Basil pesto is a classic Italian sauce that has been enjoyed for centuries. It originated in the Ligurian region of Italy and has since become a popular ingredient in kitchens around the world. Traditionally, basil pesto is made by blending fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil into a smooth, bright green sauce.
The word ‘pesto’ actually comes from the Italian word ‘pestare’, which means ‘to pound’ or ‘to crush’. This refers to the traditional method of making pesto, which involves pounding the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle. Nowadays, however, most people use a food processor or blender to make their pesto, which makes the process much easier and quicker.
Known for its bright, fresh flavour, basil pesto can be used in a wide variety of dishes. From pasta to sandwiches to starters, this versatile sauce can add a burst of flavour to any meal. In the following sections, we’ll explore some of the many delicious ways you can use basil pesto in your cooking.
Traditional ingredients for basil pesto
The traditional ingredients in basil pesto are quite simple, but they work together to create a delicious and complex flavour. The main ingredient is, of course, fresh basil leaves. It’s important to use fresh basil, as dried basil doesn’t have the same bright, vibrant flavour.
As well as basil, garlic is another key ingredient in pesto. Garlic adds a pungent, slightly spicy flavour to the sauce. Pine nuts are also a traditional ingredient in pesto, adding a nutty flavour and creamy texture. Parmesan cheese is used to add a salty, umami flavour, while olive oil helps to bind all the ingredients together into a smooth sauce.
Of course, there are many variations on the traditional pesto recipe, and some people like to add other ingredients to their pesto, such as lemon juice or sun-dried tomatoes. But if you want to make a classic basil pesto, these five ingredients are all you’ll need. The key to making a great pesto is to use good quality ingredients and to balance the flavours of the basil, garlic, nuts, cheese and oil.
Health benefits of basil pesto
As well as adding a delicious flavour to your meals, basil pesto has a number of health benefits.
Firstly, basil is a great source of antioxidants, which can help protect your body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Eating foods that are high in antioxidants, such as basil, can help reduce your risk of these diseases.
Garlic, another key ingredient in basil pesto, is known for its immune-boosting properties. It contains compounds that can help fight bacteria and viruses, making it a great ingredient to include in your meals, especially during cold and flu season.
Pine nuts, often used in pesto, are a good source of protein, fibre and healthy fats. They can help promote feelings of fullness and satisfaction, which can help with weight management.
Olive oil, another key ingredient in pesto, is high in monounsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Pasta dishes with basil pesto
One of the most popular ways to use basil pesto is in pasta dishes. Pesto pasta is a classic Italian dish that is quick, easy and delicious. Just cook your favourite pasta according to the instructions on the packet, toss with a few spoonfuls of pesto and you have a tasty and satisfying meal.
Some popular pasta shapes to use with pesto include spaghetti, linguine, fusilli and penne. You can also add other ingredients to your pesto pasta, such as cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers or grilled chicken, to make it more filling and nutritious.
Another popular pasta dish that uses pesto is pasta alla Genovese. This dish is made by cooking pasta in a sauce of pesto, green beans and potatoes. It’s a hearty and flavourful dish, perfect for a cosy evening in.
If you’re looking for a lighter pasta dish, try zucchini pasta (also known as zoodles) with pesto. Simply use a spiraliser or vegetable peeler to make long, thin strips of zucchini, then toss with pesto and some cherry tomatoes for a refreshing and healthy meal.
Sandwiches and wraps with basil pesto
Basil pesto is a great addition to sandwiches and wraps, adding a burst of flavour and a touch of elegance to even the simplest of meals.
A classic sandwich that uses pesto is the Caprese sandwich. This sandwich is made with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil leaves, all drizzled with pesto and served on a crusty baguette. It’s a simple yet elegant sandwich that’s perfect for a summer picnic or lunchtime treat.
Another sandwich that uses pesto is the grilled chicken and pesto sandwich. This sandwich is made with grilled chicken, pesto, fresh lettuce and tomato, all served on a toasted ciabatta roll. It’s a filling and flavoursome sandwich that’s perfect for a quick lunch or dinner.
If you’re looking for a lighter option, try a pesto wrap with grilled vegetables. Simply grill your favourite veggies such as zucchini, eggplant and peppers, then wrap them in a whole wheat tortilla with pesto and some crumbled feta cheese for a healthy and delicious meal.
Salad ideas with basil pesto
Basil pesto can also be used to add flavour and nutrition to salads. Here are some ideas for incorporating pesto into your salad recipes:
- Pesto Caesar Salad – Swap the traditional Caesar dressing for a pesto-based one. Simply blend together pesto, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and Greek yoghurt to create a creamy and flavourful dressing. Toss with romaine lettuce, croutons and Parmesan cheese for a delicious and nutritious salad.
- Caprese Salad with Pesto – Toss sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves in a bowl, then drizzle with pesto and balsamic vinaigrette for a simple and elegant salad.
- Grilled Vegetable Salad with Pesto – Grill your favourite vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant and peppers, then toss with mixed greens and pesto for a healthy and flavourful salad.
