Pesto - A Tasty Meal Helper

Updated: Apr 8

Pesto is a very popular green sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy. It is typically made from sweet basil, salty cheeses, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts.

By Wendy Behenna March 18, 2022

Pesto is the past tense of a Genoese verb "pestare" which means to crush. The fact that restauranteurs in Genoa established an "official" recipe that requires young basil leaves to be crushed in a mortar and pestle with garlic and salt reflects this meaning. This recipe even states that for every 30 basil leaves, one clove of garlic should be used. Pine nuts, grated Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses and extra virgin olive oil are then added to create the perfect blend.

Even though the Genovese claim they make the only true pesto, there are many variations and recipes to suit everyone's tastes. Using a mortar and pestle to crush the basil leaves does yield maximum flavour, but it's not always necessary to do it this way.

History of Pesto

Pesto is thought to go back as far as Roman times. They crushed together garlic, salt, cheese, herbs, olive oil and vinegar together and sometimes even used pine nuts. A very similar type of sauce to our modern day pesto.

During the middle ages, there was a popular sauce made from mashing garlic and walnuts found in the Genoan cuisine. This staple sauce was called agliata.

The use of basil to make pesto is thought to have occurred in the mid-19th century found in a recipe in a book by Giovanni Battista Ratto in 1863. Basil is thought to have originated from India but grew abundantly in Italy and France. Every family had their own "special" pesto recipe which is probably why there are so many variations of pesto recipes that can be made.

Health Benefits

Pesto can be made of many different ingredients so here are some health benefits of some of the more popular ingredients.

Basil - contains many vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.

Garlic - may help with inflammation and is immune supporting.

Culinary Tip: Let garlic sit for 5-10 minutes after chopping or mincing. This time is needed for the beneficial compounds in garlic to properly activate. If you cook with it too soon, you will lose out on all the good benefits.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Olive oil contains a heart healthy monosaturated fat and is thought to help reduce inflammation.

Culinary Tip: Olive oil is a heat sensitive oil so it's best used in sauces and salad dressings or for drizzling over things. Best used at a lower heat setting.

Ways to Use Pesto

Pesto is a very versatile ingredient and can be used in many ways. Some ideas are:

  • mix with pasta or other grains

  • topping for veggies

  • on crackers

  • on pizza instead of pizza sauce

  • as a sandwich spread Eaters Collective - Unsplashed

  • added to soup

  • topping for fish

Dairy Free Pesto Recipe

As we mentioned before, a lot of pesto recipes have cheese as an ingredient but there are lots of dairy free pesto recipes too. My favorite is using soaked walnuts instead of pine nuts. It's a simple recipe that can be adjusted to your taste. You can choose your greens and add more garlic or olive oil if you like.

  • 3/4 cup Walnuts (soaked for 4-6 hours)

  • 2 cups Parsley (approximately 1 bunch - cilantro could also be used)

  • 2 cloves Garlic (chopped)

  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

  • 1/2 tsp Sea Salt

  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  1. Rinse the walnuts well after soaking and place in a food processor.

  2. Add the parsley, garlic, lemon juice and sea salt. Process until well blended. You might have to scrap down the sides a few times.

  3. While the food processor is blending, add the olive oil slowly to incorporate. Add more if you feel the pesto is too dry for your liking.

  4. Store in a glass container in the fridge for about a week or freeze in smaller quantities to be taken out of the freezer at a later date.

Using Pesto in Recipes

Here are some links using in Pesto in different recipes. It's really up to your imagination how it can be used. With so many base recipes for the pesto itself, you might have a few favorites using different ingredients you have on hand. Some of these

Augustine Fou - Unsplashed recipes contain gluten or dairy so

adjust according to your dietary


Sheet Pan Pesto Chicken, Potatoes and Carrots

26 Different Recipes that Start With Pesto - The Spruce Eats

Here is a collection of all kinds of recipe ideas. It was hard to pick a few, so here's the link to them all.

26 Recipes That Start With Pesto (

Zucchini Noodles with Pesto and Tomatoes

This super easy 3 ingredient salad looks so refreshing and can be put together in 5 minutes!

Wendy Behenna is a retired Medical Laboratory Technologist who now uses the kitchen as a "lab" to create healthy, real food dishes. As a graduate of the Culinary Nutrition Program, she wants to share the knowledge she acquired to help people with meal planning and cooking skills, especially those transitioning to a gluten-free and dairy-free lifestyle. She is also a Certified Tea Sommelier and loves incorporating tea in her recipes when possible.

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