Lemon and Tarragon Pesto Dressing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of too much [insert fresh herb or leafy green here] must be in want of a pesto. Or, at least that’s how this recipe was born, as a response to an overabundance of tarragon in the fridge.

Vertical overhead image of a jar of pale green herb salad dressing with sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley and tarragon, wooden serving utensils, and a white cloth kitchen towel with pale yellow stripes on a wooden cutting board, printed with orange and white text near the top and at the bottom of the frame.

Now, I realize I won’t be telling you anything you don’t know when I say making pesto is easy, but it is.

The standard recipe is a basic formula: greens + nuts + oil + cheese + salt in your preferred proportions, with optional lemon and garlic added if you like.

Creating a sauce from those ingredients is a pretty basic process as well: combine in a blender or food processor and puree, or mash together with a mortar and pestle.

Vertical overhead closely cropped image of a glass jar of pale green salad dressing on an unfinished wood surface, with the handle of a wooden serving utensil, striped white and pale yellow dish towel, and sprigs of fresh flat leaf Italian parsley and tarragon.

In return for a short list of ingredients and an easy preparation method, pesto provides a killer pizza sauce, or a fantastic toast topper. It’s the kind of thing that makes eating a bowl of pasta a special treat.

Sometimes, especially when we’re talking about a pesto like the one in this article, I like to eat some of it all on its own, spooning a bite of it to my mouth, and smacking my lips together in sheer delight.

But, here’s a bonus trick I learned a few years ago, one that’s taken the ways this delicious fresh sauce can improve my life up one more notch:

Increase the quantity of oil, and you get one of the finest salad dressings known to mankind.

Overhead vertical image of a glass jar of pale green homemade salad dressing, on a wood surface with a wooden serving utensil, a white kitchen towel with pastel yellow stripes, two slices of lemon, and a sprigs of Italian flat leaf parsley and tarragon.

Does calling pesto salad dressing the “finest known to mankind” seem like overreaching? Maybe. But I’m doing it anyway because, people, this dressing is incredible!

Overhead closely cropped vertical image of a wooden bowl filled with various types of lettuce, a small glass jar of pale green dressing, a blue cloth, and the handles of wooden serving utensils, with sprigs of fresh parsley and tarragon and slices of lemon on a brown wooden table.

How can I explain? Okay, picture a bowlful of pesto. Taste it in your mouth. Feel that cheesy, nutty spread hit your taste buds, at once creamy, salty, and slightly coarse. Remember the way it tasted on the pizza you had last summer, the one with goat cheese and kale and mushrooms, and that thick smear of herby, garlicky green sauce.

Vertical overhead image of a glass jar of pale green salad dressing, on a white surface with a blue folded cloth napkin, sprigs of fresh flat leaf Italian parsley and tarragon, and lemon slices, against a black background.

Now, take that idea – that wonderful idea – and thin it out with oil. Toss it with some greens. Whatever else is in your salad is basically irrelevant, so just imagining the greens will do.

Picture every leaf, every ribboned strand, coated with olive oil married with the flavorful green sauce that you love.

Overhead vertical image of a wooden bowl filled with salad tossed in dressing, on a brown wood surface with a blue cloth napkin, a jar of pesto dressing, sprigs of fresh herbs, and wooden serving utensils.

Listen: the pesto is making that salad sing like a creamy bowl of comfort. Pesto is turning salad-eating into a decadent event. Pesto is returning salad to its former glory!

I feel so sure of this truth, in fact, that I have nothing else I want to say today but this: Eat Salad! Make Pesto! Then Rejoice!

Vertical overhead image of a glass jar of fresh herb dressing on a wood surface, with a white and yellow striped towel, sprigs of tarragon, and slices of lemon.

Once you’ve tried this version, you don’t have to continue to use the recommended combination of ingredients in this particular recipe to make your salad dressing in the future. Gather whatever leafy greens or herbs you like, swap the almonds with walnuts or pine nuts or pistachios, or use your favorite pesto recipe that you always like to make instead.

Vertical closely cropped image of a wooden bowl filled with dressed salad greens, on a wood surface topped with a blue cloth and wooden utensils.

All you need to remember when you make it is to keep adding olive oil until the sauce thins to form a pourable dressing that will coat everything in your salad bowl just the way you like it.

Having said that, this particular salad dressing is a delicious blend of parsley, tarragon, and almonds. And the bright kick of lemon has made me slap our kitchen counters more than once over the last week. So, it’s not a bad one to try.

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Narrow overhead closely cropped horizontal image of a jar of green herb salad dressing with a white and yellow cotton dish towel, slices of lemon, and sprigs of fresh tarragon.

Lemon and Tarragon Pesto Dressing


  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: approx. 1.5 cups

Description

Want to combine the sharp bite of pesto with the silky consistency of a vinaigrette? Lemon tarragon dressing hits all the right notes.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 large cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, pulse the smashed garlic cloves, almonds, and a pinch of salt until finely chopped, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the parsley, tarragon, pecorino, and lemon juice, and pulse until combined. Scrape the herbs down from the sides to make sure that everything gets incorporated, and then add the remainder of the 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  3. With the motor running, slowing start streaming in the oil until the dressing reaches the consistency you want. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
  4. Store in the fridge in an airtight container for 5-7 days. Give it a stir or a shake before use.

  • Category: Salad Dressing
  • Method: No-Cook
  • Cuisine: Sauces

Keywords: salad dressing, pesto, lemon, tarragon

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Smash Garlic and Prep Herbs

First, get out all of your ingredients.

