Better With Basil: 21 Uses for Jarred Pesto


Don’t get me wrong, I love a from-scratch meal as much as the next person, but with time at a premium and an active child on my hands, I just can’t get my Julia Child on in the kitchen every night. Yes, there are nights when I pop a frozen lasagna in the oven, but when I’m in the mood for something semi-homemade, I’ve got a better weapon in my arsenal — jarred pesto. That miraculous combination of basil, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil packs a wallop in the flavor department, turning the simplest of meals into a genuine treat. What do I put it on? Why, pretty much anything. (See also: 8 Swanky Sauces to Glamorize Dinner)

The following ideas would also be a great way to use up the enormous batches of pesto you made over the summer with basil from your garden. I wish I could do that, but I have a singularly un-green thumb. Store-bought it is for me!

1. Grilled Shrimp

One of my favorite quick proteins is large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and butterflied, tossed in jarred pesto, skewered, and then thrown on the grill (broil them if the weather's not ideal). I look for frozen, uncooked shrimp on sale for this fast meal.

2. Pesto Pasta Primavera

Pesto tossed with pasta is a classic. Add some sauteed vegetables (a bag of spinach works in a pinch, and hey, you don’t even have to wash it), and you’ve got a light dinner. Add a piece of grilled or baked chicken to make the meal more complete. To doll up this simple dish even more, add some toasted pine nuts and fried slices of garlic.

3. Fancy Sandwiches

Turn a simple sandwich into something a little more posh by spreading a layer of pesto and mayo on crusty bread. Add some charcuterie (aka preserved meat like salami or prosciutto) and plenty of peppery arugula. For a vegetarian (and more frugal) version, roast a red pepper and some slices of eggplant, and put that in your sandwich instead of the meat.

4. Pizza Sauce

Try using pesto instead of tomato-based pizza sauce for a nice change. Or make two pizzas, one with each sauce, and see which one you like better.

5. White Lasagna

Instead of using Bolognese sauce to make lasagna, try mixing pesto with a Bechamel or cream sauce instead. Layer it with the pasta and grilled vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, spinach, or butternut squash and top with Parmesan.

6. Pesto Chicken

Toss chicken breasts or tenders with plenty of pesto. Top with cheese, and bake in the oven. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

7. Pesto Vegetables

Cook vegetables such as asparagus, green beans, or broccoli in boiling water until crisp-tender (or steam them). Toss with pesto and serve! Alternatively, toss the vegetables with olive oil and pesto and roast them in the oven (baby potatoes are delicious this way).

8. Soupe au Pistou

This Provencal vegetable soup is delicious with a dollop of pesto stirred into it. Try this simple soupe au pistou recipe from David Lebovitz — cook a variety of vegetables, add stock or water, and stir in some pasta and pesto for a comforting and classy soup.

9. Pesto and Cream Pasta

I order this dish almost every time I go to my favorite cafe — I really should make it at home more often. Heat a little heavy cream and pesto together, add Parmesan, and toss with cooked pasta. Top with toasted, buttery breadcrumbs. It may not be the healthiest meal, but it is simple and satisfying.

10. Pesto Pasta Salad

Toss cooked pasta with olive oil, lemon juice, and a generous amount of pesto. Mix in halved cherry tomatoes and cubed fresh mozzarella.

11. Compound Butter

Soften a stick of unsalted butter and then mix in a generous dollop of pesto. Roll into a log and wrap in plastic, and then place it in the refrigerator to firm up. Use this compound butter to saute vegetables, melt on corn-on-the-cob, or spread on bread before toasting; or place a few slices on a grilled steak.

12. Hummus

When you’re making your next batch of hummus, add a spoonful of pesto for a different flavor.

13. Salmon

Rub a few salmon steaks or a filet with pesto before baking or grilling (I put mine on a sheet of aluminum foil before grilling to avoid flare-ups).

14. Pesto Turkey Pinwheels

Spread pesto on flatbread or good tortillas. Add slices of turkey and roasted red pepper. Roll the flatbread up jelly roll-style and wrap in plastic. Chill for an hour, then slice crosswise into pinwheels. This makes a fancy-looking appetizer if you skewer the pinwheels with toothpicks and line them up on square white plates.

15. Cream Cheese

Mix pesto with your favorite cream cheese and spread on bagels.

16. Burgers or Meatballs

Add a layer of pesto as you assemble a burger, or better yet, mix it right into the meat. You can also mix pesto into your favorite meatball recipe for extra flavor.

17. Quiche or Frittata

Add pesto to your favorite quiche recipe to pump up the flavor. It goes particularly well with sun-dried tomatoes. Don't have time to make quiche? Add pesto to eggs and veggies in a simple frittata.

18. Scrambled Eggs

Mix pesto with scrambled eggs. That is all.

19. Spaghetti Squash

Toss cooked spaghetti squash with pesto for a delicious and healthy meal. Spaghetti squash can be quick and easy to cook — 12-15 minutes in the microwave, and you’re set. Just don’t forget to pierce it first lest it explode.

20. Goat Cheese Spread

Place a log of goat cheese on a plate and spread a thick layer of pesto over top. Serve with toasts or crackers.

21. Stuffed Chicken or Pork Chops

Make a slit in a chicken breast or pork chop and stuff it with a mixture of cooked spinach, pesto, and goat cheese. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes (at 375 F) or until juices run clear. Delicious!

What’s your favorite recipe using premade pesto?

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Guest's picture

Basil Pesto tastes great. I love it as a pizza sauce and it goes great with shredded parmesan cheese

Guest's picture

Popeye Quesadilla: Spread pesto on a wheat tortilla. Top it with shredded spinach, a handful of mozzarella and some feta cheese. Top with a second tortilla and toast both sides on the stove top.


Guest's picture

I read the title of this and had to read the article- I. LOVE. Pesto. My mom has always made her own pesto in the food processor, but since living on my own, I have become quite fond of jarred pesto and agree is instantly makes any dish delicious. My favorite meals to make with pesto are pasta (of course) or turkey meat balls.

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