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How-To

Pestos: Basil & Beyond

Blend vibrant ingredients for zesty, versatile pestos that add layers of flavor to summer dishes

Fine Cooking Issue 66
Photos: Scott Phillips
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When someone says “pesto,” most likely you think of basil (and pine nuts and Parmesan). But in Italy, a pesto can include everything from herbs to anchovies, depending on the region and the season, and it might not even have basil in it. The one unifying feature of Italian pestos is their dense, paste-like texture, which is usually as intensely flavored as it is thick.  

I often adapt this concept using what I have on hand in my own pantry and what I see in my local market. I blend vibrant ingredients—herbs, nuts, and cured items like olives or sun-dried tomatoes—into tasty (and sometimes nontraditional) pestos, and then use these mixtures to dress up simple summer meals.  

While I love the feel of a mortar and pestle, I favor using a food processor for these recipes. The food processor is quick and chops the ingredients uniformly, and it also lets me make ample batches. Pestos will keep in the refrigerator for at least a couple of days, enough time to jazz up several meals’ worth of grilled or roasted fare—or pasta, of course. Here, I’ve included a recipe to pair with each pesto, but feel free to put together your own combinations. The great part about having these pestos on hand is spontaneously creating your own dishes.

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