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.
How to store 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.
Types of pesto
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 alternative pesto flavours, for example 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?
Leftover pesto recipe ideas
1. On pizza
While we naturally reach for a bag of pasta when it comes to cooking with pesto, it also works dotted onto a pizza base. This summery vegetarian recipe combines it with creamy goat’s cheese, aubergine and fresh basil. Cook it on a griddle or over the barbecue for a delicious charred effect.
2. In a dip
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.
3. In mash
Stir a few tablespoons though a classic mashed potato and serve with sausages and cherry tomatoes for a hearty midweek supper. 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.
4. As a marinade or dressing
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.
5-a-day chicken with kale & pistachio pesto
Italian-style chicken burger & chips
Pesto chicken kebabs with roasted veg pasta
Salmon pesto traybake with baby roast potatoes
Warm pesto roast veg
Roasted squash with pesto & mozzarella
Baked mushrooms with ricotta & pesto
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.
6. In soup
Give your blends a finishing flavour boost with a swirl of pesto. This healthy vegetable minestrone balances fresh citrusy flavours with this creamy green sauce. Serve with a generous grating of parmesan and warm garlic flatbreads.
7. In a stew
Chicken and pesto are natural partners. The basil sauce takes centre stage in this sunny casserole with parmesan dumplings, or liven up a springtime one-pot with a touch of pesto to finish.
8. On bread
Spread your green sauce liberally across freshly baked focaccia or crusty sourdough. Purists will enjoy the simple pairing of pesto on toast, 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.
9. In breadcrumbs
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.
10. In couscous
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.
Get more pesto inspiration
How do you use up your leftover pesto? We’d like to hear your ideas