The Best Lemon Pesto Recipe with Basil (Easy Sauce)

My Lemon Pesto is a citrusy take on a traditional sauce. This easy pesto recipe combines a classic pesto with lemon juice and fresh lemon zest for a citrus pesto that will keep having you come back for more. You can use this lemon pesto on pasta, with fish, or on sandwiches. If you want a classic pesto, check out my traditional pesto alla Genovese.  I promise you, this fresh lemon flavor is the perfect addition to my classic pesto! 

Lemon pesto in a small glass bowl with fresh lemon zest, cracked pepper, and fresh basil leaves.

I absolutely love pesto. And I’m a big fan of lemon so this zesty lemon pesto recipe was an obvious choice. Lemon lovers will obsess over the lemon scent and flavor of this pasta sauce. All you need for this recipe are a few simple ingredients. You need parmesan cheese (fresh grated – NEVER buy pre-grated cheese!), pecorino romano cheese, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, lemons (lemon juice and lemon zest), and salt.

This is a creamy lemon pesto. Its’ creamy texture is thick – you can add a thin layer of olive oil if you like it a bit more liquid-y. I love making pesto in different ways. If you’re looking for unique flavors and love pesto, try my nut-free pesto! Or, if you want to use other nuts in place of pine nuts, try my walnut pesto and pistachio pesto! All can be used in my tomato and pesto-whipped goat cheese tart, pesto butter, or pesto bruschetta recipes. Oh, and don’t forget my trofie al pesto – a true Genovese classic!! 

Lemon pesto in a small glass bowl with fresh lemon zest, cracked pepper, and fresh basil leaves, and lemon.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • It’s a delicious variation on a beloved classic! This modern, bright take on traditional pesto has a unique flavor. Close your eyes and imagine yourself on the Italian Riviera, surrounded by big Amalfi lemons! 
  • Easy cleanup! ​One bowl of a food processor, and that’s all you need for this basil pesto recipe! 
  • A great way to use up fresh herbs! I love making pesto sauce because it’s a great way to use up any basil I have kicking around! 

Ingredients

Ingredients for lemon pesto.

  • Basil – Fresh basil is the star of pesto, providing its vibrant green color and fresh, aromatic flavor. Look for bright green leaves without any brown spots or wilting. Use a packed cup to ensure a strong, bold basil flavor in your pesto. If you have a scale, you can measure out exactly the same weight I used as specified in the simple recipe. 
  • Pine Nuts – Pine nuts add a rich, buttery texture and nutty flavor to basil pesto. For extra flavor, you ca toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry skillet over medium heat until they’re golden brown. Also, a little tip about pine nuts – you can store them in the fridge to keep them fresher, for longer! 
  • Garlic – Fresh garlic gives the pesto a sharp, pungent bite that balances the richness of the other ingredients. Trust me, you do not need much. One garlic clove is enough, two maximum, for this fresh pesto recipe. 
  • Kosher Salt – Salt enhances all the flavors in the pesto, bringing out the best in each ingredient. I like to use kosher salt for its clean flavor and ease of control when seasoning. Remember to adjust the salt at the end if needed, especially after adding the cheeses, which should add extra salt to the pesto. 
  • Lemon Zest – Lemon zest adds a bright, citrusy note that lifts the overall flavor profile of the pesto. Use my favorite kitchen tool, a microplane, to zest the lemons. You can also use a fine grater. Make sure to avoid the bitter white pith. You should not apply too much pressure while testing and should move the lemon continuously.  The zest of two lemons should be plenty to provide a fresh, tangy kick.
  • Parmesan Cheese – Do me a favor, splurge and use real Parmigiano Reggiano for this – it makes a difference!  Parmesan adds a salty, umami richness to the pesto, making it more flavorful and creamy. Always use freshly grated Parmesan for the best texture and flavor. Pre-grated cheese can be dry and less flavorful.
  • Pecorino Romano Cheese –  Pecorino Romano adds a sharp, tangy flavor that complements the Parmesan and enhances the pesto’s depth. Like Parmesan, grate Pecorino Romano fresh to ensure it melts smoothly into the pesto, contributing to its creamy texture.
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – Olive oil is the liquid gold that binds all the ingredients together, creating a smooth, luscious sauce. Use high quality extra virgin olive oil for its superior flavor. Add it slowly to the food processor to achieve the perfect creamy consistency.
  • Lemon Juice – Lemon juice brightens the pesto, and it adds acidity. I love the addition of the lemon because it helps to balance the richness of the pine nuts and cheeses. Squeeze the lemon juice fresh and add it gradually while processing the pesto. Taste as you go to ensure the acidity is balanced to your liking. Make sure you juice fresh lemons yourself for the best flavor! 

Substitutions and Additions

  • Walnuts Instead of Pine Nuts – Walnuts have a similar texture and nutty flavor, making them a great alternative if you’re out of pine nuts or looking for a different twist. Plus, walnut pesto is delicious already!
  • Grana Padano Instead of Parmesan –  Grana Padano cheese  offers a similar nutty and savory flavor profile to Parmesan but is often more affordable and easier to find. It is another hard cheese. 
  • Spinach for Extra Greens – Adding a handful of fresh spinach can boost the nutritional value and create an even more vibrant green color without overpowering the basil flavor.

