Whether you juice it, zest it, or peel it, lemon brightens just about any dish. We recently made lemon pesto for the first time and after just one bite I wondered how I had made it thirty-seven years without it. This lemon pesto is an INSTANT new classic in our house and we’ll be making it year-round.
The most obvious way to enjoy this pesto is to toss it with pasta, but there are almost endless applications for this bright and flavor-packed sauce. You can dollop it on steamed or roasted vegetables, use it as a base for pizza, or to effortlessly elevate the very simplest of dishes, like a white bean soup. And several of our Planetarian Life Recipe Testers mentioned using it as a starting point for appetizers.
What I love about this lemon pesto is that it’s totally no waste. Aside from the bitter white pith and seeds, it uses the entire two lemons.
When using lemon pesto with pasta
If you’re using this pesto with pasta, save about a cup of your pasta cooking water before you drain it. That starchy liquid, combined with the pesto, will help create a sauce that completely coats the entire pot of pasta. And trust me, you definitely want every inch of your pasta covered with this lemon pesto! Here’s our Vegetable Pasta Pesto Formula with the full recipe.
Using gluten-free pasta?
If you’re using gluten-free pasta, your pasta cooking water won’t be starchy like regular gluten pasta. Our gluten-free tester noted that she used regular plant-milk to help create the sauce and it worked “perfectly!” almost creating a lemon-pesto light cream sauce. YUM.
A dairy-free alternative to regular pesto
This pesto is so flavorful you don’t need to add Parmesan cheese, but you may want to sprinkle your finished dish with a little Parmesan cheese before serving it.
The great thing about making large quantities of pesto in one kitchen session is that it freezes well. Simply jar up what you want for the fridge and freeze the remaining pesto in small freezer-safe covered containers—I like the little one-cup deli tubs. When you’re ready to thaw the pesto, simply pull it from the freezer and let come to room temperature. It won’t take long, but if you need it fast, microwave it on defrost, a minute at a time, until it’s thawed. And, if you’re tossing it in something hot— pasta, for example— you can add it partially frozen and let the hot dish finish the thawing.
- 2 lemons
- 1 cup roasted almonds or hazelnuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese *
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from each lemon, set aside. Using a small sharp knife, remove the tip and stem end of each lemon and then, working from tip to stem, remove the bitter white pith; discard the tips and pith. Quarter each lemon and remove the seeds. Set aside lemon zest and quarters.
- Place nuts, garlic, sugar, and zest in a food processor or a blender; process until finely ground. Add lemon quarters, cheese, olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; process to a paste. Taste and adjust seasonings, including additional salt and pepper. (Can be refrigerated in a jar for a couple of weeks.)