Perk up your dinner with pesto

Basil leaves on a wooden table.
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Pesto isn’t just for the fine dining of the rich and famous. Rather, it can be a part of the regular ol' American family dinner.

While it may seem like a fancy and unnecessary addition to an otherwise tasty meal, its bold taste can elevate a food to a whole new level. Take a simple grilled chicken, for example: even when seasoned with a dry rub, it is just ordinary chicken. But when pesto is spread on top, it creates a completely different dish.

How to make pesto

The best part of pesto is its simplicity. Only four ingredients are needed:

  1. Greens (herbs or leafy greens)
  2. Fresh garlic
  3. Nuts
  4. Oil
  5. Optional: Cheese may also be incorporated, although it is not necessary.

Pesto is traditionally made with fresh basil, but you may try parsley, cilantro, arugula, spinach, kale, or a combination of them all. The flavor of the pesto will greatly differ depending on the type of herb or green used. After throwing in a couple of cloves of garlic, nuts are added.

The Italians first used pine nuts, but most any nut will give it a similar taste. Walnuts, almonds, or even just peanuts will still provide a nutty flavor without the high cost of buying pine nuts.

Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice for a fresh taste, if desired. Finally, drizzle in the oil, which is traditionally olive.

Try pesto as a sauce in pasta, or pizza, or spread it on a grilled cheese sandwich. There are so many options!

Basil Pesto

Printable Recipe


  • 3 cups basil leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
  • ¼-½ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Over medium-high heat, toast the nuts in a skillet for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned.

2. In a food processor, combine herbs, garlic, nuts, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

3. Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil.


Basil Pesto Bruschetta

Yield: 18 servings | Printable Recipe


  • 1 French bread baguette, sliced at a 45-degree angle about ½-inch thick
  • 2 cups prepared pesto (recipe above)
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Arrange bread slices on an ungreased baking sheet.

2. Spread each slice with about a Tablespoon of pesto.

3.Top with chopped tomatoes and cheese.

4. Broil 4 inches from heat for 3-5 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

5. Lay tomatoes and cheese on the bread.

6. Drizzle pesto sauce on top.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 110 calories, 2 grams fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 260 milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram dietary fiber, 5 grams protein


This blog post first appeared in The Pantagraph on July 2, 2014.