Basil pesto was first popularized in Liguria, Italy. You may be  familiar with the classic Italian pesto, a green sauce made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, salt and olive oil. But pesto need not be limited to its original ingredients. Pesto (the term comes from the Italian word meaning “to pound or crush”) has caught on in a more individual way today to include almost any combination of herbs, nuts and cheeses. 

When you have pesto on hand, hundreds of healthy, convenient possibilities are within your reach. One day it can be the starter for homemade vinaigrette…and the next a building block for stick-to-your-ribs lasagna. It’s delicious straight from a jar or bundled with asparagus and prosciutto in a savory hors d’oeuvre. Best of all, it can be tailored to meet any dietary preference or tweaked to complement ingredients you have on hand. It’s the perfect sauce for a meal for one or for feeding a crowd. 

I love it so much that my husband, Dave, and I became “pesto-­preneurs” and started our company, Hope’s Gardens, in 2007 (­ In the Hope’s Gardens method, pesto is more of an outline than a prescription. Are you allergic to nuts? Vegan? Do you have a dairy intolerance? Do you dislike garlic? There is no reason you should miss out on the pleasures of pesto. You can generate a version tailored to the ingredients you have on hand, your personal tastes and your dietary restrictions. Flexibility is the name of the game. 

Use your favorite ingredients, making sure that they are fresh and juicy. Seize the season’s best. If you don’t have a garden, try the nearest farmer’s market. 

Go beyond the basic basil pesto. Here are five tried-and-true pesto recipes that will become staples in your daily arsenal—ready to use on sandwiches, grilled meats and, of course, pastas. Each recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare and makes one cup. 

How to Make Pesto

For all recipes below, combine all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse for several seconds, until the mixture turns into a paste. (You also can use a blender or a mortar and pestle or put some elbow grease into it with a fork or whisk.) Slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube while pulsing for about 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides, and pulse once or twice more. For a smoother, looser consistency, add more olive oil and continue pulsing. Use immediately or transfer it to a jar, top with a thin layer of olive oil, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Green Goddess Pesto

Green goddess originated as a dressing for romaine lettuce. It was created as a tribute to the actor George ­Arliss, who in 1923 performed in a play called The Green Goddess. The combination of anchovies, garlic, herbs, cheese and creamy pistachio nuts is divine on everything.

2 cups basil
2 cups parsley
½ cup chives
1 Tablespoon tarragon
⅓ cup pistachios
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 garlic cloves
2 anchovy fillets
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup olive oil

Roasted Jalapeño–Cilantro Pesto

This flavor was a favorite when we sold our pestos at farmer’s markets. The sweetness of the roasted jalapeños paired with the cilantro’s coolness creates a unique flavor everyone must experience. 

3 jalapeños, roasted (If you prefer a mild heat, remove the seeds and membranes.)
2 cups cilantro 
⅓ cup pine nuts 
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
3 garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup olive oil

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

This is a steadfast favorite in our kitchen and good for those who are garlic-averse. Both savory and sweet, thanks to the addition of turbinado sugar, it will hold up well when paired with a shrimp dish or a creamy goat cheese appetizer. 

1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked and drained (Soak for about 20 to 30 minutes to soften. After soaking, the yield will be closer to 1½ cups of sun-dried tomatoes.)
1 teaspoon capers
2 Tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
1 Tablespoon minced chives
⅛ teaspoon turbinado sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
½ cup olive oil

Mint Pesto

This spring pesto pairs well with a lamb dish (such as lamb kebabs), a springtime minestrone soup or a fresh pea salad. Use it any time of year to remind yourself of the fresh flavors of the season. 

1 cup mint 
½ cup parsley
¼ cup frozen green peas
2 Tablespoons almonds, toasted
1 garlic clove
2 Tablespoons sliced scallions
¼ teaspoon lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
⅓ cup olive oil

Kale Pesto

This is another workhorse in the kitchen. 

3 cups kale (either curly or Lacinato)
¼ cup almonds, toasted
⅓ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
2 to 3 garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon sliced shallots
⅛ teaspoon grated lemon zest
¾ teaspoon lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
⅓ cup olive oil

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