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How do you use pesto?

  • g

I received a jar of basil pesto as a gift, and am unfamiliar with how to use it, as it's not something in my regular cooking repertoire. Can someone educate me on how it's used and served? I can only guess--Do you dot it on a finished baked chicken? Marinate meats with it? Use it like a spread on toasted bread? I'm really not sure. Please provide ideas, or else it will be sitting unused in my fridge.

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  1. cook up a big ole pot a pasta and toss it til it turns green... add some extra fresh grated romano and yummy, yum, yum

    3 Replies
    1. re: the rogue

      I also add it to softened butter and re-chill, or make bite-sized biscuits with a little sour cream and pesto added, or add it to softened cream cheese for a delicious and fragrant spread on toasted french bread. Or if you're baking bread, just throw in a spoonful or two.

      Or, with pasta as mentioned above, or anything involving tomatoes.

      1. re: Betty

        For a simple appetizer-line a small bowl with saran wrap-place a healthy amount of marscapone(or combine marscapone and cream cheese)at the bottom. Add a layer of pesto-more marscapone-then a layer of ground sundried tomatoes. repeat until you fill bowl. Cover with saran and chill. Invert onto plate and serve with crackers, baguette etc. Pretty and delicious.

        1. re: J.Gorman

          I do this also, I line it with cheesecloth because I like that texture - but I have started mixing some cheese with the pesto and some (not too much) cheese with the tomatoes also, so that the layers adhere together better. It stays neater on the serving tray if people can slice off pieces that don't fall apart.

    2. you put it on pasta....finito

      1 Reply
      1. re: sourpatch

        Finito - apart from stirring it into rice salad, made with risotto rice. Shredded basil on top.

      2. c
        Caitlin Wheeler

        I love pesto on sandwiches -- fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, tomatoes and pesto is a favorite. It's also terrific on grilled chicken sandwiches. And I had a tuna melt with pesto mixed into the tuna salad the other day, and it was pretty good.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

          Besides plain old pasta, sandwiches are my favorite use. I like to make a 3/4 spinach 1/4 basil pesto for ham or turkey or as an alternative to the tapenade in muffalettas - I like to make the sandwiches ahead of time, wrap them very tightly in plastic wrap and let them hang in the fridge for at least several hours before serving.

          AND, dinner tomorrow is figured out.

          Damn, zombie thread!

        2. I love it in soup, any vegetable, especially minestrone. Just stir in a spoonful, more or less, per bowl.


          1 Reply
          1. re: Cricket
            Caitlin Wheeler

            There's a French soup called soupe au pistou or pesto soup which is a vegetable soup containing kidney beans, pasta carrots, new potatoes, green beans, sometimes zucchini and bacon. When the soup is made, stir a big spoonful of pesto into each serving, and enjoy!

            I also like to make a chilled tomato basil soup when its hot (Just tomatoes and basil in the blender. Sometimes I add milk) and serve with a dollop of ricotta and pesto on top.

          2. On pasta, but the way they do in Liguria: add young green beans (or haricots vert) and cubed potatoes to boiling water along with the pasta. Stir enough of the hot pasta water into a good amount of pesto to get the consistency of thick whipping cream. Drain beans, pasta, and potatoes all together and toss with the pesto, adding a dab of butter (delicious excess). The potatoes break apart and lend the most wonderful, rich texture to the "sauce". The beans should be soft. Top with romano or parmesan. An incredibly yummy, but rich, one-dish meal!

            1. It is a fantastic addition to a well baked russet potato instead of butter or sour cream, because a little goes a long way. Actually, pesto tastes even better on baked potato than on pasta.

              1. Just remember that pesto is meant to *very* lightly dress your pasta. It is very rich, with the olive oil, pine nuts and cheese in it, and intensely basil flavored, so it isn't meant to heavily dress the pasta like a tomato sauce. Just a little drizzle over simple squares of freshly made pasta is truly a work of art.

                Aside from this use, you can add a dollop of pesto to anything in which you want a kick of strong basil flavor. I especially like to keep some on hand through the winter (frozen in cubes using ice cube trays, then popped into a ziploc bag), when fresh basil is hard to find and expensive. I add it to my tomato sauce for pasta, spread it over focaccia dough before adding other toppings, and add it to salad dressings.

