How Making Pesto Can Help You Use Up Extra Greens in a Tasty Way

Pesto used to be an intimidating word to me.

I didn’t grow up hearing it often, except occasionally at an Italian restaurant. And even then I had no idea what it meant. Just that it sounded fancy.

This week I had some leftover turnip greens, carrot tops, and basil in my fridge that were, well... needing to be used up. And not wanting to waste anything…

I dove in and made my first batch of pesto of the year. Then, I remembered that pesto is super easy to make, and not intimidating at all anymore! Anyone can do it!  And the flavor is so worth it, no matter what you put in!





How making pesto can help you use up extra greens in a tasty way

The traditional way to make pesto is with basil.  But the truth of the matter is that you can make pesto out of what ever greens you have!

In fact, if you've got a pile of leftover greens at the end of the week or lots coming out of your garden, be sure to give pesto a try!  It will surprise you and become your favorite thing you made recently.  I know this because we have many CSA farm share members who are finding success using up their greens making pesto and loving it! 

Yes, it’s true! To make pesto, you pretty much just need greens. Any kind of greens or fresh herbs work.  Try a combination of any of the following:


  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Garlic scapes
  • Etc.


  • Turnip greens
  • Radish greens
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Spinach
  • Beet greens
  • Carrot tops
  • Mustard greens
  • Arugula
  • Etc.

With a list as broad as that, pesto becomes a great way to use up lingering greens from your CSA or your garden.

Overloaded with greens, but don’t want to waste anything? Just blend them into pesto, and eat your greens next winter, because…

Oh yeah, pesto freezes well, too!


How To Make Pesto

Pesto is super simple to make!

If you want to wing it, here’s the ingredient formula:

  • Greens and/or herbs: Basil is traditional, but you can make pesto out of any type of green/herb or a mixture! My most recent batch was turnip greens, basil, and carrot tops. It was delicious!
  • Cheese: Parmesan is traditional, but as long as it’s a hard cheese it's flexible. Asiago, pecorino, and romano are all good choices as well. Use what you’ve got in the fridge, or try something new.
  • Nuts: Pine nuts are traditional, but sunflower seeds, walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc. work, too. Optional, toast them in a dry skillet before making your pesto to enhance their flavor.
  • Garlic: Any kind of garlic works: fresh uncured garlic, garlic scapes, garlic chives, or regular garlic cloves from a cured, dried bulb.
  • Oil: Olive oil is traditional, but use whatever you have!
  • Salt: Any kind is fine.
  • Optional Acid: Fresh lemon juice, vinegar, or lemon zest.

One of my best tips I can tell you is to add your garlic first to the food processor.  It will chop it for you!  Then throw all of the rest of the ingredients in except olive oil.  Blend.  Then drizzle olive oil until it is incorporated and you achieve your desired texture.


Or if you’re a recipe person use this:

Our basic Basil Pesto recipe:

  • 1.5 packed cups basil (or combo of other greens/herbs)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ - ½ tsp sea salt
  • 3 tbls nuts (pine nuts are traditional, but we often use walnuts)
  • 3 tbls Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 tbls olive oil, or to taste

Toss all of the above ingredients into your blender/food processor and blend. Or stream the oil into the pesto slowly until you reach the desired consistency. Taste the mixture, and add additional garlic, salt, parmesan, etc. to taste. Voila! Pesto!


How to store your homemade pesto

  • Refrigerator method: Pesto will keep in the refrigerator, stored in a glass jar and covered with a thin layer of olive oil, for several weeks.
  • Freezer method (ice cubes): Freeze in an ice cube tray, then store the frozen cubes in a bag in the freezer to pull out and add pesto flavor whenever you need it. It should keep frozen that way for a winter’s worth of delicious flavor.
  • Freezer method (plastic bags): Freeze in a ziplock freezer bag and press it flat to a width of about 1/4 inch.  Then you can break off just the amount you need and keep the rest frozen.  This is now my go-to method for storing all herbs in the freezer.  Here is my blog post on how to do that.


And What To Do With It

The other thing I assumed about pesto growing up was that it always only went with pasta.

At an Italian restaurant.

Ha, the things you learn being a farmer!

While it is true that the most traditional use of pesto is as a sauce for pasta, it can be used in so many other great ways! I made this awesome list to help you (and me!) find creative ways to make the best out of your pesto!


12 Great Ways To Use Your Homemade Pesto

  1. Make a dip.
    Mix pesto into hummus, sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese (on bagels!? YUM!) or guacamole for a pesto flavored dip for veggies or crackers!  This is my number one favorite way to use pesto.  I sometimes just use it plain as a dip, too!  
  2. Make a salad dressing.
    Thin your pesto with a little more oil and some vinegar to use on a salad. Add some greek yogurt to make it a pesto ranch dressing.
  3. Make a sauce.
    Add a little chicken broth to your pesto to make a sauce for meat or roast chicken. This can be a great way to remake leftover protein.
  4. Make a spread for a sandwich, flatbread, burger or wrap.
    Mix pesto into some mayo, cream cheese or mashed avocado to dress up your usual fare.  Or even straight up on a panini style sandwich!
  5. Make pesto butter.
    Use approximately ¾ cup pesto to 4-6 tablespoons softened butter. Mix together and you’re ready to serve with your French or garlic bread at dinner!
  6. Toss with your vegetables.
    Instead of oil or butter, use some pesto! Add it to a baked potato or to your roasted veggie medley! Or try the Maple-Roasted Carrots With Pesto recipe below.
  7. Mix it into your zucchini noodles.
    Kinda like pasta but veggie-based using a spiralizer! This is delicious with some fresh tomatoes and parmesan cheese added.
  8. Add it to a soup.
    A traditional ingredient in Minestrone soup is pesto. It goes very well with any bean soup or in a pesto tomato soup! Add it at the end as a garnish.
  9. Add it to pizza.
    Use pesto instead of or in addition to tomato sauce on your pizza. Spread a thin layer on your dough and then top with your regular toppings. Fresh tomatoes go great on a pesto pizza.
  10. Add it to grilled or roasted meats.
    Whisk with some additional oil and brush onto grilled meats like steak, salmon or chicken. Or rub it on a roast chicken. Yum!
  11. Add it to cold summer salads.
    Making chicken salad? Add pesto! Making your pasta salad? Add pesto! White bean salad? Add pesto! Making potato salad? Add pesto!
  12. Top your eggs for breakfast.
    Drizzle some pesto over your scrambled eggs, or top a quiche or frittata.


If you’re a recipe person, try this one:

Maple-Roasted Carrots with Pesto

  • Carrots, cut into match sticks or left whole if baby sized
  • Maple syrup
  • Cooking oil (we use ghee or coconut oil for this)
  • Salt to taste
  • Pesto

Toss carrots with salt, maple syrup and cooking oil and roast at 350 until tender and starting to caramelize. Check every 10 min or so to stir and mix evenly. Drizzle pesto over roasted carrots and serve hot! 


What is your favorite thing to do with pesto or favorite combination of ingredients?? 

Let me know in the comments below!

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Comments (1)

I make many different types of pestos, and use them in a variety of recipes. One of my favorite combos is dandelion pesto used in a Mediterranean Turkey Burger recipe! YUM!!! Thanks for sharing all you do Mary Margaret!