- Pesto Pasta Salad – Cook your favourite pasta, then toss with pesto, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella for a delicious and filling salad.
- Pesto Potato Salad – Cook red potatoes until tender, then toss with pesto, chopped red onion and chopped fresh parsley for a savoury and hearty salad.
Starters and Snacks with Basil Pesto
Basil pesto can also be used to make delicious starters and snacks, perfect for entertaining or for a quick bite. Here are some ideas:
- Pesto Bruschetta – Slices of toasted baguette topped with pesto, chopped tomatoes and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese for a simple and tasty starter.
- Pesto Dip – Mix pesto with Greek yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice for a healthy and delicious dip. Serve with fresh vegetables or pita chips for a tasty snack.
- Pesto Pinwheels – Spread pesto on a sheet of puff pastry, roll up and cut into pinwheels. Bake until golden brown for a tasty and easy starter.
- Pesto Stuffed Mushrooms – Stuff mushroom caps with a mixture of pesto, breadcrumbs and Parmesan, then bake until tender for a delicious and savoury starter.
- Pesto Deviled Eggs – Mix pesto into the egg yolk mixture for a twist on classic deviled eggs. Top with a sprinkle of paprika for a colourful and tasty starter.
Pizza and bread with basil pesto
Basil pesto can be used as a delicious and flavoursome sauce for both pizza and bread. Here are some ideas:
- Pesto Pizza – Spread pesto on a ready-made pizza dough, then top with your favourite ingredients such as mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and grilled chicken. Bake until the crust is golden brown for a delicious and easy homemade pizza.
- Pesto Flatbread – Spread pesto on a flatbread, then top with sliced ham and goat cheese. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly for a tasty and elegant starter.
- Pesto Garlic Bread – Spread pesto on slices of crusty bread, then top with garlic and parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the bread is crispy for a tasty and easy side dish.
- Pesto Focaccia – Spread pesto on homemade or store-bought focaccia bread, then top with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and chopped basil. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp for a delicious and filling meal.
- Pesto Breadsticks – Roll out the ready-made pizza dough and cut into strips. Brush the strips with pesto, then bake in the oven until golden brown and crispy for a tasty and easy snack.
Desserts with basil pesto
While basil pesto is typically used in savoury dishes, it can also be used to create unique and flavourful desserts. Here are a few ideas:
- Pesto Gelato – Mix pesto into a classic vanilla gelato recipe for a sweet and savoury treat. Top with a drizzle of honey or chopped nuts for added texture and flavour.
- Pesto Cheesecake – Add pesto to a classic cheesecake recipe for a twist on a traditional dessert. Top with fresh berries or a sprinkling of icing sugar for a beautiful and delicious dessert.
- Pesto Brownies – Add pesto to a classic brownie recipe for a unique and flavourful dessert. Top with a dollop of whipped cream or a sprinkle of sea salt for added texture and flavour.
- Pesto Shortbread Cookies – Add pesto to a classic shortbread recipe for a savoury and buttery cookie. Serve with a cup of tea or coffee for a delicious and satisfying treat.
- Pesto Fruit Salad – Toss your favourite fruits such as strawberries, peaches and blueberries with a drizzle of pesto and a sprinkling of sugar for a refreshing and unique dessert.
In conclusion, basil pesto is a versatile and delicious sauce that can be used in a wide range of dishes. From pasta dishes and sandwiches to starters and desserts, pesto can add a burst of flavour and nutrition to your meals.
As well as tasting great, pesto has some health benefits. Basil is a great source of antioxidants, garlic can boost your immune system, pine nuts are a good source of protein and healthy fats, and olive oil can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
When making pesto, it’s important to use high-quality ingredients and to balance the flavours of the basil, garlic, nuts, cheese and oil. And don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with different combinations of ingredients to find your perfect pesto recipe.
Overall, basil pesto is a delicious and nutritious addition to any meal. Whether you’re an experienced cook or a novice, pesto is a versatile sauce that can add flavour and nutrition to a wide range of dishes.
What are some health benefits of basil pesto?
Basil pesto contains antioxidants, immune-boosting properties, healthy fats, and can help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
What are some popular dishes that use basil pesto?
Pasta dishes, sandwiches and wraps, salads, pizza and bread, and appetizers and snacks are all popular dishes that use basil pesto.
Can basil pesto be used in desserts?
Yes, basil pesto can be used in desserts such as gelato, cheesecake, brownies, shortbread cookies, and fruit salads.
What are some tips for making a good basil pesto?
Use high-quality ingredients, balance the flavors of the basil, garlic, nuts, cheese, and oil, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations of ingredients.
Is basil pesto suitable for vegetarians and vegans?
It depends on the recipe and the type of cheese used. Traditional pesto is made with Parmesan cheese, which is not vegetarian. However, you can use a vegetarian-friendly cheese or skip the cheese altogether to make a vegan-friendly pesto.