Monday, August 02, 2010

Basil Pesto Recipe with Lemon (and Ten Ideas for Using Basil Pesto)

I've been making this basil pesto with lemon for years, and to me it's one of the signs of summer when I'm making pesto!

Basil Pesto with Lemon found on remember the first time I tasted basil pesto, which was simply called pesto back in those days before this type of uncooked Italian sauce started being made from many different herbs or vegetables like it is today. My first basil pesto was made by a guy named Steve, who not only was a fantastic cook, but who had a food processor! This was years before I thought of purchasing such an exotic cooking tool, but now I can't imagine living without it.

Since then, I've made many types of pesto, and I make basil pesto every year when the garden is bursting with midsummer basil. For a few years now I've been making this Basil Pesto with Lemon, and I don't think I'd ever make it again without the lemon, which brightens up the flavor and keeps the pesto bright green much longer in the fridge. Of course, pesto never stays around in the fridge that long around here, but if you need some ideas for using it, look after the recipe for suggestions.

If you're using basil from the garden, start by rinsing it and drying well. I use a salad spinner, but you can also rinse it in the sink and dry with paper towels.

The 2 cups of basil used in this recipe means a 2 cup measuring cup packed with as much basil as you can fit into it.

Put the basil and 3-4 cloves of garlic into the food processor and process with steel blade until basil and garlic are chopped, adding 1/2 cup olive oil through the feed tube.

Add 1/2 cup pine nuts, 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice and process until well blended, about 1-2 minutes more.

Season the pesto to taste with a bit of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. I store pesto in a glass jar in the refrigerator, where it will last for more than a week.

Basil Pesto with Lemon
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups pesto, recipe inspired by many basil pesto recipes through the years, with the idea of adding lemon juice something Kalyn has been committed to the last few years.)

(You will need a food processor to make this. There are many brands, but I love my Cuisinart Food Processor.)

2 cups fresh basil leaves (packed into measuring cup)
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (choose a a flavorful olive oil for pesto)
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Wash basil leaves if needed and spin dry or dry with paper towels. Put basil leaves and sliced garlic into food processor that's been fitted with the steel blade and process until basil and garlic is finely chopped, adding oil through the feed tube as you process. (You may need to take off the lid and scrape the sides with a rubber scraper if you have a hard time getting the basil all chopped.)

Add pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice to the chopped basil mixture and process 1-2 minutes more, until the pesto is mostly pureed and well mixed. (I like to keep it slightly chunky, but you can make it as finely pureed as you wish.)

Season to taste with salt and fresh ground black pepper and pulse a few times more.

Store basil pesto in the refrigerator in a glass jar, where it will keep for more than a week. Pesto can also be frozen. Many cooking experts recommend leaving out the cheese if you're going to freeze it, and then adding the cheese when you thaw the pesto. (I've done it both ways and haven't noticed that much difference.)

Click Here for Printer Friendly Recipe

Ten Suggestions for Using Basil Pesto:

1) Make Grilled Zucchini, then top it with a few tablespoons of basil pesto.

2) Use basil pesto in Twice Baked Spaghetti Squash with Pesto and Parmesan.
3) Try Asparagus with Basil Pesto.

4) Make Georgette's Really Lemony Greek Pilafi, then mix in a little basil pesto.

5) Use the pesto to replace basil puree in Basil Vinaigrette, then drizzle over fresh tomatoes.

6) Make Foil Baked Salmon with Basil Pesto and Tomatoes.

7) Use some of the basil pesto for Baked White Fish with Pine Nut, Parmesan, and Basil Pesto Crust.

8) Use rotisserie chicken to make Leftover Chicken Pesto Salad.

9) Replace Sage-Pecan Pesto with Basil Pesto and toss with Roasted Summer Squash.

10) And of course you can always eat your Basil Pesto with delicious Whole Wheat Spaghetti!

South Beach Diet / Low-Carb Diet Suggestions:
Pesto is high in fat, but it's generally used in fairly small amounts, which would make this suitable for any phase of the South Beach Diet.
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More to Chew On:


  1. I made a batch of Basil Pesto just last week. I am too cheap to use pine nuts, so I added Walnuts instead. had a great earthier nuttier taste (pine nuts are expensive and have a mild taste that to me gets lost in the pesto). I made a flatbread snack with goatcheese from mine. And a mango bacon pizza.

