Top Your Pasta with This Homemade Lemon Basil Pesto

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Looking for a new variation on the now ubiquitous pesto? If so, this homemade lemon basil pesto sauce may be just for you.

Homemade Lemon Basil Pesto |

When it comes to the pesto-making process, there are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way. These will help you to achieve sauce success:

Looking for a new flavor profile for the now common pesto? Want something a bit different? Try Foodal's take with a hint (or a lot) of lemony flavor using juice and zest. Get the recipe now.


Pine nuts offer a richer flavor and they’re more traditional, but I could not always find them in Argentina or Mexico. I often use walnuts instead, and they make a delicious substitute that’s more economical as well.

Toasting pine nuts in a skillet |

Lightly toast your pine nuts or walnuts in a dry saute pan, being very careful not to burn them. Because nuts contain a lot of oil, they will burn easily.

I like the extra depth of flavor added by toasting the nuts, but a raw vegan pesto that’s dairy-free also delicious – just skip the toasting step for the nuts and seeds.


You can also experiment not only with adding fresh lemon juice (or lime), but you can even try adding a little zest and see how you like it.

To easily collect the zest, you may want to consider investing in a microplane or a specialty zester to make the job easier.

Lemon zest has a sweet lemony flavor, whereas the juice is sour, and the white pith is bitter. As always, buy organic whenever possible, especially if you will be using the zest.

Adjust to Taste

You can adjust all of the ingredients slightly, according to personal tastes. If you like it cheesier, add more cheese. If you love basil or garlic, add some extra. Try different varieties of basil for a different taste.

Make the best topping for your noodles with this Lemon Basil Pesto recipe! Find it here:

After you’ve made it a few times, you won’t even need to take measurements. I usually mix this up in the food processor and then taste it when I am done, making any necessary final adjustments to the seasoning or quantity of other ingredients.

The Original & An Alternative Method

If you want the texture to be thicker and coarser, you can also use a large mortar and pestle instead of the food processor. That is the classic way of making pesto, and the original method used in Italy.

Because I prefer mine to be less chunky and I think it’s easier, I use the food processor method. It’s all about your personal tastes, though!

Looking for a new variation on the now ubiquitous pesto? If so, this homemade lemon basil pesto sauce may be just for you. Get the recipe now:

Another important thing to keep in mind when making this sauce is that, even if the grocery store doesn’t have your chosen ingredients in stock, all is not lost.

Looking for a new flavor variation for the now ubiquitous pesto? If so, try Foodal's lemon flavored take on this classic. Get the recipe here:

I made this the other night using Italian flat leaf parsley and walnuts, and it was absolutely delicious. My supermarket did not have pine nuts or basil when I went, so I used these alternative ingredients instead. Spectacular!

Health & Nutritional Info


Raw basil provides the following potential health benefits:1

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant rich
  • Anti-stress solution
  • Antibacterial properties
  • Antimicrobial properties
  • Blood vessel protector
  • Cancer fighter
  • Combats stress
  • Diabetes preventer
  • Fever reducer (antipyretic)
  • Immune booster
  • Liver protector (hepatoprotective)
  • Pain reducer (analgesic)
  • Vitamins A, K, and C, as well as manganese


If raw garlic is just too much for you, you can roast or caramelize it. But please try it raw first!

Try using just one clove of raw garlic to start, instead of what the recipe calls for. This can be adjusted according to personal taste.

Not only is this the classic way of making this style of pesto, but it really is wonderful.

Another cool benefit is that raw ingredients often have more bioavailable nutrients than cooked, and some even have essential oils and other compounds that offer therapeutic qualities, as is the case with garlic and basil.

Raw garlic may offer the following benefits:

  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant rich
  • Antiviral
  • Cancer cell killer
  • Cardioprotective
  • Immune booster
  • May reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and infections
  • May improve iron metabolism
  • Good source of selenium

Read more about the use and health benefits of garlic.

If you must roast your garlic instead of consuming it raw, preheat the oven to 400˚F. Just wrap the bulb in foil with a little olive oil, and cook for about 45 minutes. The cloves inside should be nice and soft when finished, and they will slide easily right out of their little clove casings when squeezed, nice and caramelized. Yummy!

The Recipe

Homemade Lemon Basil Pesto |
Lemon Basil Pesto
Votes: 2
Rating: 3.5
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
4 Servings
4 Servings
Homemade Lemon Basil Pesto |
Lemon Basil Pesto
Votes: 2
Rating: 3.5
Rate this recipe!
Print Recipe
4 Servings
4 Servings
  • 6 tablespoons raw pine nuts
  • 1 large bunch of basil, stems removed
  • 4 cloves of fresh garlic (or less, to taste)
  • 4.4 ounces grated Parmesan, Pecorino, Sardo, or Reggianito cheese (1.25 g)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (more if needed)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional, or more to taste)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Servings: Servings
  1. Toast the nuts in a dry frying until they're just beginning to turn golden, stirring or tossing constantly. Be very careful and watch them closely, as they can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in one quick second.
  2. In a food processor, combine the garlic, basil, nuts, cheese, olive oil, lemon and lemon zest with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, and process until it reaches your desired consistency. You don’t want to pulverize it; leave some texture. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil, or even more lemon juice if you like it super lemony.
  3. If you are not serving it immediately, cover the mixture with plastic wrap so it will not oxidize.


