The Pesto Cookbook

116 Recipes for Creative Herb Combinations and Dishes Bursting with Flavor


By Olwen Woodier

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The classic pesto mixture of basil, garlic, olive oil, nuts, and Parmesan cheese is a popular favorite, but why stop at basil? Unlock the full potential of pesto by introducing into the mix other delicious herbs, including rosemary, mint, parsley, thyme, tarragon, and cilantro. This diverse collection of recipes for fresh pestos, pastes, and purées takes inspiration from cultures beyond Italy, with international delights such as Moroccan Chermoula, Brazilian Tempero Purée, and Peanut-Cilantro Pesto. In addition to 49 pesto recipes, 67 creative recipes for cooking with pesto show off how versatile these simple sauces can be.

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To my husband,

Richard Busch, potter and photographer, who created my garden of raised beds, whose wonderful bowls and plates are featured in many of the recipes, and who made my beautiful year-round "She Shed," a garden den where I am able to escape and write uninterrupted for hours on end.



Chapter 1: A Universal Tradition

Making Pestos, Traditional and Beyond

Chapter 2: The Basil Basics

Classic Genovese Pesto

Thai Basil Pesto

Herb-Feta Pesto

Spicy Tomato Summer Pesto

Anchovy-Basil Pesto

Sundried Tomato and Almond Pesto

Ricotta and Garden Greens Pesto

Brazilian Tempero Purée

Basil-Tarragon Purée

Chapter 3: Expanding the Herbal Palate

Herb-Scallion Pesto

Rosemary Pesto

Ginger-Peanut Pesto

Moroccan Chermoula

Mint Pesto

Parsley-Fennel Pistou

Olive, Thyme, and Parsley Pesto

Goat Cheese, Yogurt, and Lemon Pesto

Peanut-Cilantro Pesto

Arugula-Parsley Chimichurri

Chapter 4: Pushing the Pesto Envelope

Pepitas and Chile Salsa Verde

Herb and Breadcrumb Gremolata

Fresh Green Harissa

Spinach-Arugula Pesto

Red Pepper and Walnut Purée

Tomatillo-Sunflower Salsa Verde

Peanut-Sesame Pesto

Poblano and Fresh Oregano Purée

Fennel-Chive Herb Butter

Sweet Pepper, Almond, and Chive Romesco

Chapter 5: Herbed Oil Pureés, Mayonnaises, and Vinaigrettes

Basil-Cilantro Oil

Garlic Chive Oil

Fennel-Chive Oil

Green Mayonnaise

Anchovy-Tarragon Mayonnaise


Avocado Mayonnaise

Sweet and Spicy Aioli

Cooking with Pestos

Chapter 6: Salads and Soups

Mesclun Greens with Avocado, Tomatoes, and Olives

Chickpea, Apricot, and Olive Salad

Beet and Orange Salad with Goat Cheese and Pecans

Julienned Fennel, Radish, Asian Pear, and Radicchio

Spring Greens with Snap Peas, Asparagus, and Mangos

Chunky Chickpea Soup

White Bean and Orzo Soup with Spicy Summer Pesto

Cauliflower-Cheese Soup with Pistou and Garlic Naan

Late Summer Gazpacho

Chapter 7: Sides and Snacks

Herb Biscuits

Fresh Green Harissa with Beans and Cheese

Sesame Garlic Fried Rice with Peanut-Cilantro Pesto

Squash and Bell Pepper Caponata with Olive, Thyme, and Parsley Pesto

Broiled Tomatoes with Ricotta and Garden Greens Pesto

Roasted Beets and Brussels Sprouts with Herb-Feta Pesto

Zucchini Fritters

Grilled Greens with Romesco

Focaccia with Spicy Tomato Summer Pesto

Chapter 8: Pastas and Grains



Farfalle with Mozzarella and Anchovy-Basil Pesto

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes, Feta Cheese, and Fennel-Chive Oil

Penne Pasta with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Fennel-Chive Herb Butter

Tomato, Cucumber, and Scallion Couscous

Traditional Red Pepper and Spinach Risotto with Genovese Pesto

Barley Risotto with Sweet Pepper, Onion, and Chorizo

Farro with Bell Peppers, Onion, Celery, and Nuts

Chapter 9: Meat and Poultry

Spicy Beef Burgers

Flank Steak with Pesto

Mediterranean Filet Mignons

Steak Tempero with Potatoes and Anchovy-Tarragon Mayonnaise

Butterflied Pork Tenderloin

Stuffed Pork Loin with Romesco Breadcrumbs

Chicken Breasts with Pesto, Pears, and Parsnips

Boneless Chicken Thighs with Peanut-Sesame Pesto

Ground Turkey with Fresh Green Harissa

Perfect Rack of Lamb

Boned Leg of Lamb with Rosemary Pesto

Ground Lamb Kabobs

Chapter 10: Seafood Dishes

Baked Salmon with Pesto and Coconut Sauce

Seafood Ragout with Rouille

Salmon Brochettes with Ginger-Peanut Pesto

Tuna Burgers with Aioli

Baked Cod with Tomatillo-Sunflower Salsa Verde

Lobster Tails Poached in Basil-Cilantro Oil with Garlic

Shrimp Tacos with Tomatillo-Sunflower Salsa Verde

Fresh Summer Rolls

Shrimp with Ginger-Peanut Pesto

Broiled Mussels with Herb and Breadcrumb Gremolata

Chapter 11: Vegetarian Entrées

Portabella Mushrooms with Mozzarella and Tomato

Savory Supper Waffles

Pan-Grilled Peanut-Sesame Tofu

Stir-fried Veggies on the Side

Eggplant with Gremolata Topping

Mushroom-Cheese Tart

Asparagus and Spinach Quiche

Black Bean Chili

Lentils with Ricotta and Garden Greens Pesto

Hearty Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Chapter 12: Sweet Suprises

Cranberry-Nut-Perilla Stuffed Apples

Crunchy Rhubarb Compote with Mint-Chocolate Cream

Warm Blueberries with Mint-Chocolate Cream

Coconut Citrus Cookies

Date, Raisin, and Walnut Puffs

Apricot, Pecan, and Perilla Kolachy

Chocolate Scones with Fresh Herb and Yogurt Purée

Avocado-Lime Frozen Yogurt


Metric Conversions


Delight in Fresh Flavors with More Books from Storey


Share Your Experience!


Pestos for Today

As a lover of traditional pesto since the time of my first introduction at Chez Roberto's in Geneva, Switzerland, my perception of what pesto can be has changed significantly over the last 45 years. I grow many herbs and vegetables and cook dinner almost every night, so I often make pestos with whatever is at hand. The constant ingredients are herbs, oil, and garlic, but many variables are at play: I make pestos with or without nuts and with a variety of types of cheese — or sometimes no cheese at all. Not all of my pestos or pastes even fall into the savory category. Some herbs work well in sweet pastes and purées mixed with fruits, nuts, dairy, and even chocolate.

Many factors influence what you might add to your own personal pesto. These include where you live and the season; which fresh herbs and greens you are able to grow, harvest, or purchase year-round; and whether you can find local ricotta, goat cheese, or fresh mozzarella, or whether you make your own. There is no end to the dishes that can be enhanced by a dollop of pesto. I stir pesto into risotto and other grain dishes, combine it with beans and chickpeas, spoon it over soup, drizzle it over slices of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, rub it over meats and poultry, stuff it under the skin of chicken before roasting, and serve it alongside seafood.

Herbs and young greens can form the backbone of your pesto. Besides basil in its many varieties, there are so many leaves begging to be used — think spinach, kale, watercress, arugula, cilantro, tarragon, bronze fennel, perilla, mint, and even nasturtium leaves and pea shoots. You can incorporate immature chard, beet, and kale leaves (no tough mature leaves, please), carrot tops, and celery leaves. Other savories include garlic scapes, garlic chives, ramp leaves and bulbs (ramsons), shallots, scallions, chives, thyme, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, and a range of mints. The list goes on and on — you need only look at your garden's bounty, local farmers' markets, or your CSA baskets.

As for nuts, I love to use universal favorites such as pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, peanuts, and cashews. My favorite seeds include sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame. Many types of cheese are possible candidates for my pestos. Parmesan, of course, because it is so flavorful and nutty. But you might also consider feta, goat, blue cheeses, and even some of the fantastically aged and nutty cheddars from Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.

Rather than some of the heavier extra-virgin olive oils, I prefer those that have milder fruit and buttery flavors, whether they come from California, Italy, Greece, Spain, or Tunisia. I also like to add grapeseed oil to cut the heaviness of some olive oils. And to add another layer of flavor and depth, you could include a little pumpkin seed oil, butternut squash seed oil, or avocado oil.

To keep leaves and flavors bright, I often add a light and somewhat sweet vinegar — "sweet" meaning that they are not mouth-puckeringly acidic. I favor white and red balsamic vinegars, rice vinegar (plain or seasoned), and sometimes apple cider or sherry vinegars. Harsh wine vinegars are not on my list; it must be a mellow champagne variety or have some sweetness on the tongue.

So there you have it. You can make pestos, pastes, and purées from just about anything. I try to keep a few jars of various pestos and purées in my refrigerator at all times. Most last two to four weeks and even longer if they contain salt and vinegar. These little jars of greens, garlic, and oil are often my lifesavers at the end of a busy day. Even if I don't have a jar in the refrigerator, it hardly takes any time to throw a few ingredients into a food processor, and I can smear the resulting purée over something to pop under the broiler or in a grill pan, or toss it with greens or grains. Such instant flavor for such little work — pestos are so very rewarding.

Chapter 1

A Universal Tradition

Pestos, pastes, and purées are ancient recipes made around the world with greens and herbs, garlic and spices, seeds and nuts, oils, and other ingredients depending on a country's agriculture and cuisine. Today, chefs and cooks everywhere are creating pestos from spinach, kale, arugula, peppers, tomatoes, and whatever else they are growing in their kitchen gardens, in containers on decks and patios, and indoors in hydroponic gardens. And of course, it's easy to find an abundance of fresh herbs and greens at farmers' markets and most supermarkets.

One of the most familiar pestos originated in Genoa, Italy, in the province of Liguria. Made from basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheeses, pesto Genovese is a traditional Italian sauce for dressing pasta. It is also delicious with fish, meats, vegetables, soups, and breads.

Basil was introduced to Mediterranean countries via the ancient spice routes from India. It was possibly used by the Romans, who ground a mixture of herbs, cheese, and garlic into a paste called moretum. Italians in Liguria adapted the Roman cheese and garlic dish to include the basil and pine nuts that grew profusely on their hillsides. Using their local olive oil, they ground everything together into pesta, which comes from pestare, meaning "to pound or crush in a mortar with a pestle." In 1863, Giovanni Battista Ratto provided what is believed to be the first modern recipe for pesto in his book La Cuciniera Genovese.

Pesto is very regional in Italy. In Calabria, pesto alla calabrese consists of roasted bell peppers, garlic, black pepper, basil, cheese, and olive oil. Pesto rosso, from Sicily, is red from the addition of tomatoes and from using just a little basil. Gremolata or gremolada is a thick paste made from chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic, sometimes with the addition of olive oil, breadcrumbs, anchovies, and Pecorino Romano cheese. It is the traditional accompaniment to osso buco alla Milanese (braised veal shank, although lamb shanks are interchangeable).

An Indoor Garden Option

Before the perennial herbs in my garden are affected by a hard frost, I bring in pots of mint and rosemary, which go through the winter in a sunny spot away from heat vents. Chives will perk up indoors after they have been nipped by frost.

In order to grow annual herbs indoors in the winter, however, you will need to provide more than a sunny window. They require overhead grow lights for several hours a day. While they can be grown in pots of soil, my preferred method is to use a hydroponic AeroGarden. My first one produced such wonderful results that I purchased two more. Now I seed at one-month intervals, assuring that I never run out of basil.

I started with the seeded pod kits they offer for a wide variety of herbs and lettuce greens, which you can customize to your favorite choices. However, because they also sell the seed pods separately for use with your own seeds, I now go that route most of the time.

AeroGardens come in various sizes and shapes suitable for counter corners or tabletops. They are equipped with pump, filter, and lights and include a starter seed kit of your choice. They are readily found in garden centers and online.

Out of Italy

Other countries have their own version of pesto. In nearby Provence, the French version is pistou, a combination of basil, parsley, crushed garlic, and grated cheese. Pistou is used as an accompaniment to soupe au pistou, a hearty vegetable soup not unlike the Italian minestrone soup, which is also often adorned with pesto.

Spain has romesco — a red paste of romesco chile peppers processed with tomatoes, sweet red peppers, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. In Germany they make a pesto from the flat elliptical leaves of ramsons, a wild garlic that grows rampantly in moist pastures in many European countries and in southern regions of the United States.

In Peru there is a dish called tallarines verdes or "green noodles," named after Italian tagliarini pasta with green pesto. The green color is enhanced by the inclusion of spinach, although they may use vegetable oil instead of olive oil and other nuts in place of expensive imported pine nuts.

In the nineteenth century Genovese immigrants to Argentina introduced pesto recipes to their new homeland, where chimichurri evolved in the form of chopped parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and wine vinegar. In Brazil, the Portuguese have a paste called tempero, which they use as a basic seasoning for many cooked dishes. Tempero combines onions, leeks, garlic, basil, and parsley with a large quantity of salt but no oil. The salt allows the paste to keep under refrigeration for at least one year.

In Singapore, an Italian-Peranakan version called laksa pesto includes curry. Anyone who loves Indian food has surely ordered tandoori chicken; tandoori paste is a blend of curry spices, onion, garlic, chiles, ginger, and yogurt. Thailand is famous for its red and green curry pastes. The ingredients for both are almost identical except the red is made with hot red chiles while the green contains spicy green chiles. Harissa paste, a fiery Mediterranean pesto made with mint, parsley, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, and dried cayenne ­peppers, reigns in North Africa. Unlike French and Italian pestos, harissa does not contain nuts or cheese.

In most Thai and Mexican restaurants, you will find some kind of thick sauce containing peanuts or almonds, sesame or pumpkin seeds, peppers, garlic, and oil, though no cheese or basil. Mexican pipian is a ground or puréed mole sauce. Containing vegetable oil, onions, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), peanuts, sesame seeds, chile peppers, garlic, spices, and herbs, it is a traditional condiment or marinade for chicken, pork, seafood, and vegetable dishes. Pipian verde, a green variety, contains tomatillos and green peppers. When not diluted with too much liquid, the result is a thick pesto-like sauce. And like any pesto or paste, pipian can be used as a rub for meats before cooking and, when thick enough, creates a crust that helps seal in the juices. Like Italian pesto, you can find Mexican moles in some supermarkets but both are at their best when made fresh.

A Pesto Is a Paste Is a Purée

It all comes down to the fact that depending on the country, the region, and the cook, a pesto is a paste is a purée. It's just a matter of how much liquid is added to the mixture — whether that liquid is oil or vinegar, fermented fish sauce or soy sauce, juice or broth, or even the purest liquid of all, water.

The beauty of pestos, pastes, and purées is that they can be made by anyone, even those who don't enjoy cooking. Throw fresh herbs with garlic, spices, oil, and some cheese or tofu into a food processor, and you have a quick topping for pizza, pasta, couscous, fish, chicken, or whatever you fancy. Sweet pestos are just as easy and make a delicious and unusual accompaniment to pancakes, tarts, pastries, waffles, and ice cream.

Even if you don't have space for a large garden, most people can find the room to grow a few potted herbs on a patio or balcony. Supplement your own bounty with produce from farmers' markets and supermarkets, which sell living herbs and a great range of fruits, nuts, greens, cheeses, and other ingredients. The recipes in this book can be made for vegetarians as well as omnivores. Many are made without gluten, or don't contain nuts or cheese. And some of the cheeses included are soft cheeses like ricotta or goat cheese, which may be suitable for people who are sensitive to hard cheeses.S

The Basic Ingredients

Create your own combinations using whatever you have growing or find at the farmers' markets. While you'll find many ideas in this book to get you thinking, the Classic Genovese Pesto is a good ratio to follow.

Greens and Herbs

In a traditional pesto recipe, you can substitute one, two, or even three cups of different greens and/or herbs for the same amount of sweet basil leaves. Experiment with combinations of arugula, spinach, baby kale, tender chard, mint, tarragon, bronze fennel, cilantro, lemon basil, Thai basil, thyme, scallion greens, chives, sage, oregano, rosemary, or whatever rocks your taste buds. Pluck a handful of chickweed before it goes to flower and add it to the equation — it is amazingly tender and tasty, and certainly plentiful, at least in my backyard. When adding the stronger-tasting herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and tarragon, start with 14 cup and add more to taste.

One of my favorite herbs for pesto is perilla.


You can use hard grating cheeses, such as Asiago, Pecorino Romano, Cotija, Manchego, aged Gouda, or aged cheddar, in place of the Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana-Padano). Welsh Collier's Powerful and Scottish Mull of Kintyre cheddars are two of my favorites because of their almost granular texture and lovely nutty flavor.


Olive oil is a great flavor enhancer as well as being one of the healthiest oils on the planet. I use extra-virgin olive oil because it has been cold pressed without chemicals. You can also find grapeseed and canola oils that have been extracted without chemicals and heat. Start with 12 cup and increase to 34 cup to make a creamier pesto to taste.

You can reduce the quantity of oil by substituting up to half the amount with a nut milk. For the most part, nut milks are not strongly flavored and they offer more mouthfeel and thickness than broth or water.


I love garlic, so I use at least four large cloves when making almost any pesto. Besides adding a powerful burst of taste, garlic contains allicin and diallyl sulfides, both of which are medically endorsed as being effective in the management of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some garlic varieties are spicier and have more bite than others. Older bulbs lose their firmness and are not as strong or spicy. If they are beginning to sprout, you can split them in half and zip out the green germ, though I don't find a little germination to be a problem so I leave it intact.

If you prefer a milder, less assertive taste, you can roast the garlic first. Rather than turning on my oven, I like to split the bulb apart into cloves and roast them, unpeeled, in a dry skillet (I favor cast iron) over medium heat for 10 minutes or low heat for 20 minutes, until somewhat soft. Stir the cloves around once in a while so that they don't burn. When cool, remove the skins and continue with your recipe. Or drop peeled cloves into a skillet with a little water and cook over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Cool before proceeding with the recipe.


Some nuts taste good when raw, while others improve with a little toasting. I like to use unroasted walnuts, almonds, pecans, pine nuts, hazelnuts, and coconut chips, but I prefer to roast sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, pistachios, and peanuts. They are just more toothsome that way, and fortunately, you can buy them already roasted. If they are salted, cut back on the salt to be added to your recipes.

However, all nuts and seeds develop a deeper flavor and more crunch when toasted or roasted. You can dry-roast nuts and seeds in a skillet over medium-low heat for two to three minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. The best way to toast skin-on whole nuts such as hazelnuts and almonds is to arrange them in single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 10 minutes. The skins will begin to peel away during baking; before using the nuts in a recipe, remove the skins by wrapping the nuts in a clean dish towel and rubbing them vigorously until the skins drop off.

Salt and Pepper

Salt and pepper are important additions, but the amount you add is up to you. I like to use coarse sea salt and whole black pepper freshly milled. About 35 turns of the mills makes approximately 12 teaspoon. That makes it really easy to just grind the salt and pepper right into the food processor or skillet. Some mills are set at a fixed coarser grind, so you might want to do a test measurement of the ones you use the most.

Mix It Up

Why make vinaigrette dressings with just oil, vinegar or lemon, and garlic when you can increase the flavor, fiber, and nutrition by adding a handful of herbs and young leaves (e.g., chard, kale, beets, carrot, or ­celery tops)? For me, it's a no-brainer. I grow a variety of herbs and greens pretty much year-round and whatever I can harvest that day goes into vinaigrette purées and pestos.

One of my favorites is perilla (Perilla frutescens


  • “Full of fun and relaxed — yet inspired — recipes, this book is a must have for pros and home cooks alike!” — Rich Rosendale, certified master chef, co-host of CBS’s Recipe Rehab, and co-owner of Roots 657 in Leesburg, VA

On Sale
Apr 17, 2018
Page Count
224 pages

Olwen Woodier

Olwen Woodier

About the Author

Olwen Woodier is the author of six cookbooks, including The Pesto Cookbook and The Apple Cookbook. She has written about food for 35 years, including articles for the New York Times, Gourmet, Woman’s Day, and Family Circle. She offers cooking classes at her home, Glenfiddich Farm, in Leesburg, Virginia.

Learn more about this author