Anything Goes Pesto recipe: best ways to substitute basil

Learn how to use any herb in pesto! This is an easily customizable recipe to substitute basil in pesto. With this recipe, anything goes! Try it with pasta, soups, dips, sandwiches and more.

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Traditional basil pesto recipes call for fresh basil leaves and pine nuts, but there are so many good substitutes to make a vibrant and fresh pesto sauce! Using leafy greens to make spinach pesto, kale pesto, and arugula pesto are all great options, but fresh herbs make an excellent basil substitution. They may not be the obvious choice, but tender herbs such as lemon balm or garlic scapes give the pesto a fresh flavor and will give you different flavor profiles. 

This Anything Goes Pesto recipe is great to use for your fresh herb garden harvest, or for any extra herbs you have lying around the kitchen. 

What is pesto? 

Pesto originated from Italy and is a paste formed traditionally with basil, garlic cloves, pine nuts, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. The word “pesto” in Italian means to crush, or to pound, which is what you do with the ingredients! Traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, nowadays it only takes a few minutes to whip up in the food processor or blender. 


Does pesto have to be made with basil?

While the traditional method is to use basil, it is certainly not required! There are actually many types of basil. Basil is a part of the Lamiaceae family, commonly known as the mint family, and has varieties such as Thai basil, lemon basil, and holy basil, but traditional pesto is made with Genovese basil, which has a sweet and peppery flavor to it. You can easily substitute any fresh herb or green from your garden. You will change the flavor profile with each type of herb or green, so have fun with it! 

Basil Substitution ideas

Below is a list of our favorite herbs to use for pesto, but don’t be afraid to try other greens such as spinach leaves, celery leaves, or carrot greens. Any green makes a great addition to pesto. 

Lemon Balm

lemon balm

Lemon balm is another aromatic herb member of the mint family with a bright and citrusy flavor with subtle notes of mint. Lemon balm is used medicinally and is known to help with burns, and bug bites, and even used as a moon enhancer, but it also can be used in the kitchen! Lemon balm tea is delicious, and fresh lemon balm can also be used to flavor soups and salads, or as a marinade for meat. Using lemon balm in your pesto will bring a bright and unique flavor. To learn more about ways to use lemon balm, check out this website

Garlic Scapes 

garlic scapes

Garlic scapes are a long green stem that grows from the garlic bulb. They are fresh-tasting with a mild garlic flavor. Garlic scapes make a fantastic pesto, especially if you are a garlic lover! Garlic scapes are in season in Iowa in late spring and early summer, so be sure to enjoy them while you can!     


Commonly confused with scallions, chives are actually much thinner than scallions and have a milder onion flavor. Chives are beautiful in a quiche or as a garnish for any dish, but they also make a wonderful pesto. Chives will give the pesto a mild onion flavor that will mix beautifully with the garlic and parmesan. 


flat parsley

Fresh parsley is commonly used for garnish on a variety of dishes, but it also makes a delicious pesto! Parsley has a clean, slightly grassy, and slightly peppery flavor. There are two types of parsley, Italian parsley and curly parsley. Italian parsley has flat and broad leaves with a slightly stronger flavor, whereas curly parsley is a little milder and has thicker curly leaves. Curly parsley also tends to give a brighter and more vibrant green color. Although they vary in appearance and taste, they both make great options to add to pesto. 



Fresh cilantro looks very similar to parsley but has a slightly citrusy flavor and is commonly used in Mexican cuisine. Sometimes people will even describe cilantro as having a soapy taste. This is actually due to a certain gene that some people have that causes them to smell soap from the natural aldehyde chemicals in the leaves of cilantro. Crazy, right?! As long as you are someone who loves cilantro, you will also love cilantro pesto. Try using lime juice instead of lemon in the recipe when using cilantro for a fun alternative. 

Must have pesto ingredients:

  • Fresh herbs – use from the list in this blog post, or try using other fresh herbs from your garden. 
  • Parmesan cheese – this adds a bit of saltiness and nuttiness and also helps as a binder. Plus cheese makes everything better! 
  • Fresh garlic – Garlic is a must for pesto, try using roasted garlic for a subtle sweeter pesto. 
  • Extra virgin olive oil – Using good quality Olive Oil makes a huge difference, so be sure to source a good brand. 
  • Nuts such as pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts – try roasted, toasted, or raw. Traditional pesto uses toasted pine nuts. 
  • Lemon juice – gives the pesto some brightness and acid. 
  • Salt – salt enhances the flavor, use a high-quality salt such as Redmond Real salt

Other ingredients you can add to pesto:

  • Sun-dried tomatoes– add sun-dried tomatoes to your pesto for a subtly sweet flavor and a pop of color. 
  • Lemon Zest – Try using lemon zest in your pesto for brightness 
  • Sunflower seeds – just like you can substitute basil for any herb or green, you can also substitute the type of nut used or even use seeds like sunflower seeds 
  • Any other herb! Try a different herb such as fresh oregano or combine different types. Mint is another fun herb to try to make mint pesto or add a few springs in with another herb or green for a pop of freshness.   

