A Cheaper Way to Make Pesto & 8 Weeknight Meals to Use It In

March 28, 2016

I’m obsessed with pesto. I make countless variations using different herbs, nuts, and seeds.

This version, from my recipe for portobello sliders in The Love and Lemons Cookbook, uses pepitas because, compared to pine nuts and walnuts, they’re cheap! They have a wonderful nutty flavor and bring a vibrant green color to my pesto.

Make a big batch of pepita pesto at the beginning of the week, slather it on your sliders, then use it make simple meals better all week long.

On Sunday, or at the beginning of the week, start by making:

  • 1 batch of portobello sliders
  • 2 batches of pepita pesto
  • A pot of your favorite soup (how about minestrone or lentil?) for later in the week
  • Pizza dough: You can let this version rise in the fridge for up to 3 days (or simply buy dough from the grocery store or a nearby restaurant)
  • A pot of grains for a grain salad (quinoa, farro, freekeh, wheatberries...)

At the store, stock up on:

  • Seasonal produce for a grain salad
  • Large flour or sprouted grain tortillas
  • Whole grain bread
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Avocados
  • Eggs
  • Baby spinach
  • Pasta (and/or zucchini for making zucchini noodles during the summer)

Once you've done that, putting it all together is easy:

1) Make a big grain salad with fresh seasonal vegetables.

In the spring, I like to use artichokes and herbs; in the summer, sliced tomatoes and cucumber. Season it with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper, then top it all with a big dollop of the pesto.

Photo by Jeanine Donofrio

2. That's a wrap.

Take your leftover grain salad and wrap it (with more pesto) in a large flour or sprouted grain tortilla. Add other bits and bobs from your fridge and pantry, too, like pickled onions, crumbled feta cheese, or sun-dried tomatoes.

3. Make tartines (a.k.a. fancy toasts).

Use whole grain bread, fresh mozzarella, avocado slices, and pesto.

Photo by Jeanine Donofrio

4. Breakfast for dinner.

Scoop the pesto onto eggs that have been scrambled with baby spinach and any leftover fresh mozzarella. Top with sliced avocado if you still have that, too.

Photo by Jeanine Donofrio

5. Make flatbread pizza.

After grilling or baking the pizza dough, spread ricotta over top, then plop down some figs (fresh or dried, depending on the season), arugula, some generous spoonfuls of pesto, and a drizzle of honey. Look: It's salad pizza.

6. The obvious but good choice.

Stir your pesto into hot pasta. Or for a greener summertime option, use zucchini noodles (or a mixture of zucchini noodles and regular noodles) instead.

7. Soup's up.

Stir the last bit of pesto into the soup you made earlier in the week—or use a store-bought version—to make it richer, fresher, and more delicious.

Photo by Jeanine Donofrio

What's your favorite way to use pesto? Add some inspiration in the comments!

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My name is Jeanine Donofrio, author The Love & Lemons Cookbook and the food blog I create healthy, seasonal, (mostly) vegetarian. I love kale, green tea, cake, and of course lemons.


Jupiter March 29, 2016
Oh,good idea! I use sunflower seeds. Where I used to live pepitas were impossible to find
AntoniaJames March 28, 2016
Pumpkin seeds also work really well in dukkah!
I frequently make these dukkah-dusted lavash crackers to take to parties, but I like to be considerate of people allergic to nuts, so pepitas take care of that, nicely.
They obviously confer the same benefit on pestos! ;o)
Sara B. March 28, 2016
I like to make pesto with sunflower seeds! Much cheaper and just as good to my family!
Amanda S. March 28, 2016
You can also consider using other herbs and leafy greens to make a cheaper pesto - I recently made one with mostly spinach and some basil, plus sunflower seeds, pepitas & a few walnuts. Other (various) options are parsley, cilantro, jalepeno, avocado, arugula, mint, kale, dandelion, tarragon, hempseeds, lemon balm, nettle, wild garlic, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, almonds, carrot tops, radish tops, rosemary, pistachios, etc. Really you can use anything that's in season & on sale. This creativity brought to you by my boyfriend's dislike of marinara/red sauce.
Sarah J. March 28, 2016
Love these ideas!
Suzanna Q. March 27, 2016
I stir it into freshly steamed white rice for a fancier herb version.