    So many great ways to use this stuff. Perfect post you did. Will be making a few of these recipes soon

  2. A friend who is an Italian chef told me once that pesto will keep a long time if you put it in a good jar, pack it down well and then float some good olive oil on top. The oil keeps the air out and the pesto will last for weeks. You can also freeze it this way. To use, just pour off the oil (use it for a vinaigrette) and spoon the pesto out. Re-cover it with oil before refrigerating.


  3. Pesto has to be one of my favorite sauces and yet I've never thought to put lemon in it! Great idea.

  4. Great step-by-step tutorial, Kalyn! Thanks for the recipe ideas, too. I've only made pesto once before, but it's naturally gluten free and another gluten-free blogger (Linda of Gluten-Free Homemaker) has issued a pesto challenge, so your post will help me with that. :-)


  5. Oh look how GREEN that pesto is! Beautiful. My windowsill basil plants hever have enough leaves to make a big batch like this so I always have to buy in, but it's worth it. I like leaving mt pine nuts & cheese quite roughly chopped/grated so that the pesto has more of a texture. And one of my favourite new uses for pesto is to stir it into mashed potatoes!

  6. I love to make pesto and freeze it for use throughout the winter. I leave out the cheese, and freeze it in an ice cube tray (I have one tray specifically for pesto, because I can never completely get the smell of garlic out of the tray!). Then pop the cubes into a freezer bag. When you want to use, either add the frozen cubes directly to a saute pan, or defrost and blend in the food processor with grated parmesan cheese and bit of oil, pepper and salt.

  7. One of the best things about summer, Kalyn - basil pesto! I just posted a Pesto Lasagna that we love for summer. I've never put lemon juice in my pesto. I will try that next time, sounds good!

  8. I have been looking forward to seeing your pesto recipe ever since you mentioned it a couple days ago. Thanks, I am anxious to try this one.
    I have one question - do you have an olive oil that you would recommend?

  9. Year on the Grill, I like the idea of using walnuts; will have to try that. And your flatbread snack with goat cheese would be a hit around here!

    Anonymous, thanks for that tip!

    Joanne, I love it with the lemon, makes the flavor so much brighter.

    Shirley, glad this was helpful for you. Pesto is a great gluten-free food!

    Jeanne, I do like pesto with more texture too; I make it both ways. Pesto with mashed potatoes sounds delicious!

    Lydia, I need to try that. I think those cubes of pesto would be so useful in winter cooking!

    Italian Dish, Pesto lasagna sounds fantastic!

    Susan, I think there are so many good brands of olive oil, and it's kind of a personal thing. If your town has a store where they let you taste the olive oil, that's a good way to do it. (Granatos in Salt Lake will do that.) I've had good luck with Costco Kirkland Olive Oil (be sure to get the one that says "extra virgin" and "first cold pressed" because the regular one is not good.) I haven't tried Kirkland's newest Organic Extra Virgin Olive oil, but I want to.

  10. OK - you've convinced me to give this a shot. There is so much basil growing at the farm that I have to give this a try. Especially if I can freeze it!

  11. TW, I think Lydia's idea with the ice cube tray is the way to go for freezing!

  12. Getting ready to make another batch of pesto and the addition of lemon sounds like a winner. I love lemon-basil combos, so preserving some of that summer goodness in this form is fantastic.

  13. Used your inspiration the other day to make roasted green beans tossed with minced lemon basil. I thought it could be even more lemony and might add some zest to go with the lemon basil, but my husband said he couldn't taste the beans! Different strokes. Thanks for your great work!

  14. Since I read about your basil/pesto a wk.or so ago, I felt the need to order one of those small food processors..which I'm waiting for now. Hopefully my basil will hold out until I receive it. Thanks Kalyn for answering my questions. rj

  15. Thanks for the recipe, I love pesto! I bought pine nuts last week for the first time in awhile, when did they get to be so expensive? I think they were around $30 per pound!

  16. CJ, hope you like it with the lemon!

    Christy, you're welcome. That's pretty funny, I loved the beans with lemon.

    Have fun making pesto with that new food processor!

    I buy my pine nuts at Costco, where they are much cheaper than that. I keep them in the freezer so they last for a long time.

  17. Glad to find your site! You have such wonderful recipes, this one included that I'm anxious to try. Looking forward to following...

  18. Do you know I haven't made pesto for a while, which is unusual for me. I din't get around to planting basil this year, what with the baby and all and have just been getting by on luttle pots of supermarket basil. I must make some this week. I will give it a go with the lemon.

  19. Quit Eating Out, thank you! Hope you will enjoy the blog.

    Jacqueline, you have been busy! Hope you like the touch of lemon in it!

  20. What's better than fresh basil pesto? Nothing, I say!

    Your recipes, as always, use it so wonderfully!


  21. Thanks Donna! You're always so sweet.

  22. I am so happy that my basil plants have been healthy this year producing an abundance of basil. I have clipped and made pesto to freeze twice already this year. Thanks for all the great pesto ideas.

    Sharona May

  23. Sharona, you're very welcome. Good for you with all that pesto!

  24. I just love pesto! I grew my very own basil this year and had such a great time with my daughter picking out the leaves and making pesto. You just can't beat homemade pesto sauce. :)

    Thanks for the tip on freezing it. I will try that this weekend.

  25. This is my first year growing basil. I've tried keeping one of those grocery store plants alive..unsuccessfully. But I now have a wash tub full of basil that I started from seed. After reading your blog and all the posts, I do believe I can make a tasty pesto. In the morning it's off to get some olive oil, lemons, and a cheap ice cube tray. I'm so excited to have found all this wonderful info. Thanks for blogging.
    Beth in Penna.

  26. Came here for the first tie and checked out many of your recipes....low glycemic food is good in many ways and i love experimenting with whole food too.

    The basil pesto looks wonderful in the pic...... i use the pesto for many recipes too , but i rarely use pinenuts , almonds or walnuts or both are good for me..lemon will be grat in pesto for sure.
    I have basil and lemons both in my garden :)

  27. Now is certainly the time for basil pesto! The lemon adds that extra kick of summery freshness to it.

  28. I have such a soft spot for pesto, and I LOVE this version of yours. Thanks for the ideas, too!

  29. Jenny, have fun freezing your pesto!

    Beth, most of my basil was started from seed too, although I always have to buy a few plants for early season basil!

    Sangeeta, lucky you to have a garden with lemons! That would be my idea of heaven.

    Kevin, I love the touch of lemon; makes a huge difference for me.

    Robyn, I love pesto too; glad you liked it.

  30. That pesto looks very mouthwatering! Great post!

  31. Thank you for the ideas! Those all look so great :)

  32. Christina, you're welcome! Glad you liked the ideas.

  33. I think it adds a lot of flavor when you heat the pine nuts in a pen on mild heat until they start smelling lovely and turn light brown. It loosens up the oils. This enriches the pesto's flavor.

  34. Maurice, have never tried that but it makes sense!

  35. I remember the first time I made pesto linguine for my husband who commented, "What's this green crap?" but went back for seconds! If I had only one herb to grow, it would be basil (and he insists!) and like other commenters, I freeze it in icecube trays. I throw a couple cubes into a pot of veggie soup to really perk it up and use it as a base for pizza. Getting more ideas from your other readers & am looking forward to trying them!
    Love your blog and while the weight is coming off sloooowly, it's wonderful to be eating so tastily especially on a phase 1. Thanks!

  36. Anonymous, glad you are enjoying the blog. Hang in there with the diet; I promise it will work!

  37. My husband is allergic to nuts of all kinds. Would pesto still taste good sans-nuts?


  38. Connie, here is a French sauce called Pistou which is like pesto without the nuts or cheese. (I'm sure you could add cheese if you like.)

  39. i put lemon juice and lemon zest in everything, it brings such a nice fresh zesty tartness to a dish! love the first photo.

  40. PJ, I'm a lemon freak, love lemon in everything too. Thanks for feedback on the photo!

  41. HI, Just had to come back and leave my 2cents about your pesto recipe. I love it!...Short story, I didn't have a food processor,so I ordered one from Amazon,for $25. w/good reviews. It turned out to be a winner!...then I made the recipe your directions...I refrigerated it for a few days,and put it on my chicken w/ penne pasta..A WINNER! So good,a million thanks for such a good recipe. And now I'm also ready to chop up anything with this handy little mini processor. Thanks friend. rj

  42. Love hearing I have inspired you to get a food processor, and that you found a good one for a reasonable price too! You will love it. Glad you liked the recipe.

