24 Deliciously Unusual Ways To Cook With Pesto

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Pesto is more versatile than you might think and it can add lots of flavor to dishes you may not have ever considered. Next time you find yourself with extra pesto in the cupboard or an abundance of fresh basil or other greens that you can turn into pesto, there are plenty of delicious options. Pesto is a workhorse condiment that can improve your meals all day. Pair it with the right add-ins, and you can turn a meal you've had a thousand times into a more memorable one.

We used personal experience and combed through various cookbooks and online recipes to bring you a list of unusual ways you can add pesto to foods. Some of the options we've included are dishes you might normally think of as being sweet. However, with a few substitutions and add-ins, they become flavorful savory delights. Some require a whole jar of the flavorful sauce, while others are great for when you have a little leftover pesto you're trying to figure out how to use. Once you go through our list, you'll have a much more comprehensive idea of how to add it to things you never considered before. Plus, we bet you'll uncover a few ideas of your own to try. 

1. As an addition to hummus

There are dozens of ways to make hummus, and if you haven't tried pesto hummus, you've missed out on a flavor wonder. It's a simple way to dress up hummus that you won't soon forget.

To make it, blend chickpeas with pesto to taste — you can even skip the tahini from regular hummus. If you happen to be making pesto from scratch anyway, you might as well throw some chickpeas into the blender at the same time. Of course, you can always go the easy route, mixing store-bought hummus and pesto. Swirling it on top of the hummus rather than mixing it in is also an option, allowing the vivid green of basil pesto to stand out. 

2. As a flavoring for savory scones or biscuits

We first encountered pesto scones in Tamar Adler's "The Everlasting Meal Cookbook," and in our experience, the rich flavor was a great hit with everyone who tried them and made an excellent savory breakfast bread.

You can add all sorts of interesting ingredients to make your scones richer, such as sharp Cheddar or Parmesan cheese. Sun-dried tomato pesto also adds an extra flavor layer, and you can even substitute the milk for sour cream. The idea easily translates to biscuits as well. You can also top your biscuit or scone with pesto after they're done baking for a more intense flavor. If making biscuits from scratch isn't your style, there's also an option to add it on top of canned biscuits along with shredded Parmesan cheese before baking.

3. As a potato topping

There are a lot of things you should be trying out as baked potato toppings, and one is pesto. It tastes just as good on once-baked as it does on twice-baked potatoes. Plus, it works well as a topping for baked sweet potatoes, too.

You don't have to use a lot, so baked potatoes are perfect for using up a little leftover pesto. You can dress a baked potato with nothing but the sauce, and it will be bursting with flavor. If you're making your own version for the baked potatoes, you might consider adding green onions and/or chives to the mix for an extra punch of flavor.

4. In deviled eggs

There are so many delicious ingredients to upgrade deviled eggs. If you're looking for something to make your deviled eggs better than the ones you remember from yesteryear's potlucks, pesto is a delicious upgrade you won't forget.

Since pesto has a lot of bulk, you can substitute half the boiled egg yolks for an equal amount of pesto to make these yummy treats. They're also good with pesto made from a mixture of basil and mint. Another way to use it to make deviled eggs is with a mixture of mayo, pesto, balsamic vinegar, and lemon zest instead of just pesto.

5. In potato salad

If you're looking for a way to spice up your potato salad, pesto is the right answer. It adds plenty of flavor and can work in a variety of potato salad styles.

We've seen several versions of pesto potato salad, starting with either boiled or roasted potatoes. Pesto is the main dressing, sometimes with added lemon juice. You can add other ingredients like raw carrots and celery or boiled eggs, green peas, pine nuts, lemon juice, and grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Another interesting version of this potato salad has cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese chunks.

6. Turned into a salad dressing or vinaigrette

You might have added pesto to your salad before, but have you ever thought of making a pesto salad dressing? It is easy to make and will immediately elevate any salad, whether it's a vegetable, pasta, chicken, or tuna salad.

You can choose from a creamy pesto dressing or a pesto vinaigrette. The creamy version requires part mayonnaise to two parts yogurt. Then add a splash of red wine vinegar to taste. On the other hand, the vinaigrette requires one part extra virgin olive oil, one part fresh lemon juice, and two parts pesto. You can make it as intense as you'd like by adding more or less of the sauce.

7. To pep up soup

If your soup is on the bland side, raid your fridge for pesto to give it a little more pizzazz. You can either pour it on top of your soup once it's in a bowl or mix it into the whole pot. You don't need a lot to add flavor; just a few spoonfuls will do.

Tomato-based soups are especially good candidates for pesto. Even though it's a marriage of tomato sauce and basil, it tastes very different than spaghetti or pizza sauce — try it in your minestrone or tomato soup. You can also liven up bean soups or ones with pasta in them with pesto. Even something as simple as a soup made from chicken broth, chicken, and spinach comes to life with the strong cheese and basil flavors of the sauce.

