As soon as the basil I buy at the farmers’ market shows signs of wilting, I race to make pesto. No sauce is better to have on hand during the summer for simple meals. Whether tossed with boiled pasta or spread on toasted crostini, pesto makes a hearty dish in minutes.
When I first started blending pesto in my little food processor, I used to fret over buying traditional pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Then I began to realize the real genius of pesto: you can use almost any nuts and cheese you have on hand. Yes, the flavor will vary slightly, but it’s hard to go wrong with nuts and cheese.
If you’re still looking for that perfect pesto recipe, look no further. Check out our Potato Gnocchi with Pesto for the right proportions of traditional ingredients, and see the method for making classic Ligurian pesto.
But if you’re ready to shake up the flavors in your summer pesto, try these unique combinations:
|1. Arugula-Mint PestoSubstitute peppery arugula and bright mint leaves for basil, and the resulting pesto will taste pleasantly zesty. This recipe calls for simply tossing the smooth mixture with spaghetti.
|2. Sun-Dried Tomato and Red Pepper PestoYou don’t even need herbs or greens to create a delicious pesto! This one uses roasted bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes from a jar, plus almonds and a splash of sherry vinegar. When combined with fusilli and grilled chicken, it makes a quick weeknight meal.
|3. Cilantro Pesto Give your pesto a kick with Mexican flavors. Fresh lime juice and floral cilantro add a new dimension to this dish, which becomes a meal when paired with pan-seared chicken and egg pasta.
|4. Eggplant PestoWith its rich, complex flavors, eggplant provides the umami in any vegetarian dish. When roasted, the flesh becomes smooth — perfect for pureeing with garlic, pine nuts, basil and cheese to create a Mediterranean pesto. Spoon it over polenta, as this recipe suggests, or spread it on crostini for a simple appetizer.
|5. Olive PestoWhen it comes to condiments and spreads, olives generally star in tapenade, not pesto. Here, salty olives are combined with garlic, olive oil and marjoram to produce an exceptionally flavorful presto. Tossed with boiled spaghettini, it makes a satisfying dish.
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.