Food & Drinks, Lifestyle

Loving Pesto This Summer? Try These Variations On The Classic Basil Version

pesto variations recipe

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s summer editorial intern Alexandra Speck. Find her on Instagram at @alexandraspeckk. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at

There is nothing more quintessentially summer than pesto. The scent conjures up images of abundant basil gardens and family dinners centered around a pot of steaming pasta. Basil pesto is a tried-and-true crowd-pleaser, and no summer of mine is complete without dozens of bowls. When I inevitably run low on fresh basil, I turn to one of these alternative “pesto” recipes to satisfy my craving. If you’re interested in experimenting with more summer produce, try a pesto variations recipe.

Get Your Greens In

Pesto’s bright green hue is traditionally achieved with just basil, but any herbs and leafy greens will work. Kale pesto is a popular variation due to kale’s earthy, mild taste that blends well with nuts and olive oil. I’d take kale pesto pasta smothered in parmesan cheese over a kale salad, any day.

If your herb garden is flourishing, consider parsley pesto. It’s great on pasta but also delicious on sandwiches, meat, fish, and grilled veggies. Cilantro works, too. Both of these herbs are thin and leafy – like basil – so the final product will be smooth. If you like chimichurri sauce, you’ll definitely enjoy this pesto.

Any “green” pesto is fantastic with a 50/50 ratio of basil and another green. Basil’s not necessary, but it’s worth including if you have some on hand. Treat these recipes like smoothies and use whatever you have in the fridge. With healthy doses of olive oil and cheese, there’s no way for your pasta to be anything short of delicious.

Tomato Pesto – No, It’s Not Red Sauce

Sun-dried tomato pesto, also called pesto rosso, is prepared similarly to basil pesto but tastes entirely unique. The recipe includes the standard basil, nuts, olive oil and cheese, but its flair comes from blending in a huge proportion of sun-dried tomatoes. Tomatoes are one of those incredibly seasonal foods, so this is a perfect recipe for anyone that wants to enjoy tomato flavor year-round. Sun-dried tomatoes are jarred during peak tomato season, meaning that they’ll be much better than fresh tomatoes available in the fall and winter months. Dried tomatoes are also shelf-stable, so save this recipe for those days that just don’t include a trip to the grocery store.

Red Pepper Pesto – Roast The Peppers!

Roasted red pepper pesto is similar to sun-dried tomato pesto in that it can be quickly made with a jarred veggie. Jarred roasted red peppers are available at nearly every grocery store, and high-quality brands are fairly affordable. Look for ones with simple ingredients – peppers, salt, olive oil, etc. Again, this is a great way to transition pesto pasta into the colder months. If you enjoy romesco sauce, you definitely won’t regret making roasted pepper pesto. 

However, if you have the time, I definitely recommend roasting peppers at home. Peppers are in season right now, and your house will smell incredible. (Remember to make extra for making sandwiches… or eating straight from the fridge.)

White Pesto… Adult Mac And Cheese?

This white pesto recipe from Bon Appétit is primarily comprised of nuts, cheese, garlic, and olive oil – how could it be bad? With brightness from lemon, oregano, and black pepper, a heavy pasta dish is transformed into something light, summery, and entirely new.

Since this recipe is dairy-forward, using a quality fresh ricotta will make all the difference. Along those lines, toasting the walnuts is an essential step, and one that I’d recommend for any pesto recipe. The added depth of flavor from toasting is particularly important for pesto recipes with minimal amounts of herbs.

Which pesto variations recipe will you try? Do you make one we haven’t mentioned? Share in the comments below!

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