Pesto Pasta – A Primer

The Magic of Basil

The Magic of Basil

Get ready; it’s time for one of summer’s taste treats.  Although good quality basil is available in the Southern states for most of the year, those of us in the North have to wait until this time of year to enjoy the varieties of religious experience that come from this wonderful herb. If you grow your own, now is when it takes off. Farm stands and farmers markets have it in abundance.

We have written so much about basil pesto in the past that I thought it would be fun to toss out some new stuff as well as review things from the past. We’ll create a “Pesto Primer” that you can print and keep under your pillow. If you want to wander on your own, go to the “Search” window above and enter “Pesto”. Everything will come up.

Here is the basic recipe for basil pesto from Summer Pesto Extravaganza:


  • 2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts (they’re expensive but worth it – try buying a big bag at Costco – it works out to about 25% of the price of the little jars)
  • ¾ cup olive oil (no need to say extra virgin – you know that)
  • ¾ cup of grated Parmesano Reggiano

Put everything except the cheese in a food processor or “mini-prep” and puree for about 15 seconds.  Pour into a small bowl and gently mix in the cheese.  Y, voila.”

You can put pesto sauce on anything and it works. It’s the WD-40 of cooking. Here are some of the recipes that we have discussed in previous posts and some new ideas. I have put links to the posts in case you are dying for more detail.

1. Pasta with Pesto:

Although the most common choice is pesto with spaghetti, there are many other options to spice things up. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Pesto with Shells or Tubes: My daughter has convinced me that shapes like tubes or shells that trap the sauce are better than spaghetti.   I have to agree. Other things also work. Last night we tried it over spinach ravioli – very good -and I am anxious to try it with tortelini.
Basil Pesto with  Tube Pasta

Basil Pesto with Tube Pasta

  • Pesto with Wide Noodle Pasta (Pappardelle or Tagliatelle): These wide noodles are now my favorite for pesto. They “grab” the sauce as well as the shells or tubes, but seem creamier.
Pesto with Tagliatelle

Pesto with Tagliatelle

  • Pesto with Pasta and Vegetables: If you really want to go crazy, add other vegetables to the pasta. You can use anything, like sautéed egglplant cubes, peas, or, my favorite, Brussel sprouts. Cook the vegetables first, and then add them to the pasta and pesto.
Pesto with Pasta and Brussel Sprouts

Pesto with Pasta and Brussel Sprouts

2. Pesto and Pizza:

If you aren’t into making your own pizza, take a look at our post on Thin Crust Beauties, and get with it. Try pesto sauce as the base rather than tomato sauce. You’ll be surprised; it’s almost like discovering sex. Here are some great ones to try:

  • Pesto pizza with shrimp: Try to get small, uncooked shrimp. Peel them and make sure you dry them thoroughly with paper towel. Spread on top of the pesto sauce, add some red pepper flakes and a little mozzarella. Tasty!
Pizza - Thin Crust - Pesto and Shrimp

Pizza with Pesto and Shrimp

  • Pesto pizza with black olives: I was making pizza with my granddaughter and she loves black olives more than life itself. She also loves pesto. She insisted on carefully slicing a whole can of black olives, which she used to cover the entire pizza. A little mozzarella on top and we had a real winner. This is now my favorite pizza.

3. Pesto with Meat and Fish:

Pesto works with many meat or fish dishes. It is especially good with things that tend to be a little dry. Here are some ideas:

  • Pesto and Salmon: You can go back to our post Salmon and Pesto for some interesting cooking techniques and information about salmon. However, the idea is very simple – no matter how you cook salmon, spread pesto on it. You can put it on the fish while cooking or warm the pesto and spoon over at the table.
Salmon and Pesto

Salmon and Pesto

  • Pesto with Pork Loin or Tenderloin: We often grill these meats in the summer and slice to serve. Try serving pesto sauce with them and you will be surprised.

4. Pesto for Lunch:

You can make some lunches seem very special with pesto. Here are two favorites:

  • Pesto and Tomato Sandwich: This is my grandson Eli’s invention. Take a piece of toast and spread pesto on top, scatter diced tomatoes on top, add a little salt and pepper and eat open-faced. This really works well with real summer tomatoes.
Pesto and Tomato Sandwich

Pesto and Tomato Sandwich

  • Salmon Salad with Pesto on Toast: I made an al fresco lunch for family and friends using some leftover Scottish salmon from the night before. I chopped celery and carrot very fine, added the salmon and three spoonfuls of pesto. I mixed everything together and served on toasted whole wheat bread. Served with an arugula salad with melon on the side, it was a winner.
Pesto Al Fresco

Pesto Al Fresco

Salmon and Pesto Sandwich

Salmon and Pesto Sandwich

5. Pesto Appetizers:

Pesto makes some great appetizers, which we have talked about before in previous posts. Here are my favorites:

  • Pesto on Walnut Halves: This is a classy and unusual appetizer that never fails to wow the guests. The problem is finding unbroken walnut halves. As we said in Basil Pesto Redeux, “The best way (to do this is) to buy a 3 lb. bag of walnuts from Costco or other purveyor, open the bag and remove the approximately 10% of true walnut halves and save them for the big moment.” You need to add a little soft butter to the pesto sauce to thicken it up a little before spreading on the walnuts.
Pesto Appetizers

Pesto Appetizers

  • Deviled Eggs with Pesto: In Basil -Part III: “Deviled eggs are an oft-forgotten treat.  They are so good and good for you (forget all of the cholesterol stuff – there is little evidence that eggs do any damage).   This recipe is drop dead simple.  Hard-boil a dozen eggs (you need a lot since you are a Bravado social animal and there must be a party involved).  Gently peel the eggs, cut in half, remove the yolks and mix them with one batch of pesto sauce.  Mash them well so you have a nice creamy mixture.  Spoon into the hard-boiled “whites”, garnish with a small basil leaf and serve.”
  • Pesto on French Bread: The easiest of all. Either buy a fresh baguette or bake your own (French Bread – The Classic Baguette), slice thinly and spread with pesto. Serve on a pretty platter, preferably with champagne.

I would love to hear some of your favorite pesto recipes. Click the “Comment” button and let me know.

Categories: Classic Italian Dishes, Classic Pasta Dishes, Fun Stuff

Tags: ,

3 replies

  1. Wondering when the next one was coming. How about bruschetta ? Am on my way to the basil garden!!!! Ox Julie

  2. Welcome back Bill! Have you ever tried subbing pistachios for the pine nuts? Super yummy.

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