Harking from Genoa, Italy, pesto is a hero in the kitchen. Traditionally made with pine nuts, basil, olive oil, salt, and Italian cheese, it is an OG sauce for tossing with hot cooked pasta. With a food processor, and just a handful of basic ingredients, you can blend it up in minutes, and stash it in a sealed jar in the fridge up to a week (or see our tips for freezing pesto, below), so you'll always have some on hand. On busy weeknights, all you have to do is boil up some pasta noodles, stir in some pesto, and boom—you've got a delicious Italian dinner in minutes.
Beyond pasta, there are so many other ways to use this staple Italian condiment in your kitchen. You can spread pesto on your sandwiches and wraps to add flavor, slather it on pizzas, drizzle it over soups and salads, use it for dressing up grilled fish or chicken breasts, stir it into steamed rice, smear it on crostini, or serve it as a party dip for crudites and crackers.
Want to try something different from the traditional basil and pine nut pesto? While the classic sauce tops our list below, there are oodles of yummy variations you can try. Here are 12 pesto recipes that will transform your simple cooking, and convince you of the glories of pesto. You'll find pestos made with a variety of nuts, and leafy greens other than basil, plus a few ingredients that may surprise you. We've even included a nut-free pesto, and vegan pestos to suit plant-based diets.
Note: While the other ingredients may vary, all pestos use olive oil as their base. Because pesto is an uncooked sauce, you'll want to use the best-quality olive oil you can afford, and use the extra-virgin variety to yield the proper consistency and flavor.
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Classic Basil Pesto
Want a foolproof recipe for the classic basil pesto you know and love? This no-fail recipe for the green herbaceous pasta sauce from Liguria, Italy, will quickly become a staple in your kitchen. In just a few minutes, with six simple ingredients, you can whip up a big batch of basil pesto for dressing your pasta dishes and salads.
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Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Take your pesto game up a notch with our gorgeously red, flavor-packed sun-dried tomato pesto. Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes add an umami flavor bomb to the classic basil and cheese mixture, creating a complex and well-balanced sauce. It's a wonderful way to liven up pasta, but don't stop there—try it as a sandwich spread, a topper for crostini, or on homemade pizza.
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Garlic Scape and Basil Pesto
Garlic scapes, the long and curly, tender stems that grow from the center of garlic bulbs, are an early-season gift for garlic lovers. With a wonderful flavor that combines the tastes of onions, garlic, and scallions, they add complexity to a simple, six-ingredient pesto sauce. Whip it up in minutes using the food processor for tossing with hot pasta, topping baked potatoes, or dressing chicken breasts.
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Vegan Artichoke and Walnut Pesto
Delight your foodie friends at dinner parties—and stick to a vegan diet—by tossing hot pasta with this gorgeous, Roman-style pesto sauce. Canned artichoke hearts and walnuts add a unique Italian flavor to this easy vegan pesto that would make a great addition to a Buddha bowl or a plate of spaghetti. A bit of nutritional yeast is a clever dairy-free substitute for Parmesan cheese.
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Wake up your taste buds with our refreshing mint pesto. Its bright and garlicky flavor is a wonderful addition to spring pasta salads, and the included feta cheese makes it an especially fabulous complement to Easter lamb dishes. We use fresh parsley for our recipe, but you could easily swap in spinach leaves for a more iron-rich spread.
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Nut-Free Vegan Pesto (French Pistou)
Originating from Nice in Provence, pistou is basically the French cousin of Italian pesto. Just like pesto, it's a simply delicious Mediterranean sauce made with basil, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt—but contains no nuts or cheese, so you can enjoy it on a vegan diet. Toss it with cooked noodles of all kinds, or do as the French do, and drizzle it over the top of vegetable and bean soups.
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Basil Sunflower Seed Pesto
Shake up your pesto game with this unique and tasty sunflower seed and basil pesto. Raw, unsalted sunflower seeds are a budget-conscious alternative to pricier pine nuts, and bring a lightly nutty flavor to the herbaceous sauce without adding actual nuts. Feel free to add a squirt of fresh lemon juice for extra brightness.
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Ramps, sometimes referred to as wild leeks or wild garlic, are one of the true culinary delights of spring. Use a bunch of garlicky ramps from the farmer's market to make an earthy, flavorful Italian-style pesto for dressing spring vegetables, noodles, and pasta salads. We use walnuts in our recipe, but you could substitute pine nuts or almonds if that's what you have in the pantry.
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Got kale? You may not know it, but kale (and other leafy greens) can substitute for basil to produce delightful and unusual pestos. This nut-free kale and Parmesan pesto is boosted with garlic and parsley leaves for a yummy and nutrient-dense sauce you can toss with hot cooked pasta, stir into steamed rice, or use to flavor risottos.
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Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Whether you have pumpkin seeds for roasting after carving the Halloween Jack-o-lantern or pick up the roasted, shelled seeds from the store, it's always a good time for our fabulous pumpkin seed pesto. This easy twist on the classic sauce has an autumnal flavor that will blow your mind. It's a cinch to whip up in the food processor for fewer pennies than traditional pine nut pestos.
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Vegan Spinach Cashew Pesto
Cashews add an extra-nutty flavor and a bolder texture to this easy food processor pesto. Made with nutritional yeast, instead of cheese, our vegan spinach cashew pesto is a yummy, plant-based spread. Use it on pizzas, add it to sandwiches and wraps, or serve it as a chunky dip for crudites and crackers at parties.
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Wake up your grilled and steamed fish dishes with this delightfully dilly and citrusy pesto sauce. It's made just like a classic basil and pine nut pesto, but uses fresh dill leaves and walnuts instead, along with lemon zest and a whole lot of garlic. The result is a zesty Scandinavian twist on the traditional Italian pesto sauce.
How to Freeze Pesto
Pesto freezes beautifully! To freeze homemade pesto sauce, simply spoon it into clean ice cube trays, and place in the freezer. When the cubes become firm, pop them out of the trays, and store them in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer. They will keep well up to six months. You can add the frozen pesto cubes directly to hot cooked pasta, tossing well until the sauce is fully incorporated. For other uses, thaw the frozen pesto cubes at room temperature until soft enough to spread.