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Cooking Tips

The Case for Using Parsley in Your Pesto

Why not switch up your traditional pesto with this flavor-packed alternative?

Generally, we know what we’re going to get when we make a pesto: Vibrant, verdant, and bold, this popular sauce is a crowd-pleaser for a reason.

A key element of the pesto we all know and love (or pesto alla genovese) is basil, which imparts its signature peppery flavor with hints of sweet anise. But in Liguria, the Italian city where this traditional pesto came to life, many cooks switch to fresh parsley when the basil growing season is waning. 

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There’s no doubt that this herb swap changes the flavor profile of the dish, and the resulting pesto is surprising, aromatic, and undoubtedly delicious.

May we introduce pesto di prezzemolo?

Cook’s Country Test Cook Amanda Luchtel’s recipe for this bright springtime sauce features generous handfuls of fresh parsley along with subtle and creamy untoasted walnuts, a common substitution for pine nuts in all varieties of pesto.

All your favorites make an appearance in this recipe that stays true to the classic sauce while highlighting surprising innovations. Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, and olive oil all come together to create a creamy, flavorful foundation. Briny capers and anchovies add a burst of bright saltiness, and a squeeze of lemon juice brings much-appreciated acid.

With this combination of ingredients, parsley pesto is also reminiscent of bright and bold Italian salsa verde—a popular accompaniment for meats.

And if you thought bold flavors were the only thing this punchy variation has going for it, you’d be sadly mistaken. Like its sibling pesto alla genovese, it’s not only a year-round staple for any pasta but also a more accessible and affordable option. The walnuts that pesto di prezzemolo calls for are typically easier to find than pine nuts and can cost half as much, and parsley is considerably cheaper than basil. 

We especially like this parsley pesto paired with linguine or layered between ricotta and thinly sliced grapes on toast.

What’s even better, you can substitute this pesto in almost any recipe that calls for basil pesto. So go ahead and swap in this mouthwatering Ligurian pesto the next time you're whipping up a dish that calls for basil pesto.

And you know what, why stop there? Cook's Country also has recipes for Cilantro-Lime Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato-Arugula Pesto for anyone who finds themselves wanting to experiment with this versatile sauce.