The Easiest Way To Upgrade Store-Bought Pesto

Call us crazy, but we actually do like store-bought pesto. Especially when it's doctored up with aromatics, cream, and shredded cheese. Then, we downright love it.

In pesto's defense, the herbaceous ingredient is easy to elevate and saves a lot of time. But it gets a bad rap because many jars lack the symphony of flavors found in the fresh stuff. Though the shelf-stable products have arguably less zing than your nonna's, the combination of basil, pinenuts, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan still conjures up the taste of summer days.

To upgrade your favorite brand of pesto, turn it into a rich cream sauce by sauteing onions, garlic, seasonings, heavy cream, and shredded cheese. You can customize to your tastes by swapping onions for shallots, grated parmesan for shredded asiago, or a sprinkle of fresh herbs.  Heat the mixture with al dente pasta, and you'll have a gourmet meal in minutes.

Creating a pesto cream sauce

Store-bought pesto is a great timesaver since it transforms into a sauce in a matter of minutes and pairs nicely with leftovers. Slice grilled chicken and coat it in the cream, or wilt your last few spinach leaves in the pan. The velvety green mixture pairs nicely with bold proteins like bacon and quieter ingredients like steamed cauliflower and shrimp, as well.

However, home cooks should make sure to have their dinner plan ready before turning on the stove and add pesto toward the end of the cook. One of pesto's main ingredients is fresh basil, and manufacturers work hard to preserve the raw herb's vibrancy. As with fresh herbs, heating the condiment for too long can mute its scent and dull its color, so try to make the sauce efficiently.

If you'd rather nix the heavy cream, there are other ways to upgrade the condiment into a creamy sauce. Whip up a surprising but classic Italian dish of potatoes, pasta, pesto, and green beans. In a single pot, boil potatoes, green beans, and pasta, then stir a few tablespoons of the starchy water into the pesto. Combine and enjoy with even more parmesan. Or, keep things simple and mix the condiment with a creamy canned soup for a delicious pantry upgrade.

Other jarred pesto upgrades

Don't stop at cream sauces. The fat and umami of the sauce's garlic and parmesan add instant zip to bland ground meats. Mix a hefty spoonful of the condiment into lean turkey to boost meatballs or smear it atop a bun to complete turkey burgers. For a vegetarian alternative, use the green mixture to top fried eggs or pep up an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich.

Pizza makers should also add jarred pesto to their arsenal, and not just as a topping. Use leftover store-bought dough to create a quick pesto knot. Similar to making a garlic knot, simply roll out the dough, brush with a layer of pesto (and any extra cheese), and then fold the rectangle of dough in half. From there, you can slice it into strips and twist each into shape.

The Barefoot Contessa herself even taps store-bought pesto to flavor her minestrone recipe. Ina Garten suggests topping the soup with two tablespoons of the mixture to take the dish to the next level. This tip works well for any vegetable soup, as the herbaceous blend can brighten and refresh the light meal.