                If you enjoy this jar, consider making your own in the future. It is extremely easy to do using a blender or food processor. You'll be able to find the recipe in any Italian cookbook.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Terrie H.

                  And fresh made pesto is a million times better than any pesto from a jar...

                2. There was a very informative thread last week about basil, and hence, pesto. I'll attach a link below:

                  Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Pat Hammond

                    Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I tried mixing a couple teaspoonfuls with some spaghetti and it was delicious. Just how I like it--easy but seemingly special. Now I'll be looking to make it on a regular basis, and seeking out some more when my gift jar runs out.

                    The discussion in the link you mentioned implies that Genovese basil is the better kind for pesto. Fortunately, it's the kind my friend came back with from Italy, so I guess he knew what he was getting. As for where I'm located, just because I'm a New Yorker who grew up with Italians doesn't mean I know anything about pesto or how to cook! Now, on to trying it in the other ways mentioned.

                  2. Doesn't anyone else eat it straight from the container [g]?

                    A couple I didn't see mentioned: it's luscious just dolloped on top of a steak, and it makes great dip mixed with sour cream.

                    Finally, if you don't mind my asking, where do you live that pesto isn't ubiquitous? It hit the Bay Area about 25 years ago and quickly became a cliche of California cuisine. I remember one local food writer saying that she'd never heard of pesto until she was 20 but her 3 and 5 year old will eat anything if it has pesto on it -- and that was about 15 years ago.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I make tons of it at the throughout the summer & freeze it in smaller containers -- probably have 40 in the freezer right now. Whenever I get a craving, I thaw one, then I eat it straight from the container, or spread a little on a cracker.

                      I also add to my home-made "gravy" (spaghetti sauce to youz non-Philadelphians) and to soups. You try it on other types of pasta, like gnocchi or ravioli, and I have even been known to use it with pierogis. Mix a tiny bit with mayo for a spread in a panini. Like Tom H., I put it on pizza. Try spreading it nice and thick on the crust, then topping with some ricotta anything else you want.

                    2. Nobody's mentioned pizza yet? Okay, I will. Use it instead of a tomato sauce base (as mentioned by others, a little goes a long way) when you make pizza; it's particularly good with ricotta, chevre, fresh mozzarella, or some combination of these.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Tom Hilton

                        Our local joint makes a wood-fired pizza with pesto, 4 cheeses, sun-dried tomato and artichoke hearts. Hoo-eee, that's a mighty fine pie.

                          1. re: GG Mora

                            Add some prosciutto to that combo and you have my favourite pizza!

                        1. You may think twice, but a dentist friend and I were making dinner one night and were using just the stuff I had in the fridge. We put the pesto in with an avocado. The flavors worked well together. We didn't take the time to name it, nor have I seen it anywhere else. It was good, though. Really.

                          1. j

                            I can grow anything but basil (something in the garden eats it before I get a chance) and was interested to see chopped basil from Israel in 20 individual frozen cubes at Trader Joe's. Has anyone tried it?

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: jenniferfishwilson
                              Stanley Stephan

                              This doesn't answer your question but it might be something to consider. Last year I bought a bunch of basil from the farmers market. I put it in a glass of water to keep it fresh. It rooted in the water and I had fresh basil all summer. Might have been a freak accident. It wasn't even in the sunlight, just a corner by the sink.

                              1. re: jenniferfishwilson

                                Snails are the destroyers of basil. We've carried on a losing battle with them for several years; if we plant a whole bunch, we get enough to use on pizza and such but never enough for pesto. To get even that yield, we've had to put copper tape around the basil patch, and spray occasionally (much as we hate to do it). If you live in the city, try Sloat Garden Center--they can be pretty helpful.

                                1. re: Tom Hilton

                                  We had the same problem but solved it by growing our basil in several large pots. That way we can stagger the planting and have plenty all summer.

                                2. re: jenniferfishwilson

                                  I bought it, but haven't used it yet. I'm planning to toss a cube or two into my pasta dough next time I make noodles. I've made my own basil ice cubes before, but I like the smaller size they offered.

                                3. Outside of tossing with pasta, which will always be my favorite, I also like it tossed with cooked white beans (Cannelini or Great Northern, etc.), spread on toasted French or Italian bread slices for Brushchetta, & also dabbed on top of grilled/seared dry-pack sea scallops. Sometimes I'll put a dab of pesto & a dab of Thai Sweet Chili Sauce on each scallop. Both delicious & very pretty.

