Pesto, What Is It and How Is It Used?
Answered by: Yvonne Tremblay
Question from: Gail Symonds
Posted on: December 15, 2003

Pesto? What is it and how is it used?

Traditional basil pesto originated in Genoa, Italy. Its name comes from the word "pestare" which means to pound or grind. It is a mixture of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, grated Parmesan cheese and olive oil. It can be made in the food processor but traditionalists still use a mortar and pestle.

This delicious, aromatic paste can be used with vegetables (especially tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini), with meats and seafood, in soups and cheese spreads.

Ideas for using pesto:

- toss on cooked pasta; add cheese filling for lasagne

- mix equal parts with sour cream or plain yogurt for veggie dip

- spoon onto a baked potato and top with extra Parmesan cheese

- stir into mashed potatoes along with a bit of warmed milk

- spread on toasted bread and cover with tomato slices

- halve tomatoes and spread with pesto; let marinate for 1 hour; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and eat cold or broil

- add to mayonnaise or sour cream, use as a dressing for seafood, pasta or potato salads, as a dip, or topping for baked potato

- spread on bottom crust for tomato tart, quiche or pizza

- add a dollop to omelettes or frittata

- stir into a finished risotto

- stir spoonful into vinaigrette for salad, or into dressing for grilled vegetables, bean salads

- stir into ratatouille (a vegetable stew of onions, garlic, zucchini, sweet peppers and tomatoes

- stir into soups such as minestrone, zucchini or lentil

- marinate chicken or lamb in 2 tbsp pesto, 1 tbsp lemon juice and pepper for about 2 hours; brush with additional marinade when grilling or broiling

- brush on refrigerated crescent rolls, roll up and bake

- use to fill small mushroom caps, top with breadcrumbs and bake

Basil Pesto

In food processor, combine 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, 1/4 cup Italian parsley or 1/2 cup curly parsley, 3 cloves garlic and 1/2 cup pine nuts. Pulse until finely minced. Add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Process to blend (scrape side with rubber spatula if needed.) Using feed tube, slowly drizzle (machine running) in 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil, processing to a moist paste. Remove to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface. (Prevents it from darkening in colour.) Pesto will keep, refrigerated, for about a week. It may also be frozen for several months. Makes about 1-1/2 cups. Note: Parsley may be omitted.


- use other nuts in place of pine nuts; toast nuts if desired

- replace some of the olive oil with oil from sun-dried tomatoes

- use Romano cheese in place of Parmesan

- use roasted garlic in place of the fresh garlic

For recipes using pesto, such as Pesto Pasta, Pesto Potatoes, Pesto Shrimp, Baked Brie with Pesto and Pine Nuts, Pesto Grilled Vegetables, Pesto Risotto and Pesto Torte, please see my book "Thyme in the Kitchen -- Cooking With Fresh Herbs" (can be ordered through Richters). Preview book at


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