Ever found yourself wondering what to do with leftover pesto? Three words: creamy pesto dressing. Homemade pesto gets a glow-up with a creamy base of mascarpone. Bye-bye tp boring salads or a few tablespoons of leftover pesto lingering in the fridge! Creamy pesto dressing is the perfect condiment, dipping sauce, best pasta salad dressing and sidekick for pizzas, sandwiches and bowls.
If you’re anything like me, condiments and dressings are the difference between a good salad and an absolutely fabulous one. And a dressing that doubles as a condiment or tortellini pasta salad dressing? That’s a bona fide winner in my book. Enter this creamy pesto dressing…the sauce, dip, and condiment you didn’t know you needed.
Speaking of needing things...
What you’ll need
Creamy pesto salad dressing has two main components:
If summer has given you loads of basil and you haven’t made it into basil, now is the time, my friend! I’ve got a slew of pesto recipes including easy pesto with pine nuts, pesto without pine nuts to mention a few.
Pick one, find 2 minutes and get to making pesto! Or buy a jar of ready-made pesto (Costco makes a great one —totally worth freezing into smaller portions).
p.s. Don’t miss my borrowed tip in the pesto recipe for making creamy homemade pesto…hint: it starts with butter!
⇢ Other easy dressing recipes like this you'll ♥️: simple balsamic vinaigrette, honey mustard vinaigrette, and a fall fig balsamic vinaigrette. Or dip some crispy eggplant fries in this creamy pesto dressing...so good!
Creamy pesto dressing base
Around J+N, we love options, especially when it comes to our recipes. Being flexible in the kitchen by making the most of what we have on hand saves time (less shopping trips, right?) and money (groceries are expensive enough).
For this recipe, we are using mascarpone (a tangy Italian cream cheese that makes the best ranch dressing ever!) and you'll find makes an equally amazing rich pesto sauce!
No mascarpone? Feel free to use cream cheese instead.
Alternatively, check your fridge for some of my favorite creamy salad dressing base options:
- Sour cream (not light!)
- Greek yogurt
A combo of these works well too! We want to compliment, not overpower the flavors in the pesto.
Step by step process
- To a medium size bowl, add mascarpone and pesto. Whisk together.
- Stir in milk/cream along with big squeeze of some lemon juice (about 2 T).
- Add water as needed.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Tips for making creamy salad dressings
Consistency and texture. The perfect balance of creaminess and flavor in a pesto salad dressing takes a little finessing and balance between pesto and base ingredients.
Liquid. Milk/cream, lemon juice, water and even a little pasta water all can be used to thin out a creamy salad dressing. Start with a ½ teaspoon at a time and go from there, tasting as you go.
Mixing method. Whisking is the easiest and also most foolproof method for making homemade salad dressing. You can use a blender to make dressing but take care not to blend for too long or you’ll risk heating the dressing turning the pesto bitter.
Time. While creamy salad dressing takes very little time to make (2 minutes), it does benefit from sitting a bit in the fridge for the flavors to meld and get comfortable with one another.
Seasoning salad dressing
Creamy pesto dressing already is loaded with basil, garlic and parmesan flavor. Here are some ways to enhance it even further:
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- White balsamic vinegar
Creamy pesto dressing can be refrigerated in a salad dressing bottle, Mason jar or airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Shake before using.
I don't recommend creamy dressings be frozen like you can vinaigrettes.
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Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing
- Whisk together the mascarpone and pesto together until combined. Add in 1 Tablespoon of milk.¼ cup mascarpone cheese, ⅓ cup homemade pesto, 3 Tablespoons milk
- Stir in milk/cream first followed by the lemon juice. Add water as needed to desired consistency (more for a dressing; less if making a dip). Taste and then add salt and pepper along with crushed red pepper, if using.2 Tablespoons lemon, 1 Tablespoon water, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, pinch of crushed red pepper
- Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour before serving so the flavors can meld. Stir before serving.
- If you have a hard time whisking, hold the whisk between the palm of both hands and swish back and forth (like you're washing your hands) while keeping the whisk at the bottom of the measuring cup the whole time.
- Follow the recipe but place the ingredients in a jelly or canning jar. Shake vigorously to incorporate and mix the dressing.