8. In a savory cheesecake

Whether you know it or not, there is such a thing as savory cheesecake. Why not let the first one you try be a pesto cheesecake? Pesto cheesecake first piqued our interest when we saw it in the "Joy of Cooking" cookbook. One of the cookbook's authors even served it at his wedding reception.

This cheesecake uses dried breadcrumbs as a crust, ricotta cheese and sour cream instead of cream cheese, and has sun-dried tomatoes on top. Some versions feature cream cheese, ricotta cheese, and Romano cheese. You can even top it with pine nuts. You can treat it as you would a cheese ball appetizer, so it's great to spread on toasty French bread or crackers.

9. In mac and cheese

Pesto mac and cheese is a flavor revelation for anyone who loves both pesto and mac and cheese. It turns ordinary mac and cheese into something special without a lot of extra effort.

All you have to do is make your favorite mac and cheese recipe and mix in a fourth to a half cup of pesto. A little extra garlic powder wouldn't hurt either. While you're at it, you can add in extra veggies like steamed broccoli, sweet peas, or spinach. While this idea is great for creamy, made-from-scratch macaroni recipes, you can just as easily add it to boxed mac and cheese, too.

10. On roasted corn

Anyone who has tried Mexican street corn realizes just how amazing roasted corn can be with added toppings. Pesto gives roasted corn an Italian flair, making it the corn flavor you never knew you needed in your life.

There are several topping combinations possible. The simplest kind combines pesto with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Borrowing from Mexican street corn, another version mixes mayonnaise with the pesto and then adds balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

11. Stuffed inside a meat roulade

If you've experienced chicken cordon bleu, you can appreciate what a good sauce can do for a meat roulade. If you're ready to ramp up the flavor next time you make any sort of rolled meat dish, pesto is your friend.

Start with meat layers like thinly pounded steak or chicken. Then, add extras like cheese, bacon, or antipasti such as artichoke hearts or sundried tomatoes. The final layer is the pesto before you roll it up for baking. Feel free to vary the type you use. For example, a steak roulade can be good with a homemade parsley and walnut pesto rather than a traditional basil-based one. If you're making chicken roulade, it's common to add an egg wash and then dredge it in flour and panko crumbs before baking, too.

12. In pinwheel appetizers

Adding pesto to appetizers is always a win. There are several ways you can go about making pinwheel appetizers, with both baked and unbaked options.

You can start with flour tortillas, puff pastry dough, or canned crescent roll dough as your base. Top it with pesto and your other fillings of choice before rolling and slicing. Some accompanying fillings could include a combination of ingredients like prosciutto, roasted red peppers, and your favorite cheese (mozzarella, Parmesan, goat, or cream cheese work fine). The puff pastry and crescent roll versions need to be baked before serving, while the tortilla version does not. Also, be sure to remember marinara sauce for dipping.

13. In a breakfast casserole or strata

You can kick your favorite savory breakfast casserole or strata up a notch with the addition of pesto. It goes amazingly well with eggs and all things breakfast-related.

Choosing more Italian-leaning ingredients can make your pesto breakfast casserole or pesto strata even better. So, consider using prosciutto instead of ham or adding sliced tomatoes. With the sauce adding a hint of green to your breakfast, why not take it a little further by adding some more healthy greenery like arugula or spinach? Italian cheeses like mozzarella are good choices, or you could use other favorites like Gouda. Also, don't be afraid to spice up your breakfast with even more flavor from added seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder, and dried or fresh Italian herbs.

14. As an ingredient in yeasty baked goods

All sorts of baked goods taste good with pesto, and ones with yeasty flavors especially enjoy the punchy addition of pesto. As it bakes, the smells that come out of your oven will have you salivating in anticipation.

You can tuck pesto and cheeses like mozzarella or cream cheese into a variety of baked goods to turn them into crave-worthy appetizers or snacks. Think bread stick twists, garlic knots, soft pretzels, breadsticks, and garlic bread. Sprinkles of Parmesan cheese, extra garlic powder, pine nuts, or sesame seeds can take them to the next level. Don't forget marinara — or even more pesto — for dipping.

15. In party dips

If you're looking for an interesting dip to make for a party, grab that jar of pesto that's been sitting in your pantry and make it work for you. All you need to do is combine it with something else in your fridge that's creamy, and you'll magically have a dip that will have people asking for the recipe.

You'll need at least one part pesto to four parts of your creamy ingredient. However, we wouldn't blame you if you want to increase how much you add. Some good creamy bases include plain yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, or a blend of two creamy ingredients like mayo and sour cream. Turn up the heat with a little bit of hot sauce. Some interesting add-ins include red peppers, garlic, or lemon juice. You could even turn it into pesto salmon dip with canned or smoked salmon. Serve it with toast, crackers, chips, or crunchy veggies for dipping and topping.