Horizontal oblique overhead image of a block of pecorino cheese, half of a lemon, smashed cloves of garlic, sprigs of fresh flat leaf Italian parsley and tarragon, and slivered almonds, on an unfinished blonde wood cutting board on a top of a gray speckled countertop.

Using the flat side of your chef’s knife, gently smash the garlic cloves to release their aroma.

Rough chop the parsley and tarragon. Since these are going into the food processor, they don’t need to be finely chopped.

Step 2 – Combine Ingredients in the Food Processor

In a food processor, pulse the smashed garlic cloves, almonds, and a pinch of salt until finely chopped, for about 30 seconds. You could also do this in a high-speed blender.

Closely cropped overhead horizontal image of slivered blanched almonds and smashed garlic cloves in a food processor.

Add the parsley, tarragon, pecorino, and lemon juice. Pulse until combined.

Horizontal overhead image of ground almonds in the base of a food processor canister, with a metal s-blade.

Scrape the herbs down from the sides as needed, to make sure that everything gets incorporated.

Horizontal overhead image of chopped herbs, grated cheese, and ground almonds in a food processor with a clear plastic canister and metal s-blade.

Add the remainder of the ½ teaspoon of salt that you measured.

Step 3 – Stream in the Oil

With the motor of the food processor on and running at a steady pace, start by slowly streaming in about half of the oil through the opening in the top of the lid, until the dressing reaches the consistency you want.

Horizontal closely cropped overhead image of pale green blended herb dressing in a food processor with a clear plastic canister.

If the mixture is too chunky or thick, add a bit more oil and keep blending. For a more liquid consistency, continue adding oil and blending until it is velvety and smooth.

Season to taste with additional salt if necessary. Store in the fridge in an airtight container for 5-7 days.

Herby Garlic Goodness to Dress your Greens

If you thought pesto was only meant for pizza and pasta, this verdant dressing will be a game changer for your greens.

But don’t stop at salads. Char some hearty veggies on the grill (zucchini, eggplant, and rainbow carrots are a few of my favorites), toss them in this lemony herb mixture, and garnish with salty pecorino shavings for a hearty vegetarian platter even your meat-loving friends will go gaga for.

Overhead horizontal image of a glass jar of green herb salad dressing on a wooden cutting board, with a white and pale yellow striped dish towel, wooden serving utensils, a slice of lemon, and sprigs of green herbs.

Craving even more delicious options to dress your salads? Diversify your dressing collection with these other novel concoctions:

If tarragon’s anise-like tang is too much for you, what fresh herb would you use in its place? Oniony chives? Sweet, refreshing mint? Share your subs in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photo: Tamicon. Originally published on March 26, 2013. Last updated: November 6, 2019 at 19:33 pm. With additional writing and editing by Fanny Slater and Allison Sidhu.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

30 thoughts on “Lemon and Tarragon Pesto Dressing”

  1. This post is making me long for summer, when I hope to grow enough fresh herbs to be swimming in pesto for months. But mostly it’s making me realize I need to make/eat more pesto, period. And pesto dressing!

  2. I love the idea of pesto dressing and I am really craving pesto pizza now! A tarragon version sounds like a fun new take.

  3. Love this! There are really few things more wonderful than freshly made pesto in the spring. Love the tarragon in this one!

  4. I loved how you described the taste and feel of pesto! you make me yearn for pesto pasta, and maybe I’ll pour some pesto over leftover greens and restore them back to their former glory! And I’m rejoicing! Happy Easter dear Shanna!

  5. haha, I love this post. “Whatever else is in your salad is irrelevant.” “Listen to me..” so much passion! go eat salad, people!

  6. Oh boy! See? I totally didn’t know that pesto was this easy. You are so inspiring on so many levels. The pesto level not the least of them! : )

  7. Ah yes, I love using a pesto-esque salad dressing on a pasta salad in the warmer months with some fresh cherry tomatoes and a handful of bocconcini. I would say that it has me yearning for summer but as I’m sat outside in the sunshine and it’s 70 degrees here, I probably can’t complain too much can I? 😉

  8. The first paragraph is absolutely true, for me at least. I use pesto in everything, even soups. Everything is a little better with some pesto. But this recipe is very interesting because it uses a lot of lemon, which makes it great for salad, and I always pass up the fresh tarragon due to a lack of good recipes to use it in.
    Love this one Shanna!

  9. Tarragon is such an underutilized herb! This sounds like it would be lovely served in a salad with roast chicken and green grapes…

  10. I love pesto. I read somewhere recently that pesto is ‘so 90’s’, but I think it will always be in style at my house. This sounds delicious!

  11. I love how infinitely adaptable pesto is – so many different herbs and leaves you can use, nuts, cheeses and about a million uses from dips to salad dressings. The addition of tarragon here is lovely and that vibrant green colour makes me want to dive into a salad right now.

  12. I have a big smile on my face after reading this post (obviously catching up on some FLW reading). Loving pesto play by play! I’m rejoicing already and I haven’t even had the dressing yet. It’s really a great idea, the pesto turned dressing thing. It shall make its way into our salads in the coming weeks 🙂

  13. I just might have to try this little idea with my next batch of parsley pesto! Have I mentioned that our parsley plant has turned into a bit of a bush? I’m guessing I could pull 8-12 cups of parsley out of there, and still not leave it barren.

  14. I found this recipe while searching for ways to use up all the tarragon and parsley in my garden before the temps dip to freezing tonight. Thanks for a great way to use last herbs of the summer! I’m also going to make a chive pesto with the last of my chives and some tarragon vinegar.

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