I like to use this sauce over the top of homemade semolina noodles but it would also work over malfatti pasta or any prepackaged pasta noodles from the store.

You should also substitute this citrus-forward variation of sauce in our recipe for pesto salad salad!

If you loved this lemony comfort food, then you might like our Greek-style lemon orzo soup, too.

Recipe for Lemon Basil Pesto Sauce |

Do you have any unique takes on pesto? Or a preferred pasta variety? Be sure to tell us and the community in the comments below.

And check out these other fabulous recipes:


1. The World’s Healthiest Foods (

The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.

Photos by Kendall Vanderslice, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu and Kendall Vanderslice.

About Lori Jo Hendrix

Lori was born in southern California and currently resides in Mexico. She is an actress and model who also writes in the fields of nutrition, wellness, and cuisine. Her passions include working as a volunteer with various groups in the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned and injured animals.

14 thoughts on “Top Your Pasta with This Homemade Lemon Basil Pesto”

  1. I haven’t tried a lot of pastas in my life, so I can’t say a lot of pesto varieties, but my mom makes this salsa for pasta with green tomatoes and garlic I think, and it’s really good, the garlic definitely adds a really unique touch. I need to tell her about this one, the lemon and pepper are probably my favorite condiments, and I can definitely see them on a really good pasta.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi anorexorcist,

      Just curious, is there any particular reason you have not tried a lot of pastas? Do you mean the noodles or the sauces?

      They use a lot of green tomatoes here and I have yet to try one! I have to find a recipe now and try them out, thanks for bringing that to mind.

      The lemon in this recipe really brings out the flavors, you are going to love it!


  2. This is absolutely stunning and sounds amazing. I might have to substitute something for the pine nuts or leave them out (allergic), but other than that it looks and sounds awesome! (Mouth watering, here.)

    Homemade pasta is really where it’s at, although I do have some store bought squid ink pasta I would like a great sauce recipe for.

    • Hi melanie,

      Thank you!

      Sure, you can use almonds (although the sauce will turn dark as they oxidize faster than the others but it tastes delicious anyway) or walnuts.

      The dried squid ink pasta is delicious, try it with some sort of seafood sauce.

  3. Great recipe here as pesto and any variants is my favorite topping for linguine or fettuccine. I’ve also used aubergine (eggplant) as a vegan version which is really nice with a little chili.

    I like lemon and hadn’t though of using it before, and think it would go well with a pasta salad mixed with some grilled veggies.

    • Hi Bella,

      How did you prepare your eggplant? Sounds delicious and yes the lemon adds something really special to the mix of flavors.

      Yes, pesto pasta salads are delicious! Adding the grilled vegetables to the salad also sounds delicious 🙂

  4. I am a big fan of pesto, although I don’t eat it more than once or twice a month because it’s really rich. However, I really enjoy it so much more when it is lightened with the use of the lemon and basil. It’s definitely a twist that deserves an encore performance in my kitchen. While I greatly prefer the pine nut variety, I did try to make it with walnuts and was surprised at the similarities. Walnuts are so much cheaper so it really is a viable option if you’re pinching pennies.

    • Hi Lisa Davis,

      Adding less cheese will also make you pesto “lighter”.

      I too prefer pine nuts but I can’t always find them here in Mexico or Argentina and yes they are much more expensive so I find myself making more of my pesto with walnuts than pine nuts.

      I am so happy you are going to try my recipe, let us know how it turns out!

  5. When I had an herb garden I grew lemon basil. That is excellent for pesto. I am so glad to read this recipe because it would have never occurred to me to use walnuts instead of pine nuts (which are terribly expensive). I am so going to make this with walnuts!

    • Hi Alan Stephens ,

      Oh I love lemon basil and it makes great pesto! Have you seen the lemon basil essential oils? Amazing! Don’t forget to pinch off the flowers of your basil plant if you decide to grow another one 😉

  6. The recipe was not only easy to make, but helped my family and I enjoy an innovative and home cooked meal. I am extremely excited and looking forward to preparing this dish in the future. Honestly, a five star plate!

    • Hi Andres Triana,

      Thank you! Glad you and your family enjoyed and you are making it a new part of your meal rotations 🙂

  7. Pesto is one of my favourite Italian exports. I haven’t made much of my own, simply because I don’t have much time on my hands but I am going to give this one a go – thanks for sharing.

  8. Walnuts? Who knew? Those are really easy to get out here in California, and much cheaper than pine nuts. I love pine nuts, but I’ll have to try walnuts instead.
    I love pesto, but my roommate is not a big fan, so I usually suck up my pesto craving and let her make tomato sauce. I’m going to try this new recipe and see if I can convert her. 😉 Wish me luck!


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