How to use pesto: several necessary recipes

As promised, I am posting several of my favorite uses for our beloved friend, pesto. Just last Sunday my mom and I broiled two pounds of tilapia (my grandma and my dad were there too…it wasn’t JUST the two of use eating all that fish). We smothered it in pesto and it was delicious. We picked this fish because it was cheaper than the halibut at Whole Foods, but you could certainly exchange tilapia for halibut (for the hell of it), cod, or any other white fish that you prefer. I imagine that salmon is delicious as well, though I have yet to try it with this recipe.

The first step is to marinate your fish in a balsamic vinaigrette. We have a wonderful Italian market called Ceriello that sells a homemade balsamic that is perfect for a quick marinade. We buy bottles at a time because it is so versatile. If you’d like to make a balsamic marinade of your own, this is very easy. Combine 2 tbs. of vinegar with 2 1/2 to 3 tbs. olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic, shallots, and any other spices that suit your fancy. Most recipes call for 1 parts vinegar to 3 parts oil, but I almost always find that the taste of the vinegar is obscured by all that oil. I like the tang of balsamic, and especially since this is a marinade, you want the flavor of that vinegar to come through in the meat of the fish. Too much oil will result in a bland fillet. For this reason, don’t be afraid. The worst thing you do is end up with too tangy a vinaigrette and need to add more oil. If you’ve made the mistake of adding the marinade before you’ve tasted it, don’t panic. You can rinse it off and start over. It will be just fine. Fish live in water. No one has to know.

Pesto topped tilapia (or tilapia topped pesto)


1 1/2 to 2 lbs. skinless tilapia

balsamic vinaigrette marinade

generous pinches of salt to coat fish

lots of pepper



  1. Follow the steps for a basic balsamic vinaigrette, or use your favorite version, to marinate the fish in a 9×9 Pyrex dish for 1 1/2 to 3 hours in the fridge. Be generous with the marinade. Pour it on so that it evenly coats the fish. Move the fillets around every 30-60 minutes to ensure that all surfaces are covered.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil and turn the broil on. Place the fillets on the baking sheet and salt and pepper both sides of each fillet (Do not be stingy. Salt enhances flavor. If you do not use enough salt all of the flavors you add will be dull and bland. (See this article by Kimberly Masibay about the importance of salt for flavor) Pour on the rest of the marinade from the Pyrex to coat.
  3. Place the baking sheet in the oven and broil for 5-10 minutes. Turn the fish over and broil for another 5-10 minutes. Check to see if the fish is done. Properly cooked fish is opaque and flaky once it has reached the appropriate cooking temperature. Use a fork to poke the fish at a 45 degree angle. If the meat of the fish is flaky, it is done. Flake-resistant and translucent fish is NOT done cooking.
  4. Take the fish out of the oven and spread generous spoonful’s of pesto across the tops of the fillets. Put the rest of the pesto in a dish on the table.

Serve immediately with caprese salad, smashed potatoes, and roasted shallots.

Caprese with pesto-balsamic vinaigrette

I always use burrata with my caprese salads because it is even tastier than mozzarella. Mozzarella is wonderful, I love it, but why have it when you can use burrata? In addition to the dressing below, I like to sprinkle my salads with my favorite aged balsamic vinegar (see earlier post to know why it is called tuition). The only reason to use this vinegar is because in it’s aged state it has a syrupy consistency that compliments the creaminess of the cheese. If you do not have this, just use the dressing below. Unless the aged balsamic is REALLY good, it will be watery and will not improve the salad.

Pesto dressing


1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3-4 tbs pesto

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3-4 tbs balsamic vinegar

1 tsp cumin, ground

salt and pepper to taste


In a 2 cup measuring cup, combine all of the ingredients above. Using a fork or small whisk, mix the ingredients until emulsified. Dressings are easily manipulated. You can add more or less of any of the ingredients you want in order to achieve your desired flavor.



2-3 large, fresh tomatoes

1/3 cup (or more!) basil, preferably Thai basil

1/3 cup mint

salt and pepper to taste

pesto balsamic vinaigrette

aged balsamic vinegar, if available


  1. Thinly slice the tomatoes and place them on a platter in a circular configuration
  2. Rinse, dry, and chop the basil and mint
  3. Place the burrata in the center of the platter
  4. Sprinkle the tomatoes and the cheese with salt, freshly ground pepper, basil and mint
  5. Drizzle the salad with the pesto vinaigrette
  6. Garnish with the aged balsamic (optional)

Pesto Pasta

The classic. Pasta is one of the best vehicles for pesto. The secret is to use fusilli, rotini, or any other pasta with lots of nooks and crannies. Thin, long pasta like linguini or spaghetti doesn’t provide the surface area required for the pesto to stick. Roasting tomatoes, peppers, and shallots is also a wonderful addition to the dish. If you are looking for something to celebrate the warm weather of spring, make the “pasta primavera” version of this recipe by adding the vegetables stated above, broccoli, cauliflower, and anything else that suits your fancy.


1 lbs. fusilli or rotini

2-3 tbs olive oil or as needed


cherry tomatoes


parmesan cheese for serving


  1. Boil a pot of water. Add the pasta and cook as directed.
  2. Strain the pasta and pour into a serving dish. Add the olive oil and mix so as to keep the pasta from sticking together and to make the pesto easier to spread.
  3. Add 1/3 cup of pesto at a time, mixing until sufficiently coating the pasta.
  4. Serve with extra pesto on the side, as some people (me) will want to add more, along with a dish of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Caprese Panini


Italian boule, sliced sandwich style

basil pesto


fresh basil

balsamic vinaigrette

prosciutto (optional)

Olive oil or butter

  1. Pour a tablespoon of olive oil or butter in the skillet (if you have a Panini press, brush it with oil) and heat the pan on medium high so as to get it very hot.
  2. While the pan is heating up, slice the tomato, mozzarella, and bread. Butter the outside of each slice of bread and spread the pesto on both sides. Layer the tomato, mozzarella, basil, and prosciutto on top.
  3. Drizzle the balsamic on the open-faced sandwich and cover with other slice of bread.
  4. Place the sandwich in the pan and turn down the heat. Cover with a lid that is smaller than would fit the pan so that it presses down on the sandwich. Let cook for five minutes, check, and than flip when ready. A successful sandwich has melted cheese so be patient!
  5. To serve, slice the Panini in half and generously douse with more balsamic. The vinaigrette accentuates the flavors of the basil and cheese.

Note: Substitute the tomato for thinly sliced apple to achieve a salty-sweet taste.


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