of-this-world dip

Ranch dressing can get old — fast. The base is just so fatty and dense and the herbs are just so scant. That is, of course, until you elevate the taste of your favorite ranch dressing with a spoonful of pesto. Not only will you get a lighter condiment that eaters of all ages can appreciate, but you may also find that the dressing is more savory and garlicky, thanks to the alliums and the cheese in the pesto base.

The best part about this duo is that you can switch up the traditional basil pesto recipe with another herby variation to complement the ingredients in your ranch dressing. Some chives or a handful of tarragon, for example, can give your pesto-ranch Franken-sauce a bit more mature flavor.

Add a herbaceous element to your favorite soup

Tomato soup and grilled cheese is out. Tomato soup and pesto is in.

A simple swirl of pesto can elevate even the blandest of canned tomato soups and breathe some life back into an otherwise heavy dish. Once your soup is plated, add a drizzle of it to the top; a few teaspoons should do. It's important to note that if your condiment is too heavy, it can sink, so thin it out with some oil before spooning it on.

You can also cook down the pesto with the rest of your soup ingredients, like for a chicken pesto soup. The condiment adds an extra herby punch to help round out the other flavors and add some oomph to the chicken, cannelloni beans, and kale.

Swirl some pesto on your pizza or flatbread

One of the best choices we ever made was ditching regular ol' tomato pizza sauce for pesto. While tomato sauce can be quite heavy, both in taste and in weight, pesto sauce is bright, flavorful, and can give new life to this beloved dish. Think of it as a very special, thick, and flavorful olive oil.

You can add pesto to your conventional pizza or schmear it on a flatbread (like a artichoke, tomato, and pesto one) for a quick and easy appetizer. Unlike tomato sauce, it's really hard to overload your pizza with too much pesto. Just be sure to sauce out to the peel, or whatever baking tool you're using, to ensure that each bite is filled with pesto-y goodness. Mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, and a sprinkle of fresh arugula are great toppings for this elevated pie.

Marinate your favorite proteins with pesto

You probably don't see a jar of pesto and immediately jump to "marinade," but that doesn't mean it's not possible. The lemon is the key ingredient in the condiment that allows you to use it for this purpose. When it's combined with chicken, the acid in the condiment can easily soften up the proteins. Once it's soft, it's easy for the Parmesan, garlic, and herbs to infiltrate and season the meat.

You'll need to allocate about four hours for this condiment to effectively season your chicken. And while the pesto does have some oil in it to prevent the chicken from sticking to the grill or the cooking surface, that doesn't mean this marinade will ensure that your recipe is entirely stick-free. Always add ample oil to prevent burning and excessive charring and ensure that your marinade stays on the meat, rather than on the pan. Once your chicken is done cooking, you can eat it with grilled veggies or toss it with your favorite pasta.

Lighten up your favorite potato dish with pesto

We can't talk about heavy dishes without mentioning the elephant in the room: the potato. While different potato preparations are, without a doubt, delicious, they can leave you feeling bogged down afterward. But when pesto is introduced, you'll find that your favorite spud sides have a new, unexpected vibrancy to them. It's the perfect sauce for mashed potatoes, and it's an especially easy upgrade to implement if you have a jar of store-bought pesto hanging around. Add a dollop to the taters after they're mashed and watch as the flavor transforms. If you are a fan of garlicky mashed potatoes, you can also add extra cloves for extra emphasis.

Pesto is also the flavorful sauce that your baked potatoes have been missing. Add a drizzle to plain spuds or sweet potatoes, and up the creaminess with a scoop of sour cream of pat of butter.

Give your hummus a herbaceous element

It's hard not to love hummus. This protein-rich spread is made with chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. The latter of these ingredients are also the main components of pesto, so it's easy to see how you can combine the two together for a burst of flavor. But, perhaps the best part is seeing how the pine nuts fuse with the tahini and the chickpeas and make a spread that's especially nutty. From there, you can add your other pesto ingredients, like the basil, oil, cheese, and lemon juice, to the food processor and pulse away.

Besides eating your pesto hummus with crudités and pita bread, you can also use it as a sandwich schmear. The hummus makes the pesto easier to spread, while the chickpeas add that filling boost that your sandwich needs.

Drizzle pesto on grilled veggies

Forget the burgers; grilled vegetables are the hallmark of summer grilling cuisine. There are so many different veggies that you can char on your grill, including peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant, and even corn on the cob. But, what your veggies are really missing is something to tie them all together and give them direction. That's where pesto comes in.

After your veggies come off the grill, but are still hot, add a drizzle of pesto on top. The herby flavor will mesh well with any residual char on the veggies and will add some cohesion to the medley of different items that just came off your grill. Like meats, you can also coat your veggies in a layer of pesto before putting them on the grill. But, for the most unadulterated flavor, you'll want to stick to adding the condiment afterwards.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table, Daily Meal, Food Republic, and Mashed.