Lemon pesto is the perfect way to subtly switch up traditional basil pesto by adding lemon juice and lemon zest for brightness and flavor. This lemon pesto recipe is perfect for pasta, fish, or chicken, and can be made in minutes.
Pesto sauce is one of those ingredients that elevates whatever it's put on and adds a ton of flavor without a lot of effort. It has fat from olive oil, flavor from fresh basil and garlic, and works as a sauce, a dip, or an additional ingredient in loads of dishes. We personally love it in this pesto butter salmon.
This lemon basil pesto takes all of the ingredients of traditional pesto and adds fresh lemon juice and zest for a bit of brightness. This makes an already seasonally sunny sauce and makes it even more summery. You're gonna love lemon pesto.
The easiest way to make pesto
Using a food processor is the simplest way to make a pesto that is consistent in texture and very finely processed. There is no chopping involved, and everything is created in one bowl. A standard blender or an immersion blender can also be used.
If you don't have one of those kitchen gadgets, this can still be made. It will just take a little extra time chopping everything extremely fine.
Ingredients for basil lemon pesto
- fresh basil
- extra virgin olive oil
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
- pine nuts
- fresh ground black pepper
How to Make Lemon Pesto
Place pine nuts and peeled garlic into the bowl of the food processor and pulse on high for 15-20 seconds, or until it resembles coarse sand.
Add basil leaves, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and parmesan. Pulse for 5-10 seconds and then slowly start drizzling in the olive oil while the machine is running.
Once all of the olive oil has been added, stop food processor and scrape down the sides, if needed.
Variations and Substitutions
- Use parsley in place of basil. I love the flavor of basil pesto, but I also think it's fun to switch things up sometimes. Parsley has a great freshness to it. And making it into a pesto is a great way to utilize that flavor without cooking any of the nutrients off.
- Make it a spicy pesto recipe by adding 1 tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes.
- Walnuts or almonds can be used in place of pine nuts. Pine nuts are most traditional, however they are quite expensive.
Ways to use lemon pesto
This pesto would be great as part of a lemon pesto pasta, on fish, chicken, or as a dip for crusty bread.
- Use it in Italian Sausage and Pesto Pasta for a filling dinner.
- Pesto Orzo with Capers and Tomatoes is a fresh and delicious summer salad.
- Add a spoonful on top of roasted or steamed veggies.
- As a spread for this spicy italian turkey sandwich.
- Add it to scrambled eggs.
- Fridge: Fresh pesto should always be stored in the refrigerator. Transfer the pesto to an airtight container, preferably a glass jar or a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Add a thin layer of oil on top of the pesto to help prevent oxidation. It should be enjoyed within a week.
- Freezer: If you have extra pesto and want to store it for an extended period, you can freeze it. Pour the pesto into ice cube trays or small containers and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes or portions into a freezer-safe, airtight container or a freezer bag. Frozen pesto can last for several months. Check out this post for more tips on freezing fresh herbs.
more basil recipes
Pine nuts come from the seeds of pine cones, and their harvesting process is labor-intensive. Pine cones must be collected from pine trees, and then the seeds need to be extracted manually, which is a time-consuming and delicate task. In addition, there is a limited supply, high demand, and vulnerability to environmental factors which all drive up pine nut prices.
Walnuts or almonds can be used as a substitute for pine nuts in fresh pesto.
Fresh pesto can typically last in the refrigerator for about a week. To extend its shelf life, store it in an airtight container and cover the surface with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent oxidation.
- Food processor
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1 garlic clove
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon juice and zest
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- Place pine nuts and peeled garlic into the bowl of the food processor and pulse on high for 15-20 seconds, or until it resembles coarse sand.
- Add basil leaves, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and parmesan. Pulse for 5-10 seconds and then slowly start drizzling in the olive oil while the machine is running.
- Once all of the olive oil has been added, stop food processor and scrape down the sides, if needed.