Lemon Pesto Sauce

Lemon Pesto Sauce, a super simple basil pesto sauce recipe with tangy lemon juice and lemon zest. Ready in under 10 minutes and freezes well!

lemon basil pesto on a white plate with lemon zest as garnish

Love lemons? Put them in a pesto! Great as a topping for vegetables, pasta, or even pizza, this fresh lemon basil pesto is a tasty way to use up lemons that would otherwise go to waste.

👉 Ready to learn how to make pesto with fresh lemons? Let’s do it!


🌿 Ingredients you’ll need

  • Basil: Fresh basill leaves are the base of this recipe. Not only do they add freshness to pesto, they also provide important vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, and folate.
  • Lemons: Both lemon zest and lemon juice are used to add acidity to the pesto sauce
  • Nuts or seeds: Pine nuts are used in traditional pesto, but you can make it with other varieties of nuts, like cashews or walnuts. You can even make it nut-free with pumpkin seeds or hemp seeds!
  • Cheese (or alternative): Parmesan or pecorino cheeses are traditional, but you can also use a vegan cheese-alternative like nutritional yeast.
  • Olive oil: Adds flavor to pesto and helps maintain its texture so that it doesn’t become too thick.
  • Garlic, salt, and pepper. These are common pesto seasonings that you can adjust to your liking.
  • Recommended tools: A food processor or blender, knife set, cutting board, and salad spinner
bowls of nuts, fresh basil, lemons, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper on a table for pesto
Ingredients: lemons, basil, nuts or seeds, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper

🥣 How to make (step-by-step photos)

1️⃣ Step One: Wash basil and prep lemons

Start with washing the basil by running it under water or submerging in a bowl of water. Remove any dirt from the leaves, then take it out of the bowl and lay flat on a plate or kitchen towel to dry. You can also use a salad spinner to dry the leaves.

Then zest the lemons with a hand grater, and juice the lemons.

fresh basil, lemon zest, lemon juice, nuts, cheese, and other ingredients for pesto in a food processor before blending
Add ingredients to a food processor

2️⃣ Step Two: Blend the basil, lemons, nuts or seeds, garlic, and oil

Toss the basil, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor. Add nuts or seeds and garlic cloves, and pulse until finely chopped.

As the ingredients are being blended, slowly drizzle in olive oil and continue to pulse until the chopped ingredients are well coated in oil but not completely smooth (you will want the pesto to be a little chunky)

Slowly drizzle in olive oil while pulsing the ingredients. Pulse until the chopped ingredients are well coated in oil, but still chunky.

blended lemon pesto inside a food processor
Blend ingredients and add seasonings

3️⃣ Step Three: Mix in cheese and spices

Finish off the pesto by slowly adding cheese or nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper. Give it a taste and add more seasoning until the pesto is flavored to your liking!

lemon pesto sauce with lemon zest as garnish in a white bowl with a gold fork on a white table

💡 Ideas for serving

There are so many fun ways to enjoy pesto! Here are some ideas for how to serve it:

  • Use as a sauce or spread. Pasta, pizza, bowls, sandwiches – you can’t go wrong with using lemon pesto as your base spread or sauce.
  • Use as veggie dip. Pesto and veggies pair perfectly! You can mix lemon pesto into hummus or use it on its own as a dip on a veggie platter.
  • Add to salad dressings. Pesto can easily be mixed into salad dressing. Simply combine it with more olive oil and drizzle on salad.****
  • Use it as a topping for potatoes. Pesto and potatoes are a match made in heaven, so drizzle it on top of roasted potatoes.
a close up photo of lemon pesto on a white plate

🧊 How to store

  1. Refrigerator storage: Keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
  2. Freezer storage: Store in a sealed freezer-safe container for up to 2 months.

Pro tip: To prevent browning, it is a good idea to drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on the surface of pesto before putting it in the refrigerator or freezer. You can add pesto to ice cube trays, freeze, and transfer to a freezer-safe storage bag. Having small amounts on hand are perfect for when you need a quick flavor enhancer!


♻️ Sustainable kitchen tips

Making lemon pesto is a great way to reduce food waste! Here are some ways to make it even better for the planet:

Make it during lemon and basil season. The growing season for basil is spring through fall in most regions and lemons are best in late winter and early spring.

Freeze for later! Make a big batch of pesto when it’s in season, then freeze to enjoy for months to come.

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

👉 More pesto sauce recipes

Can’t get enough pesto? Look no further! Try Oregano Pesto Sauce, Collard Greens Pesto, and even Dandelion Greens Pesto.

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lemon pesto sauce with lemon zest as garnish in a white bowl with a gold fork on a white table

Lemon Pesto Sauce

Kristina Todini, RDN
Lemon Pesto Sauce, a super simple basil pesto sauce recipe with tangy lemon juice and lemon zest. Ready in under 10 minutes and freezes well!
5 star (1 rating)
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Sauces, Dressings + Dips
Cuisine Gluten Free, Italian-Inspired, Vegan
Servings 8 servings
Calories 178 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 food processor
  • 1 citrus zester

Ingredients
  

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

Instructions
 

  • Prep basil and lemons: Start by washing fresh basil leaves under running water or submerging them in a bowl of water and shaking them to remove any dirt. Use a salad spinner to dry leaves or lay them flat on a plate or kitchen towel to dry.
    2 cups fresh basil, 2 tablespoons lemon zest, 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Blend ingredients: Toss the 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.
    ⅓ cup pine nuts, 2 cloves garlic, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Add seasonings to finish: 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.
    ⅓ cup parmesan cheese, ⅛ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Notes

Nuts or seeds? Traditional pesto sauce uses pine nuts, but any nuts or seeds are perfect for pesto. We used pumpkin seeds in the photos of this recipe.
Tools Needed: food processor or blender, knife set, cutting board, salad spinner
Prep ahead: Make this simple pesto up to 2-3 days before serving, or freeze until ready to use
Leftovers and storage: Leftover pesto should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days, and in the freezer for up to 2 months (possibly longer).
Nutrition notes: This recipe made as written (with parmesan cheese and pine nuts). Using other nuts, seeds, cheese, or nutritional yeast will change the nutrition information of this recipe.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 178kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 3gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 104mgPotassium: 65mgFiber: 0.5gSugar: 0.4gVitamin A: 352IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 65mgIron: 1mg
Keyword lemon pesto sauce
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