Whether you buy it in jars or make your own from scratch, this handy green sauce is ideal to have on hand for speedy suppers. But if you have a pesky half pot lurking at the back of the fridge, how should you use it?
Student staple, pasta’s best friend and arguably one of the greatest Italian exports, pesto is now a ubiquitous ingredient in everyday home cooking. Its heady combination of basil, pine nuts, olive oil and garlic means only teaspoons are required to add real punch to a dish, so a jar tends to stick around for a while. If yours is about to turn, use it up with one of our recipe ideas.
A note on storing pesto
Once opened, a jar of shop-bought pesto should last around two weeks. You can help to lock in the freshness by adding a glug of extra-virgin olive oil.
Making your own pesto is a worthwhile venture, but ingredients like pine nuts make it much more expensive than a basic supermarket equivalent. Our DIY guide weighs up the pros and cons of both. If you do make your own, it should keep for around four days. It can also be frozen, but for optimum results leave out the Parmesan cheese, which can be easily added once thawed.
It's worth experimenting with different pestos too. Branded shop-bought pesto comes in several versions, such as red, aubergine, and artichoke, or try making your own with peas or broad beans. Our garden herb and kale pesto recipes are freezable too. Whichever pesto you use, consider its credentials if you're cooking for a vegetarian - Italian hard cheeses usually contain animal rennet, but vegetarian alternatives can be found. Beyond the classic 'Genovese' blueprint, various herbs and spices can be used to make a green sauce - why not give our Thai pesto a try?
Our favourite ways with leftover pesto...
While we naturally reach for a bag of pasta when it comes to serving pesto, it also works dotted onto a pizza base. This recipe combines it with artichokes and mozzarella, but mushrooms, peppers and aubergines would work just as well.
Take some soft cheese, a handful of breadsticks and a couple of tablespoons of pesto and you have the makings of the world’s easiest dip. The combination of creamy basil dip and crunchy crudités will see it gobbled up in minutes.
Stir a few tablespoons though a classic mashed potato, or go off-piste with a chunky bean mash. Cannellini beans are healthy, thrifty and plentiful, but butter beans or borlotti beans are good substitutes.
Use your initiative when adding pesto to meat, fish or vegetables. In some cases, pesto will overpower delicate flavours, while in others it will sing from a blank canvas. Chicken is a natural partner, along with root vegetables, squash, pumpkin and mushrooms.
Pesto and eggs are a winning combination, but use the former sparingly as it can really dominate a dish. If you don’t want a green finish, leave the pesto out until the end then dot on top to taste. Alternatively, you can add it to the mix from the start. If you really want to take your tastebuds to the other side of Puglia, try this frittata by Gary Rhodes, which also contains pasta.
Finish off a blend with a touch of pesto. The creamy flavour of courgette, sweet peas and robust green leaves all team with the green sauce in fine fashion.
Chicken and pesto are natural partners. The basil sauce takes centrestage in this sunny casserole with Parmesan dumplings, or liven up a springtime one-pot with a touch of pesto to finish.
Purists will enjoy a thin smudge of pesto on some toasted sourdough, but if that’s a bit too much of an unadulterated basil punch, tone it down with sliced tomato – one of pesto’s perfect partners – and cream cheese. A stroke in a sandwich won’t go amiss either, especially if that sandwich contains mozzarella, vegetables or Italian ham.
Kill two birds with one stone and use up stale bread and the last of your pesto by whizzing the two together with lemon and olives, then spread it on chunky white fish and baking. The mix would also work with mushrooms, chicken fillets or a round of goat’s cheese.
Notoriously plain couscous takes a lot of dressing up. The strong flavours of pesto will be absorbed by the grains, making it the perfect base for a deli-style salad with your choice of cheese, vegetables and meat.
Are you a pesto devotee? How do you use up your leftover pots? We'd like to hear your recipe ideas...