Pesto has many uses beyond the ubiquitous pasta dish. Our Dinner Doctor rescues it from the fridge and spreads the love
My sporting prowess is limited to winning my village Inuit Ear Wrestling competition (circa 1997), the sack race when I was six and somewhat unexpectedly an air hockey tournament, now curtailed by advancing decrepitude. Frankly I am not very good at any games of skill, let alone chance; I have neither the patience nor the application. I would much rather be cooking.
The game that most irritates me is one that is played at home - "fridge bagatelle". I have mixed success with this game, despite years of practice and actual commitment, largely because my strategies are often disrupted by other players. You may have played this game too, without necessarily knowing its name. It's the game played out on a shelf in your fridge, where you keep jars or containers of pickles, jams and sauces. Fridge bagatelle can be played solo, although it works more successfully at the multi-player level, depending on how many people have access to your fridge. The object is to keep jars and their contents in circulation for as long as possible before their contents are thrown away. Points are awarded for longevity of jar contents and deducted for mould accumulated. However, you can play your "joker" if you have created a new lifeform.
The ingredient that often suffers in this game of fridge bagatelle is poor old pesto. I have often forgotten to pour a little oil over the surface of the half-used paste, which keeps the air out and prevents the pesto from going off. In fact, I leave the jar at the front of the shelf as a reminder that I need to use up the pesto over the next few days, when it is at its freshest. My partner comes along, rooting around in the fridge, looking for a particular jar of pickle that I have shuffled to the back. He displaces my jar of pesto and with it "out of sight, out of mind" I promptly forget about it. Many days later, I find the jar, displaced by another round of shuffling fridge bagatelle, only to discover that the contents have gone off. I have lost the game again. It is annoying when there were so many things I could have used it for, not just the ubiquitous pesto and pasta dish. In fact, I just wish I had frozen the pesto instead of letting it go to waste.
First, here's my recipe for basil pesto sauce.
1. Pesto Pinwheels
Pesto and pine nut pinwheels. Photograph: Rachel Kelly
One of the easiest things to do with half a jar of pesto is to spread it on a piece of shop-bought puff pastry. Roll it up, cut into slices and bake. This is a delicious savoury that even a novice baker can enjoy.
Makes about 12 to 14 pinwheels
1 packet of ready-rolled puff pastry
toasted pine nuts
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Unroll the puff pastry onto a lightly floured, clean chopping board.
Spread 2 to 3 tbsp of pesto over the uncooked pastry, leaving a border of about 1cm.
Evenly scatter the pine nuts over the pesto.
From the long edge of the pastry, roll up the pastry firmly to form a long sausage shape. Chill for 30 minutes.
Using a sharp knife, cut into rounds about 1cm wide.
Place on a lined baking sheet, evenly spaced (to give the pastry space to expand while cooking).
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until puffed and a light golden brown.
Add thin slices of ham or extra cheese to the filling before baking.
2. Peach and tomato salad with mozzarella and pesto dressing
Peach and tomato salad with mozzarella and pesto dressing. Photograph: Rachel Kelly
This is one of my favourite summer salads, which also works beautifully with roasted pork or barbecued meat.
Basil pesto is thinned out with a little white balsamic or cider vinegar to make a vinaigrette dressing, which is then drizzled over the salad. The dressing also works in a salad that contains strawberries too.
2 tomatoes (about the same size as the peaches)
1 ball of mozzarella, torn into chunks
white balsamic vinegar (or cider vinegar)
Slice or chop the peaches and tomatoes into evenly sized pieces. If sliced, arrange in overlapping circles; one slice of peach, one slice of tomato. Alternatively just toss chunks of peach and tomato together.
Scatter over torn chunks of mozzarella.
Combine 2 tbsp of pesto with white balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over the salad and serve.
Replace the peaches with chunks of watermelon.
You can skin the peaches or tomatoes before cutting them, by dunking them in a bowl of boiling water for about 30 seconds and then refreshing in cold water. However, I don't usually bother.
