If you’re sick and tired of plain old red sauce and you’re looking to take your pasta game to another level, then it’s about time you got acquainted with pesto sauce, because it is going to knock your sauce off. See what we did there? Pesto is a traditional Italian sauce that comes from Genoa, a city in the northwestern Italian region of Liguria (aka the most delicious part of the world). You probably know it as the green sauce that you see on everything from spaghetti to crostini. Traditional pesto Genovese (named for the region in Italy where the sauce originated) “has only six ingredients: basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, cheese, and olive oil,” according to an article in Saveur. It’s simple but complex at the same time. And according to Gianni Bruzzone, the chef and founder of Osteria Baccicin du Caru, a restaurant in Liguria, the sequence of ingredients matters: “he begins with garlic, then adds pine nuts, then basil, then coarse sea salt (which helps crush the leaves). After a few minutes the leaves start to break apart and the beginnings of a sauce emerge. In goes a stream of oil, and the sauce becomes silky. The cheese is last, and it gives body and creaminess—first Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then some aged pecorino at the end, for bite.”
That’s the traditional way to make pesto, but part of what makes this sauce so special is that it can be made for a wide variety of dishes, and with recipes that vary from chef to chef based on their preferences. And if you thought that basil was your only option when it comes to your leafy green of choice, think again. Pesto can be made with kale and spinach as well for a little bonus nutritional content. Ready to get cooking? Here are 10 pesto recipes you need to try immediately.
Read Related: Italian Food 101: 10 Pasta Dishes that Represent the Different Regions
1. Barefoot Contessa’s Pesto Sauce
Simple, classic, and foolproof, Ina Garten’s basil pesto recipe is a no-brainer. It only takes 15 minutes to whip up, which is almost exactly how long it will take to cook your pasta (not an accident). And here’s a little chef tip: once your sauce is ready if you don’t plan to serve it right away, you need to store it right away, because “air is the enemy of pesto” according to Garten.
2. Arugula Pesto
You guessed it; you can use arugula for pesto as well. This recipe has a couple of extra steps because it opts to use blanched arugula, which you quickly submerge in boiling water (instead of fresh greens), as well as toasted pine ruts (rather than raw). The rest of the ingredients are fairly familiar, but the extra work pays off in the end when you get a creamy and balanced sauce that goes well on everything.
3. Gemelli with Kale Pesto and Olives
Instead of basil this recipe uses kale (super yummy, better for you) and instead of pine nuts it includes walnuts. The sauce is made even more interesting by the addition of orange juice and zest as well as red pepper flakes for a little kick. And if you’re looking for a pasta dish that is a complete meal, this dish is also loaded with roast chicken and olives, so you get tons of flavor and protein to really fill you up.
4. Avocado Pesto Chickpea Salad Sandwiches
Pesto makes the perfect addition to sandwiches as well. This vegetarian dish is really healthy and really delicious. The pesto is unique from most other recipes in that it uses pistachios and avocado, along with traditional ingredients like garlic, basil and lemon juice. That avocado pesto mixture is then combined with mashed chickpeas and as many toppings as you want (onions, sprouts, radishes etc.) and loaded onto a sandwich bun to create the perfect lunch.
5. Pesto Steak
Give your skirt steak a little love by topping it off with this pesto mixed with white wine vinegar, making the ultimate marinade for your meat. Once your steak is grilled to perfection serve it with a little more sauce on top, or on the side for dipping.
6. Bruschetta with Ricotta and Pesto
Few things go better with pesto than ricotta cheese, which is perfectly creamy, rich, a little sweet and a little salty. That mix of flavors paired with the nutty, garlicky pesto is pure heaven. And when it’s all served on top of crunchy bread, we lose all ability to control ourselves.
7. Zucchini Noodles with Pesto
Forget gluten, you don’t need it to enjoy your favorite pesto. This recipe uses delicious and super healthy zucchini noodles (aka “noodles” that are actually strips of zucchini cut to look like spaghetti), which is covered in fresh pesto sauce, creating a dish that is nutritious and so yummy. Plus, you can choose if you want to eat the noodles raw or sautéed, hot or cold. It’s totally up to you, and it’s delicious either way.
8. White Cheddar + Arugula Pesto Mac and Cheese
Is there anything that mac and cheese can’t do? This recipe combines the flavors of pesto with the ooey gooey cheesiness of mac and cheese, and tops it all off with panko breadcrumbs for a little crunch. It’s seriously indulgent, but that’s exactly what comfort food is supposed to be.
9. Pesto Pizza
We love pizza, but after a while a simple cheese slice gets a little boring. Pesto pizza is the way to go if you’re looking for a change but you still want your pizza to taste simple and classically fresh and cheesy. Because what goes better with a garlicky, cheesy sauce better than more cheese? Yeah, we thought you might say that.
10. Artichoke Pesto on Ciabatta
Instead of basil or spinach, this pesto uses parsley and artichoke hearts to achieve a hearty texture that is loaded with veggies, garlic and cheese. Scoop a dollop of sauce on top of freshly toasted ciabatta slices and voila, you’ve got a delicious snack or the perfect appetizer for your next dinner party.
Photos 1, 3 & 5 courtesy of Food Network.com