  43. Help! Need your thoughts. I mistakenly added lime juice (had fresh in the freezer, but forgot to label it) instead of lemon juice to the pesto recipe....any thoughts? I tasted it and it has a lot of citrus taste. Should I just add more basil and pine nuts? I don't want to throw it out as I did a double batch :(

    Thanks for the recipes and thanks for your help!

  44. I'd definitely try adding more basil and pine nuts, and maybe a bit more cheese too.

  45. A trick that I do is to freeze the pesto with out the parmesan in quart size freezer bags. I flatten the bag before putting it in the freezer. All you have to do when you want some is break off the amount you need and put the rest back in the freezer. No smelly ice cube trays to deal with. Works great to get just the right amount for 1 person or many.

  46. What a great idea, love it (especially the idea of being able to break off just the amount you want!)

  47. Our firefighters friend from Genoa bring a batch in the spring when they visit and taught us to freeze the rest in small throwaway plastic cups. All you need to do is peal off the cups and then thaw and eat.
    I love pesto on toast (either toaster toast of bruschetta from the grill.)

  48. Joshua, lucky you to get those pesto deliveries. I love the idea of freezing in small cups.

  49. Iv'e made pesto before but without the pine nuts so I feel like this is my first "real" pesto. I too have TONS of basil in my garden so this was perfect to use some of it up. It's delicious and I kept on eating it straight out of the blender! Used it on your pesto chicken...thanks!

  50. Oh Michelle I am so jealous hearing about your basil. My whole garden is under six inches of snow right now! Glad you enjoyed the pesto!

  51. I've just made my first ever pesto, using fresh basil which I grew in my upside-down tomato planter. The basil has grown magnificently, but I can't say the same for the tomatoes. Oh well. I'll use your hint about floating some olive oil over the top, to preserve it.

  52. I'm going to try the lemon. Also, toasting the pine nuts adds flavor and I substitute some chicken broth or boullion for some of the oil to cut down on the fat.

  53. I love pesto .. didn't have pine nuts so I used chopped up roasted almonds and no lemon juice so I used a splash of peppercini juice .. all worked out great. Now I gotta get a food processor as my blender is just too much work ;)

    Judy from Oregon

  54. Judy, I'm loving the sound of your pesto variation, especially the Peperoncini juice! Great idea.

  55. I just made this pesto but included the lemon zest from 1/2 lemon. It's FANTASTIC! For those who can grow their basil on the back porch in pots, the basil will go to seed at the end of the season and often re-seed itself. If you collect a little seed from your plants, and want to grow more, just throw the seed on top of the ground and it will come up, no digging necessary. Be sure to thin and pinch back to get lots of big leaves!

  56. Robert, great tips. Sorry I have been a little slow to respond; I'm cleaning out my dad's house with my siblings for the next couple of days so I'm pretty distracted from the blog.

  57. Hi Kalyn! I love the site, love your recipes!

    I used your recipe to make basil pesto for the first time (from fresh basil from my first garden).

    It was delicious, but it turned out to be a lot less than 1.5 cups. I used 2 packed cups of basil and the same amount of olive oil/cheese as the recipe.
    I did use my Vitamix blender. I wonder if that affected the amount?

  58. Jacki, glad you're enjoying the blog.

    I do think the Vitamix would blend the pesto much more finely than I did, so that might be it.

  59. thank's very good with the lemon juice!

  60. Hi Kalyn,

    I saw one of the comments mentioned a nut allergy. I have one as well. A friend made pesto for me once with sunflower seeds (unsalted!) and it turned out pretty good. It's a little less nutty/earthy than pine nuts (according to them, obviously I don't know the difference). It also isn't as coarse as pine nuts because the sunflower seeds aren't as hard as the nuts and will chop up finer.

  61. Rebecca, thanks for sharing that for those who might need it!

  62. Can you make this pesto in a blender?

    1. I haven't made it in a blender but I think it might work if you chop the ingredients in small pieces and don't blend too long. I'd pulse a few times, then scrape the sides, then pulse again until it's all combined. If you try it I'd love to hear how it works.


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