                                  1. I schmear some on a croissant for my bacon, egg and cheese sammich. I have to admit I stole the idea from Penelope's in Manhattan.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Motosport

                                      Yes - it does make a great sandwich spread - especially on Italian-theme sandwiches with good charcuterie, cheeses, &/or grilled veggies.

                                    2. Risotto and arancini. Grilled shrimp.

                                      1. Blended w/ a little sour cream and lemon juice, garlic and salt, it makes a GREAT salad dressing. About 1/2 c. cream to 2 T. pesto; the rest to taste. Whirl in blender.
                                        You can make a different dressing w/ pesto, fresh tomatoes, and red wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Again, whirl in blender. Let this one stay a little chunky; like a semi-fine salsa. Dress dark greens with it.
                                        Use the pesto by spreading it on a butterflied pork roast. Salt and pepper; spread w/ pesto and a good handful or two of the best Parm. or Reggiano that you can find; roll up; tie and grill until crusty on the outside and juicy, barely-pink on the inside. Serve w/ orzo and greens sauteed w/ garlic, or w/ a tomato-sauce dressed pasta with plenty of ground black pepper, and a salad.
                                        It makes a delicious ice cream if you like that kind of thing.
                                        Incorporate it into a fresh tomato tart, made w/ phyllo dough.
                                        Incorporate it into a yeast bread. Would be great w/ sourdough.
                                        Spread onto purchased foccacia; layer foccacia w/ deli meats and cheese. Bake until brown; cut into squares and serve.
                                        It's wonderful on chicken, makes a marvelous marinade or can be used w/ goat cheese to stuff into a pocket or under the skin of a boneless chicken breast. The chicken self-marinates, and it's delicious.
                                        Use it to make a compound butter. Use that to scramble eggs, or to fry leftover noodles in. Top w/ parmesan and serve, yum.
                                        Almost any sandwich is great w/ a layer of pesto spread on the bread. It's great on Italian bread, for a fresh, thinly-sliced tomato sandwich. Or thick.. Either way. :)
                                        Slice onions and tomatoes; salt and pepper them; drizzle w/ pesto and bake or grill. Same with corn on the cob; outstanding, and sprinkle that one w/ a bit of feta or dry Jack cheese for something you won't believe.
                                        Good luck!

                                        1. Defrost frozen puff pastry dough, spread with pesto, add a little mozarella or salami if you like, roll up jelly roll style, slice into pinwheels and bake for a great party snack!

                                          1. Oh - another nice use is to toss some with boiled unpeeled sliced tiny new or fingerling potatoes. Good both warm or slightly chilled as a sort of potato salad.

                                            And don't worry about running out of pesto. It's SO easy to make your own fresh pesto, plus the fact that it freezes well, means you never need to be without it. In addition, freshly made pesto is worlds away from commercial jarred flavor-wise.

                                            1. I have an abundance of all kinds of basil and that thrills me but husband isn't the craziest about basil pesto. I do think it's an acquired taste.

                                              it can be added to mayo adding flavor to say a sandwich.
                                              it can be added to a chip dip
                                              can be added to sour cream or mashed potatoes
                                              stirred into scrambled eggs
                                              added to cream cheese then spread on toasted English muffin
                                              dolloped on top of pizza

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: iL Divo

                                                I like it atop goat cheese on great crackers, on boiled yukon gold potatoes, inside a hamburger or rolled chicken breast (keeps it moist!) etc.

                                              2. Lots of this has been mentioned before:

                                                - Tossed with pasta and sprinkled with even more parmesan.
                                                - Stirred into vegetable soup.
                                                - Spread onto a sandwich with roasted vegetables and mozzarella.
                                                - On top of pizza- in Torino I once had a "Pizza Genovese" with no tomato sauce but lots of pesto, green beans, boiled potatoes and cheese.
                                                - A local restaurant serves all of their breakfast potatoes tossed with pesto too! Alongside scrambled eggs and sourdough bread... yum!

                                                1. I've dressed spaghetti squash with it. My kids didn't like it, but I did!

                                                  1. I like to take the top rind off a brie wheel and put the pesto on top and serve with crackers,

                                                    1. The other day I had a pesto sandwich. It was very satisfying.

                                                      2 Replies