Summer Picnics and Cookouts, Made Easy with Pesto

Summer Picnics and Cookouts, Made Easy with Pesto

Pesto — your summertime secret weapon. Sponsored by Barilla®

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Sponsored by Barilla®.

Summertime is the season of the easy, low-stress meal. Think: simple, healthy, in-season ingredients; affordable pantry staples; lasting flavors that get better over time (and at room temp); crowd-pleasing dishes meant to be shared.

These seven picnic-perfect recipes feature one of my favorite summertime secret weapons: Pesto. Bright notes of Italian basil, fruity olive oil and savory Parmesan complement a wide array of vegetables, chicken or fish, and we all know that pasta and sandwiches are always welcome at picnics, potlucks, cookouts and the like.

Chicken Pesto Summer Primavera with Barilla® Penne Pasta

This recipe from Barilla simply screams summer. You can saute the boneless, skinless chicken breast, zucchini and yellow squash in a pan with olive oil or you can kick the whole dish up a notch by grilling it all instead. In either case, the end result is finished with pesto, some pasta water, halved grape tomatoes, fresh basil and shaved Parmesan for a classic hot-weather primavera.

Strawberry Avocado Pesto Pasta Salad

Fit Mitten Kitchen delivers a somewhat unexpected, but oh-so-summery, flavor combination with her unique pasta salad recipe. Pesto and pasta provide the familiar base, while cut strawberries make it sweet and bright, diced avo keeps it creamy, and crushed walnuts lend some welcome texture. The result is simple, quick, vegetarian, summer and — depending on your pasta — gluten-free friendly. For a heftier dish, add grilled chicken or white beans. Hold the avocado until just before serving if you are concerned about browning (or add a squeeze of lemon).

Portobello Red Pepper & Pesto Pizza

This pizza recipe from Pinch of Yum keeps it super simple with just a handful ingredients: portobello mushrooms, red peppers, mozzarella, dough, and pesto. If you're making your own dough, let it rise before you roll it. Wait for it to rest afterwards so it can develop air pockets. This way, it'll cook just right. The aroma will have you opening the oven more than checking on your creation requires. The good news is — it takes only 10-15 minutes to bake. You'll find the crispy crust contrasts the creamy mozzarella, and for that extra oomph, grate some Parmigiano on top before you dig in.

Pesto Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes, bacon and pesto are three potent flavor bombs that play really well together in this summertime dish. Leah Anne from Your Homebased Mom adds chicken breast to make this recipe work for family dinner, but it’s just as delicious at room temp and for a crowd. Like so many pasta recipes, this one can handle almost endless riffing — ditch the bacon and chicken breast if you’re vegetarian, sneak in summer squash or other in-season veggies for added nutrients, swap out penne in favor of your favorite shape of pasta. No matter how you flex the recipe, trust this: the pesto and Parm will bring it all together.

Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Pesto Pasta Salad

This recipe from Little Leopard Book is quite the mash-up. The trendy goat cheese and roasted beet salad made famous by Wolfgang Puck in the 80s meets a classic pesto pasta — to great effect. Mix the cooked pasta — something small and bite-sized, like macaroni, shells, penne — with the cubed roasted beets and creamy pesto and let it all meld together in the fridge for an hour. Yes, everything will turn beet red, and that’s part of the charm. Finish with goat cheese and fresh basil, both for flavor and a pop of color, then serve and enjoy. 

Pressed Pesto Picnic Sandwich

One cannot picnic on pasta salad alone! Which is a great excuse for this perfect summertime picnic sandwich recipe, from Barilla. Barilla® Creamy Genovese Pesto, fresh basil and a thick slice of perfectly ripe tomato provide a bright, flavorful base for all the Italian cold cuts you know and love — salami, prosciutto, provolone and mozzarella … you name it. Says one reviewer, “Bread from my local bakery, tomatoes and mozzarella from the weekend farmer's market. Makes the best sandwich.” And to really wow your guests, wrap the sandwiches with parchment paper and string. 

Pesto Pasta with Lemon, Spinach, Edamame & Toasted Almonds

More than six thousand Yums don’t lie. This immensely popular pesto pasta recipe from The Kitchn brings together pantry staples spaghetti and pesto and makes them more interesting with edamame, spinach and almonds. The recipe is really all about the texture — including the spinach, which, when added to hot pasta, will wilt in a wonderfully uneven way. Reviewers disagree on the amount of lemon to use — but for summer, I say the more the better.