What Is Pesto? Recipes Beyond Basil Sauce

I'm a big proponent of alternative pestos. As a matter of fact, I can't remember the last time I made pesto out of basil. It just seems like low-hanging fruit once you've got the hang of blending together parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and something. I relish a blank canvas.

One of my favorite variations is artichoke pesto, one of the easiest and most impressive creations to ever come out of a blender. Besides frozen strawberry margaritas, of course. Spread it on sandwich bread, toss it with pasta (hot or cold) or use it as a marinade or sauce for chicken, pork or fish — are you getting the concept of versatility here? Try these easy riffs on a classic to liven up your lunch:

Cilantro pesto: Once you try this on a banh mi, you'll never go back. Grassy, herbal and definitely not basil, cilantro pesto adds a pleasant green color and makes a great condiment for Asian or Indian dishes. (If you're one of the ever-present cilantro haters, have at it in the comments. But we stand by our herb.)

Roasted corn pesto: When summer's corn bounty leaves you with more ears of the good stuff than you can handle, roast a few extra and blend with traditional pesto ingredients for a sweet, creamy sauce or dip.

Lemon-pistachio pesto: Sweet and tangy, this rich, zesty pesto is ideal for spreading on a pizza, covering with nutty fontina and broiling until crisp and bubbly on top. For what it's worth, a couple of tablespoons go a long way in your homemade chicken salad.

Mint pesto: This is the perfect enhancement for feta-spiked Mediterranean pasta or rice salads, or even as a spread for turkey sandwiches. Mint pesto adds a fresh, crisp flavor that cuts right through rich ingredients but pairs equally well with vegetables.

There you have it. Follow our basic pesto recipe and substitute the basil for an equal amount of your new favorite ingredient, and presto: updated pesto.