16. To make compound butter

Compound butter is always a good ingredient to have in your fridge, and pesto compound butter is a winning variety. It's ready to zest up homecooked steak, spread on a piece of toast, or use anywhere else you like butter.

One of the most time-consuming parts of making herbed compound butter is stripping herb leaves off their stems and chopping them finely. However, if you start with pesto, most of the work is already done for you. Simply combine equal amounts of softened butter with pesto and perhaps a pinch of salt, and it's done.

17. As a risotto ingredient

Risotto is one of those foods that can turn into a full meal if you add enough ingredients. The nuts and cheese in pesto add extra protein that can take it that much closer to being a satisfying dish even if you don't keep adding ingredients.

The best time to add pesto to your risotto is after you've removed it from the heat. It's easy to have on the table as an optional mix-in ingredient if not everyone wants pesto risotto. Some other ingredients you might consider adding to this type of risotto include diced ham, peas, asparagus, mozzarella, grated Parmesan cheese, and toasted pine nuts.

18. As a sauce for wings

When you go out for wings, there seems to be no end of flavors on offer. While most tend to go in the direction of BBQ and Asian sauces, you can give your wings a yummy Italian twist with pesto.

Start out making your wings with your usual recipe, then toss them with pesto after they're fresh from the oven. You'll want to throw them back in the oven for a few minutes to warm up the pesto before serving with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. Now, you have the Italian wings of your dreams.

19. Instead of oil for fried eggs

Pesto is an oily condiment since one of its main ingredients is olive oil. With this in mind, you can see how it could work just fine as a medium for frying eggs.

Even though the pesto has oil in it, it's probably best to use a non-stick skillet if you'd prefer easier cleanup. Simply pour out about a fourth of a cup of pesto along the bottom of the skillet. Then, fry up a couple of eggs as usual using the sauce as you normally would oil with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. You can use what remains in the pan as a topping for a fried egg sandwich or as a topping for any other breakfast foods you might be having with the egg.

20. Mixed into mashed potatoes

There are lots of tricks for upgrading your mashed potatoes. One of the latest add-ins we've discovered for mashed potatoes is pesto.

Pesto mashed potatoes are easy to make. All you have to do is use your favorite recipe to make your mashed potatoes. Then, add pesto to taste, starting with a couple of tablespoons and going up to as much as a cup of the sauce, depending on just how much flavor you're after. Garnish your mashed potatoes with grated Parmesan, pine nuts, or fresh basil.

21. On classic and breakfast sandwiches

It's not surprising that sandwiches taste good using pesto as a condiment. However, some of the ones that shine with pesto may be a flavor revelation for you. You might also consider mixing a little pesto with mayo to make a pesto mayo for your favorite sandwich.

We've already established that breakfast foods taste good with pesto, as do yeasty breads. So, combining the two on a breakfast sandwich is a memorable flavor combination. Adding a little tomato and arugula can elevate the experience, too.

There are also several classic sandwiches you'll want to try with pesto, including tomato sandwiches (especially if you add some mozzarella cheese) and BLTs. It can also upgrade your grilled cheese. A double treat we enjoy involves making a pesto grilled cheese sandwich and dipping it in pesto tomato soup.

22. In stuffed mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are just better with pesto. No matter how you normally make the stuffing for your mushrooms, adding a little pesto is going to brighten them right up.

There are several directions you can go with making pesto-stuffed mushrooms. The easiest version is just to fill the mushrooms with pesto, top it with your favorite cheese (like Parmesan or mozzarella), and bake. You can also mix the sauce and cheese before stuffing. Adding panko bread crumbs to the stuffing or on top can make them a little more filling.

23. In or on an omelet

Pesto is the secret ingredient you never knew you needed for omelets, and there are several ways to incorporate it. You don't need a whole lot of extra ingredients to make a pesto omelet great, and you don't need a lot of it either.

You can either add pesto inside as one of the filling ingredients or top your omelet with it after it's done. Some people even whisk it into the egg mixture before cooking the omelet. Some ingredients that pair well with it include diced tomatoes, roasted red peppers, cooked chicken, and sundried tomatoes. Romano, Parmesan, goat, and feta are all good cheese choices.

24. As a topping for Buddha bowls

Part of what makes or breaks a Buddha bowl is the sauce you add to bring all the ingredients together. Pesto is one of the toppings we love to add when making an Italian-inspired Buddha bowl.

Pesto works great in Buddha bowls when they contain ingredients like tomatoes, spinach or kale, mozzarella balls, cooked chicken, zucchini, bell peppers, roasted veggies, chopped walnuts, pine nuts, and shredded Parmesan cheese. It works with a variety of Buddha bowl bases like quinoa, cauliflower rice, and rice. We like to add a splash of good balsamic vinegar to ours as well.