You could also grill the peaches before assembling the salad. Carefully toss the slices or chunks of peach in 1 to 2 tsp of olive oil. Grill on a high heat, turning once, until lightly browned (about 3 minutes). Set aside to cool.
Some other ideas for using up pesto:
3. I rather like pesto in sandwiches. Any pesto will do, such as this parsley, walnut and blue cheese pesto in a roast beef sandwich.
4. If you don't want to use your pesto "neat", stir it into mayonnaise as a dressing, dip or sandwich filler. It is particularly nice in a BLT.
5. Pesto makes a lovely marinade for meat and fish. Sian at Fish Fingers for Tea coats chicken with pesto and serves it with vegetable couscous.
6. Sarah Raven's deliciously melting aubergine and mozzarella stacks use basil-infused oil, although I adapt it to use pesto. These stacks are held together with a skewer of rosemary and cooked on the BBQ, although you can bake them in the oven.
7. I often make a Vietnamese-style pork meatball noodle soup. Usually the meatballs are stuffed with coriander, but I have used leftover pesto instead. The basil in the pesto, together with the little bit of parmesan, gives the meatballs a delicious fragrant flavour and works really well with all the Asian aromatics such as lemongrass.
8. Stacy Rushton of Food Lust People Love makes a soup au pistou in honour of Julia Child. Pistou is the Provencal version of pesto, which is traditionally stirred into a bean soup.
9. I used a sundried tomato and hazelnut pesto to top a jerusalem artichoke soup. It certainly livened up a soup that otherwise might have looked a bit beige!
10. I stir pesto into my boum-boum vegetarian sausages, for extra herby flavour.
11. Rosie at The Londoner shows how easy it is to make pizzas at home and dollops pesto onto them for a taste of sunshine.
12. But if pizzas aren't your thing, how about using the pizza dough to make savoury chelsea buns? Instead of using the traditional dried fruit filling, use sundried tomatoes, pesto and black olives instead.
13. Camilla Hawkins of Fab Food 4 All makes these quick and easy cheats' pizzas using red pesto and ciabatta bread.
14. Sarah Trivuncic of Maison Cupcake has a delicious family-friendly recipe for fish topped with pesto breadcrumbs.
15. I think basil pesto works really well with shellfish too. I like to use it as a marinade for grilled prawns. However, I love this recipe from The Fish Society for mussels with pesto.
16. My favourite types of party food are the ones that are simple to make and can be prepared in advance. These cherry tomatoes are stuffed with a dab of pesto and a bit of mozzarella and are served on cocktail sticks. They vanish in seconds!
17. Pesto bruschetta topped with mozzarella or draped with a little prosciutto is also really good party nibble.
18. I like to add pesto to tomato sauces or tomato-based stews such as Bolognese. It just adds another layer of flavour without overwhelming the overall effect.
19. Pesto can be stirred into mashed potato. I particularly like using it in little potato cakes. This has worked beautifully with my wild leek pesto and also with nettle pesto too.
20. Julia of Hungry and Confused bakes focaccia bread with pesto and mozzarella.
21. Live Better sustainable blogger of the week, Rachelle Strauss of My Zero Waste has another 15 ways to use up leftover pesto too.
22. I love this healthy quinoa and rice salad which is packed full of colourful goodies.
23. Food writer, Jane Hughes has a lovely summer pasta salad on the Love Food Hate Waste site.
24. Or what about marinating chicken wings in a sauce made up of pesto, thinned out with a little cider vinegar, a tsp of Tabasco sauce and a tbsp of honey. Roast in the oven at 200C/Gas Mark 6 for about 35 minutes. Add a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs such as basil or mint before serving.
25. Both Natalie and Valerie Wong, collectively known as Twinny_Dip and regular contributors to Felicity Cloake's Readers' Recipe Swap, suggest baking puff pastry with feta cheese, tomatoes and pea pesto.
So how do you use pesto? Would you stuff chicken breasts or pork chops with pesto? Or would you just jazz up a warm new potato salad? I have heard that basil pesto is very nice with beetroot; can anyone confirm this?
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Pour a little oil over the surface of the half-used pesto to keep the air out and maintain freshness. Photograph: Rachel Kelly