Lemon Pesto Pasta

Lemon Pesto Pasta, a simple pasta recipe with fresh pesto sauce, lemon zest, and lemon juice that’s great served warm or cold. An herby pasta with a citrus kick!

a plate of pasta with lemon pesto on a white table with fresh basil and a lemon

Love pesto pasta? Try it with lemons! This easy lemon basil pesto pasta recipe can be made with homemade or store-bought pesto sauce and is great to make ahead and have for leftovers.

👉 Ready to learn how to make pasta with lemon pesto? Let’s do it!


🍋 Ingredients

  • Pesto ingredients: you can purchase premade pesto, or make your own with basil, nuts or seeds, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese (or vegan alternative), salt, and pepper
  • Lemons: fresh lemon zest and juice add a tang of citrus to this pesto pasta
  • Pasta: any type of pasta shape will do, I used bucatini in the photos for this recipe but penne, rotini, spaghetti, or other shapes also work well
  • Herbs and spices: fresh basil for garnish, salt and pepper for seasoning, red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Recommended tools: food processor, pot, pan, citrus zester, citrus juicer
pasta, basil, lemons, nuts, and bowls of oils and spices for pesto pasta with lemons
Ingredients: pasta, lemons, pesto sauce (pre-made or DIY)

🥣 How to make (step-by-step photos)

1️⃣ Step One: Prepare lemon pesto sauce

Toss cleaned and dried basil in a food processor with lemon zest and lemon juice. Next, add nuts (or seeds) and garlic cloves. Pulse until finely chopped, slowly drizzling in olive oil until the chopped ingredients are well coated in oil but still chunky.

Finish by adding in the cheese (or nutritional yeast), salt, and pepper. Give the pesto a taste and add more seasonings until it’s flavored to your liking.

blended lemon pesto inside a food processor
Make lemon pesto sauce

2️⃣ Step Two: Boil pasta

Bring a large pot of water and a generous pinch of salt to a boil. Add desired pasta and cook to al dente (or semi-firm) according to package instructions. Typically this means 8-10 minutes, depending on the pasta shape you choose (thicker pasta shapes require more time).

When pasta is done, reserve ½ cup of pasta water and then drain pasta and set aside.

a pot of boiling water with pasta inside on a white table
Cook pasta

3️⃣ Step Three: Prepare pesto pasta

In a large pan over medium-low heat, add pesto to pan with a small amount of reserved pasta water and heat for 1 minute.

Add cooked pasta and toss to coat it in pesto. Remove from heat and plate, then serve!

a pan with lemon pesto pasta and a black spoon
Combine pasta with lemon pesto

❓ Recipe questions + quick tips

Can I use store bought pesto for pesto pasta?

Yes, you can use store-bought pesto as a time-saving alternative to making your own for this Lemon Pesto Pasta recipe. You can zest and juice the lemon to add to a traditional pre-made pesto sauce.

How can I make this recipe gluten free?

Make this recipe gluten free by using gluten free pasta. I like chickpea pasta to add more protein for a more satiating pasta dish.

Can I make this recipe nut-free?

To make this recipe nut-free, use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts. You can also use white beans or chickpeas for a nut- and seed-free pesto.

a white plate with lemon pesto pasta on a table with fresh lemons and fresh basil

💡 Ideas for serving

  • Serve warm as a main dish. Serve as a main dish with a side of vegetables or a side salad.
  • Serve cold as a pasta salad. Chill this recipe after making and eat as a pasta salad (best with smaller pasta shapes like rotini, fusilli, or penne).
  • Add fresh greens to make it a salad. Use this pasta as a topping for salads with fresh leafy greens and vegetables like tomatoes (again, best with smaller pasta shapes).
a plate of pesto pasta with lemon zest on a white table with a gold fork

🧊 How to store and reheat

  1. Refrigerator storage: Store leftover pesto pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  2. Freezer storage: Freezing not recommended.
  3. Reheat instructions: To reheat, cook for 5 minutes in a pan on the stove or 2 minutes in the microwave.
a white plate with lemon pesto pasta with fresh basil and a lemon as garnish

👉 More pesto pasta recipes

Want more pesto pasta recipes? Try penne pesto with cherry tomatoes, pasta with beet greens pesto, or pasta with carrot top pesto.

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a white plate with lemon pesto pasta on a table with fresh lemons and fresh basil

Lemon Pesto Pasta

Kristina Todini, RDN
Lemon Pesto Pasta, a simple pasta recipe with fresh pesto sauce, lemon zest, and lemon juice that’s great served warm or cold. An herby pasta with a citrus kick!
5 stars (3 ratings)
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Main Dishes
Cuisine Italian-Inspired, Vegan
Servings 4 servings
Calories 382 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 food processor
  • 1 large pot
  • 1 citrus zester
  • 1 citrus juicer

Ingredients
  

For Lemon Pesto Pesto Sauce

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • cup pine nuts or pumpkin seeds if nut-free
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • cup parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast if vegan
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

For Pasta

  • 16 ounces pasta (rotini, fusilli, penne)
  • 1 tablespoon salt for pasta water

Instructions
 

  • Prepare lemon pesto sauce: Toss cleaned and dried basil in a food processor with lemon zest and lemon juice. Next, add nuts (or seeds) and garlic cloves. Pulse until finely chopped, slowly drizzling in olive oil until the chopped ingredients are well coated in oil but still chunky. Finish by adding in the cheese (or nutritional yeast), salt, and pepper. Give the pesto a taste and add more seasonings until it's flavored to your liking.
    2 cups fresh basil, 2 tablespoon lemon zest, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/3 cup pine nuts, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • Boil pasta: Bring a large pot of water and a generous pinch of salt to a boil. Add desired pasta and cook to al dente (or semi-firm) according to package instructions. Typically this means 8-10 minutes, depending on the pasta shape you choose (thicker pasta shapes require more time). When pasta is done, reserve ½ cup of pasta water and then drain pasta and set aside.
    16 ounces pasta, 1 tablespoon salt
  • Prepare pesto pasta: In a large pan over medium-low heat, add pesto to pan with a small amount of reserved pasta water and heat for 1 minute. Add cooked pasta and toss to coat it in pesto. Remove from heat and plate, then serve.

Notes

Prep Ahead: Prepare the lemon pesto sauce up to four days ahead of time.
Leftovers and storage: Store leftover pesto pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Freezing not recommended. To reheat, cook for 5 minutes in a pan on the stove or 2 minutes in the microwave.
Nut-free option: If you cannot eat nuts and are looking to make a nut-free pesto, I suggest using seeds like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. You can also use beans or even chickpeas.
Vegan option: If you are vegan, use either vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast in place of cheese. Use gluten-free pasta, if needed.
Nutrition notes: Nutrition information is an estimate using all listed ingredients, except additional salt for pasta water (the amount of salt absorbed in minimal compared to the amount used). This recipe uses all plant-based ingredients and can be made with gluten free pasta.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 382kcalCarbohydrates: 10gProtein: 6gFat: 37gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 7gMonounsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 6mgSodium: 745mgPotassium: 467mgFiber: 3gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1195IUVitamin C: 17mgCalcium: 145mgIron: 2mg
Keyword lemon pesto pasta
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