~ This delicious Layered Pesto Appetizer Dip is so quick to make – you can whip it up in less than 10 easy minutes! It features a creamy base layer, a flavorful slathering of pesto, and popular Mediterranean-style toppings. With simple ingredients you can easily keep on hand, this speedy recipe will become your go-to anytime you need an impressive appetizer FAST! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less • Make Ahead • Vegetarian • Gluten Free •
This is one of those terrific, easy recipes that basically has everything going for it:
• Most importantly: it’s really, really delicious. The kind of recipe that everybody asks you to share with them. (Be ready to hand out copies!)
• It’s familiar enough to have broad appeal, but also unique enough to be alluring.
• Plus it’s just so darn stress-free to make! Quick and easy to throw together at a moment’s notice – especially since the ingredients can be stashed for weeks and weeks at a time in your pantry and fridge, just waiting for a last-minute party invite.
Checks all the boxes!
It also feels just-right for practically any kind of party, any time of year. It’s the perfect appetizer for a summer potluck or a winter-y New Year’s Eve spread … and definitely for game day parties and Super Bowl snackin’. Casual or fancy. Whatever the vibe, this simple appetizer just fits right in!
Level It Up for Holiday Parties!
Pssssst … making this Pesto Appetizer for the holidays? Great idea! It’s a perfect recipe for the holiday season, since it’s already so festive with its green and red and golden colors.
BUT … I’ve got an even better idea. Turn it into this VERY EASY Christmas Tree Dip!
I’ve been making a version of this dip for nearly 20 years, and it never fails me. So, I knew you’d love it, too!
Nobody has to know that this took you mere moments to toss together (shhhhhhh … I won’t tell!). They’ll be too busy falling in love with the layers of fantastic flavors!
What Everyone at the Party Will LOVE About This Easy Appetizer
With just a few simple ingredients, you still create big, bold, fresh flavors that get noticed (as people dip again … and again … mmmmmmmm and again). What you’ve got here is:
It could almost be good enough if you stopped right here, without adding one more thing. But no … that’s no fun. We need toppings!
And seriously … all those scrumptious layers are ready in practically no time at all. Which is one of my very most favorite things about easy appetizers like this … the quick and easy part!
I’ve got plenty of little tips and suggestions for you, but truly, after you’ve made this once, you’ll hardly even need a recipe at all. Honestly, it’s THAT easy!
Here’s all you have to do …
How to Make Your To-Die-For Pesto Appetizer Dip
There really is very little prep to be done.
Grab your jar of roasted red peppers, your can of artichokes, and a sharp knife for a little bit of quick chopping. It doesn’t have to be perfect – rustic is totally fine here!
You can even chop them up and stash them in the fridge a day or two before you assemble your dip. So ridiculously easy!
To make your base layer, all you do is whir together a can of cannellini beans, a block of reduced-fat cream cheese and a tiny bit of salt.
You can do this in a blender or food processor – whatever you’ve got. (I like to use the smallest, “mini” one from my Ninja set.)
Ingredient Tip: Reduced-Fat Cream Cheese
What Americans call reduced-fat cream cheese is actually also known as Neufchâtel cheese. What’s awesome about it is that it’s lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol compared to “regular” full-fat cream cheese. But for real … it tastes so darn similar to the full-fat stuff that nobody is gonna notice a thing. Genius!
Scrape down the sides a couple of times as needed. You want it to be super creamy and velvety, with no tiny pieces of cannellini beans to ruin the smooth, dip-able texture. (It’s basically the same idea as when you’re making hummus.)
You should end up with about 1 3/4 cup of your creamy dip base.
The next step is to spread the cream cheese layer you just made onto your serving platter.
You can get as creative as you want to here, with whatever pretty platter you happen to have.
It can be as simple as a charger, a rimmed serving piece, a really large dinner plate (like the one I’ve used in my photos, which is a little over 11″ inches in diameter) … practically anything. And it can be a circle, an oval, a rectangle. Seriously, guys – whatever you want!
The only suggestion I have is not to go too small. That’s because this Pesto Appetizer is best if the cream cheese layer isn’t super-duper thick, so each of the other layers and flavors can shine, too. Here’s how to adjust for it, though, if your serving platter is on the smaller side:
Pro Tip: Adapting Your Layered Dip for Smaller Platters
You just want to strike a good balance, without having any of the layers be soooo thick that people end up with a cracker full of only pesto … or only cream cheese. To achieve that, you basically have two options.
• (1) The easiest choice is simply to use a little extra pesto (maybe closer to 1/3 cup of pesto). But again, you don’t want to go toooooo thick, so some people scoop up a cracker full of only a gi-normous dollop of pesto!
• (2) Alternately, you can use a little less of the cream cheese mixture (save some of it for another use, like maybe spreading on avocado toast … yum).
Remember the goal is to have a nice balance through all components of this flavorful dip, where one layer doesn’t overwhelm all the others.
Now you’re gonna spread your pretty green pesto sauce thinly and evenly across the cream cheese layer.
Even though this recipe is named as a Pesto Appetizer Dip, pesto’s a strong flavor, so just a bit goes a looooong, flavorful way.
Ingredient Tip: Pesto Options
To make this Pesto Dip ultra quick and easy, I honestly always use store-bought pesto (which I love to keep in the fridge for all sorts of last-minute food emergencies, including this layered appetizer recipe).
There are big differences in both the flavor and the pretty (or not-so-pretty) color of different brands of store-bought pesto. Some of them are such a sad, unappealing greenish-brown, with ho-hum flavors to match the meh color. For the best options, skip the shelf-stable jars lurking in the pasta aisle, and head for your store’s refrigerated section instead.
My favorite store-bought pesto is the Kirkland brand you can find at Costco. It’s a bold, pretty green color with fresh, vibrant flavors. My back-up choice (when I’m not feeling like making a Costco run) is the Rana brand I can grab at my local supermarket.
Wanna make your own homemade pesto? Bonus points, for sure! (I’ve got some ideas for ya down in the FAQ section.)
Tip: Try to smooth the pesto out near the edge of your cream cheese base, without pushing it completely to the edge. That’ll prevent the pesto from dripping down over the side. Definitely not a big deal if it happens … but your layers will look neater if you can avoid it.
All that’s left to do is add your delicious toppings!
Toss the roasted red peppers and artichokes in a single layer (more or less) across the top of the pesto. Then sprinkle it all with a pretty flourish of feta crumbles.
Ingredient Tip: The Great Olive Debate
I’m addicted to Kalamatas, and if you’re an olive lover, they’re a sensational addition to this Pesto Appetizer.
BUT … not everybody (looking at my hubby here) likes Kalamatas. Add ’em if you want … or maybe offer a little dish alongside, so people can choose to add their own.
What to Serve with Your Pesto Appetizer
The flavors and textures here just BEG to be dipped, slathered and spread.
Crunchy crackers, a crusty bread slice assortment, your favorite crostini recipe – anything along those lines will be fabulous.
This layered dip is also really nice with mini sweet peppers or even strips of bell peppers.
Whatever you choose, this will disappear FAST!
What’s even better than an impressive-looking appetizer you can toss together in under 10 minutes?
One that comes with make-ahead tips!!
What’s important to know here is that this dip tastes its very best when the base layer (the cannellini and cream cheese layer) is softer and not stone-cold, straight out of the refrigerator. I don’t know why, but it just tastes better when it’s a bit more toward room temperature.
Two options work well:
Make-Ahead Option #1:
You can make this Pesto Appetizer Dip up to about a day ahead of time.
Cover it with plastic wrap and stow it in the fridge, but be sure to bring it back out a little ahead of party time. (I’m talking maybe 20 minutes – probably the amount of time it’ll take you to drive to the party, if you’re not the host. By the time you arrive it’ll be wonderfully softened-up and dip-able!)
Make-Ahead Option #2:
Alternately, you can partially prep ahead, so you’re almost there.
Chop your artichokes and roasted red peppers (and those controversial Kalamata olives, if you’re using them), a day or two in advance, and stash them each in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Then, all you have to do is blitz together your cannellinis and cream cheese for the base layer, right before serving, and toss on the toppers. It’s ready to go in just minutes!
That will work perfectly fine, too. I always opt for lower-fat Neufchâtel cheese because it tastes every bit as fabulous in this recipe, and it’s a much better option health-wise since it’s lower in calories, cholesterol, fat (and saturated fat).
Sounds like you’re heading to a really big party! FUN! The only problem with making a double batch is that you want the layers to be fairly thin (as discussed above), so nobody dips a cracker partway into your appetizer and only scoops up one layer – maybe only a big bite of pesto. The goal is that every scoop will include a little of each layer, all together in one scrumptious bite. So, to double this recipe effectively, you’d need a big, BIG platter. A better idea: Make two batches, on two different platters, and bring the fresh, second platter out once the first one gets gobbled up.
If possible, I really suggest using cannellinis. They’re more tender than garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), so they create a smoother, creamier base. Black beans and kidney beans aren’t my favorite choice for this layered dip, simply because their color won’t be as pretty and appetizing.
Classic basil pesto is typically a very simple recipe that has fresh basil leaves, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and frequently some fresh garlic cloves and pine nuts (you’ll also sometimes see other nuts like walnuts in more unique versions). It’s a superstar in Italian recipes like pesto pasta, cold pasta salad, or pesto pinwheels. There are also all sorts of other creative versions with different herbs and greens (like carrot top pesto – no kidding!), and even flavor variations like sun-dried tomato pesto. Basically, you blitz everything together in a food processor to make a basil sauce. If you want to try making your own pesto, check out the Fresh Basil Pesto from Elise at Simply Recipes, or maybe try the lightened-up pesto recipe from Gina at Skinnytaste.
Sure! This is YOUR dip … make it how you like it! Instead of (or in addition to) the artichokes and roasted red peppers, I think sweet little cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes would be nice, particularly in the summer months when garden tomatoes are bursting with such incredible flavors. Fresh, juicy tomatoes and basil pesto are a match made in heaven! Since pine nuts are often blended into pesto, they’d be a natural choice to sprinkle on top with the feta for a bit of crunch (especially if you toast them first). As far as cheeses, especially if you’re omitting the olives, I prefer the assertive, salty tang of feta over more subtle mozzarella cheese, but you could give luxurious, fresh mozzarella a shot if the olives are in there to bring the salty-tangy-thang to the party.
We all need slam-dunk, can’t-miss appetizer recipes we can trot out at a moment’s notice. You know … so we can accept last-minute party invitations, or quickly pivot when we realize we’re supposed to show up to an event with an appetizer to share (and WHOOPS! we forgot to put it on the grocery list).
This little gem is a lifesaver. Always stress-free, always a big hit.
Like I said, I’ve been making versions of it for pretty nearly 20 years now.
It’s too good to retire … and too good not to share with you!
Keep the few simple ingredients on hand, and you’re good to go in a twinkling.
And no kidding … pretty soon you’ll be whipping it up from memory. It’s that EASY. (And I just bet you’ll be making it THAT often!)
~ by Shelley
Love the Recipe? • Were My Tips Helpful?
Please leave a star-rating in the recipe card below – I truly appreciate all your wonderful feedback!
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can cannellini beans (preferably organic or reduced-sodium), drained and rinsed
- 1 (8-ounce) block reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel cheese)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup fresh or refrigerated pesto (see note)
- 1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts (canned, not marinated)
- 1/2 cup chopped (jarred) roasted red peppers
- Kalamata olives, chopped or sliced horizontally into rings (optional)
- 1-2 tablespoons crumbled, reduced-fat feta cheese or tomato-basil-flavored feta
- In a blender or food processor (I used the “mini” one from my Ninja set in my photos), combine the beans, cream cheese, and salt until very smooth, scraping the sides as needed.
- Spread the cream cheese mixture onto a platter or appetizer serving tray (in my photos, I used a large, round plate about 11 inches across).
- Then spread a thin layer of pesto over top, not quite to the edge of the cream cheese mixture. If your cream cheese layer is rather thick (for example, if you're using a smaller-sized platter), you may want to use closer to 1/3 cup pesto, but otherwise, 1/4 cup should be enough.
- Top the pesto with artichokes, roasted red peppers, and Kalamatas (if using). Sprinkle feta cheese evenly on top.
Pesto: A good, vibrantly flavorful (and colorful) pesto is key in this appetizer. To save time, I use store-bought pesto. Always choose one that is fresh-looking and really green. I find that refrigerated brands are typically much better than jarred, shelf-stable brands. Two that I regularly use are Rana (from my local grocery store), and also the Kirkland brand at Costco (which is my favorite of the two).
Make-ahead tips: This dip tastes best when the cream cheese layer is softer and isn't really cold, straight out of the refrigerator. To prep this recipe ahead of time, you have two options: (1) Chop the toppings a day or two ahead, and stash them in the fridge. Then, quickly whir up your cream cheese layer and assemble your appetizer in a few easy minutes, right before serving. (2) To make your Pesto Appetizer Dip completely ahead of time, wrap it in plastic up to a day in advance, but bring it out of the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before serving, to give the cream cheese layer time to soften back up a bit. (But remember, for food safety, not to bring it out too far ahead.)
Nutrition Information:Yield: 48 Serving Size: 2 tablespoons dip
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 28Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 27mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 1g
Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.
This recipe is inspired by the delicious flavor profile in one of the “10-Minute Appetizer Dip” variations published in the Kraft Food & Family recipe leaflet from back in Summer 2005. I found a link to that appetizer dip, but note that the photo they’ve used to accompany the original recipe mysteriously does NOT match the recipe.