Sourcing ingredients 

This is an amazing opportunity to use ingredients that you grow in your garden! Herbs grow great in your garden or in containers. They also grow easily inside on your window sill. You can also buy fresh produce straight from Pleasant Grove Homestead for local pickup in Iowa using the link below. If you opt to get your ingredients elsewhere we recommend that you purchase high-quality organic ingredients. Rather than buying from the grocery store, buying in bulk through a monthly Azure Standard pick-up order is the best way to buy high-quality food at a better price. Having the ingredients on hand and in bulk makes it easy to incorporate this pesto into meals quickly!

Shop Our Farmstore

Anything Goes Pesto

The best thing about this Anything Goes Pesto recipe is that anything goes! Have fun with it and try different combinations. Let us know in the comments below what herbs you try!

Anything Goes Pesto Ingredients

How to make Anything Goes Pesto:

To make Anything Goes Pesto, add all the ingredients to a food processor and blend. Yes, it is really that easy! To see a full list of recommended kitchen utensils, check out the link below.

To store the pesto, add to an airtight container and keep in the fridge. Homemade pesto can last around 5-7 days if stored properly. After that timeframe, make sure to freeze for later use, see more instructions for freezing below.

See recommended kitchen utensils

What to use pesto for:

Pesto is commonly used in pasta dishes, but it can actually be a lot more versatile than just Italian recipes! Add to eggs, meats, seafood, or top your favorite veggies. There are several yummy recipes you can use it in, or you can make an easy dip with it too!

Here are some recipes to try Anything Goes Pesto with:

Turkey Pesto Sandwich

You’ll need: Turkey, bacon, provolone cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, bread, and Anything Goes Pesto

This is a great way to use up leftover pesto! You can follow this recipe, or use any other sandwich fixings you like! You can make a hot or cold sandwich with pesto for a delicious sandwich. 

Vegetable Soup with Pesto

You’ll need: Veggies, chicken broth, parmesan, orzo, and Anything Goes Pesto. 

This is a great way to use garden fresh veggies for a comforting soup! The pesto will elevate your average vegetable soup to a new level! Find the full recipe here. 

Pesto with eggs

You’ll need: eggs and Anything Goes Pesto

Add pesto to scrambled eggs, or even just drizzle on top of an over-easy egg. Add to toast for an easy and super delicious breakfast! One of our favorite uses for this pesto is on top of our Anything Goes Egg Casserole (recipe coming soon).

Warm Oven Brie with Pesto

You’ll need: Anything Goes Pesto, and a wedge of Brie Cheese

This would make a wonderful appetizer for a crowd or party! Serve with crackers or veggies to dip on the side. Find the full recipe here.

Sour Cream Parmesan Cheese Pesto Dip  

You’ll need: Sour Cream, Parmesan Cheese and Anything Goes Pesto

This recipe is another cold appetizer, or just to keep in the fridge to use for snacks and dip. Find the full recipe here.

Pesto paired with meat

Anything Goes Pesto is also so delicious topped on many chicken or pork cuts from our farm here at Pleasant Grove Homestead. Simply cook the meat as you normally would, and then top with pesto before serving. Or, you can use recipes such as the ones below:

Creamy Pesto Chicken – This recipe would be great on top of pasta, orzo, or rice. Or simply serve with a salad. 

Pesto Baked Chicken Thighs – Use pesto as a marinade for an amazing flavor. 

Pesto Parmesan Pork Chops – a great way to use extra pesto and parmesan cheese for an easy dinner!

How to Store Pesto:

Pesto can be kept in the fridge for about 5-7 days in an airtight container, so you can use it for dishes throughout the week to add a pop of color and freshness. 

Have pesto left over after that timeframe? Pesto freezes great! Pop it in the freezer to use later in soups or other dishes. We love saving it in 8-ounce containers for a quick thaw that’s the perfect serving! Or, you can add it to ice cube trays and freeze it in smaller portions to have the perfect amount that you need for a dish or recipe. To have bright freshness in your dishes all year that you normally only get in the summer months, freeze the fresh Anything Goes Pesto to have throughout the year!

Anything Goes Pesto is a great way to level up any dish or recipe. It also is a way to use garden fresh herbs or get creative in the kitchen. Save this post for later use, and share it with friends and family to help inspire them in the kitchen too. Let us know in the comments with herbs you try this recipe with and what you think! 

Anything Goes Pesto

Learn how to use any herb in pesto! This is an easily customizable recipe to substitute basil in pesto. With this recipe, anything goes! Try it with pasta, soups, dips, sandwiches and more.
Prep Time 5 minutes


  • 4 oz any tender herb We love to use lemon balm, basil, garlic scapes, chives, parsley or cilantro
  • 50 grams Parmesan cheese
  • 50 grams Almond slivers don’t be afraid to experiment with other nuts here
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil use a good quality oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt to taste


  • Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend. Store in air tight container for 5-7 days.

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