Step by Step Instructions

Basil, pine nuts, lemon zest, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor before being pulsed, to make lemon pesto.

Begin by adding fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor equipped with the blade attachment.

Basil, pine nuts, lemon zest, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor pulsed together, to make lemon pesto.

Pulse the mixture until the basil leaves are finely chopped and all ingredients are well combined.

Add both cheeses and pulse again until the mixture is evenly blended.

Basil, pine nuts, lemon zest, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor pulsed together with cheese and olive oil to make lemon pesto.

With the food processor running, gradually add the olive oil in a steady stream. Continue processing until the pesto reaches a smooth and creamy consistency.

Basil, pine nuts, lemon zest, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor pulsed together with cheese and olive oil and lemon to make lemon pesto.

While the processor is running, slowly add the lemon juice. Taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning if necessary, adding more salt or pepper to suit your preferences.

Tips and Notes

  • Choose the Freshest Ingredients –  Fresh basil, high-quality olive oil, and freshly grated cheeses make a noticeable difference in flavor. Avoid using pre-grated cheese or old basil leaves to ensure the best taste and texture.
  • Add Olive Oil Slowly –  When you are pouring the olive oil into the food processor, do it slowly in a steady stream. This helps emulsify the pesto, creating a smooth, creamy texture! 

Lemon pesto in a small glass bowl with fresh lemon zest, cracked pepper, and fresh basil leaves, and lemon on a wooden board.

Serving Suggestions

  • With Seafood Dishes – From shrimp skewers to baked salmon, broiled scallops, white fish, and more.. this lemon pesto is perfect with fresh seafood! Living in New England, I have used this lemon pesto with a lot of different seafood dishes, including a light and bright shrimp pasta dish for an easy dinner! 
  • With Pasta – There’s nothing more comforting than perfectly al dente pasta, and a creamy, bright pesto! Follow my trofie al pesto recipe to mix some pasta cooking water with your fresh pesto for a great sauce! 
  • Caprese Salad – ​Dollop some of this fresh pesto ontop of a delicious caprese salad. Why not give my burrata caprese a try?

Storage and Freezing Instructions

  • Refrigerate in an Airtight Container – Store pesto in an airtight container in the fridge. To prevent browning, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface before sealing with the lid.
  • Cover with Olive Oil – Pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before sealing. This creates an air barrier and helps preserve its color and flavor.
  • Use within a Week – Enjoy your fresh pesto within a week for the best flavor and texture. After a week, it may start to lose its vibrancy.
  • Freeze in Ice Cube Trays – For longer storage, freeze pesto in ice cube trays. Once solid, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. Frozen pesto lasts up to 3 months.
  • Thaw Gently – Thaw frozen pesto in the fridge or at room temperature. Avoid microwaving. You can also add frozen pesto cubes directly to hot dishes.

Did you try this recipe? I’d love to see it! Tag @seasonedandsalted on Instagram and leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review below!

Lemon pesto in a small glass bowl with fresh lemon zest, cracked pepper, and fresh basil leaves, and lemon on a wooden board.

The Best Lemon Pesto Recipe with Basil (Easy Sauce)

Allie Hagerty
This traditional basil pesto recipe is a simple, no-cook sauce that you can. use in pasta dishes, marinades, and more!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Course Sauce
Cuisine Italian
Servings 24 servings
Calories 91 kcal

Equipment

  • measuring spoons
  • measuring cups
  • food processor

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup basil *packed cup* 36 g
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts 75 g
  • 1 clove garlic peeled
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon zest zest from 2 lemons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese 126 g
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese 50 g
  • 7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 74 g
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice usually 1 lemon

Instructions
 

  • Start by adding fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.
  • Pulse the ingredients until the basil leaves are finely chopped and all the ingredients are well combined.
  • Next, incorporate the two cheeses into the mixture and pulse again until everything is evenly distributed.
  • With the food processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady stream.
  • Continue to process until the sauce reaches a smooth and creamy consistency.
  • While the processor is running, slowly add the lemon juice.
  • Don't forget to taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning if needed, adding a bit more salt or lemon to suit your taste preferences.

Notes

Choose the Freshest Ingredients –  Fresh basil, high-quality olive oil, and freshly grated cheeses make a noticeable difference in flavor. Avoid using pre-grated cheese or old basil leaves to ensure the best taste and texture.
Add Olive Oil Slowly –  When you are pouring the olive oil into the food processor, do it slowly in a steady stream. This helps emulsify the pesto, creating a smooth, creamy texture! 

Nutrition

Serving: 1tablespoonCalories: 91kcalCarbohydrates: 2.1gProtein: 3.2gFat: 8.2gSaturated Fat: 1.3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 4.8mgSodium: 109.6mgPotassium: 106.3mgFiber: 0.5g
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating