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A close-up overhead shot of a spoon holding up basil pesto from a jar. The jar sits on a white plate with lemon wedges atop a white surface.

5-Minute Lemon Basil Pesto Sauce

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  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Condiments
  • Method: No-Cook
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Gluten Free


I grow a ton of fresh basil during the summer months and am always looking for ways to make the most of my harvest. Of course, fresh basil pesto is always at the top of that list. This Lemon Basil Pesto Sauce is my go-to pesto recipe.

This bright and herbaceous sauce is a pretty classic Genovese-style basil pesto, but a twist of lemon makes it especially irresistible. Fresh lemon zest and juice cuts through the richness of toasted pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil to create the perfect balance in flavor. As a bonus, its acidity preserves the basil’s vibrant green color!

The fun thing about fresh pesto is you can pair it with just about anything. Pesto pasta is an obvious choice, but we also love rolling it into breakfast burritos, folding it into juicy turkey burgers, serving it with grilled shrimp or chicken, and drizzling it over a tomato salad. Check the blog post, above, for lots more inspiration to get you started. ♡ Happy cooking!


  • 1 ½ cups loosely packed fresh basil (approx. 2 ounces basil leaves)
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ½ lemon, zested and juiced
  • ⅓ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • optional: up to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper, to season


  1. Pulse the garlic and pine nuts: To food processor, add the toasted pine nuts and garlic. Pulse just enough times to break the garlic and pine nuts into small pieces without pulverizing them.
  2. Prepare the lemon basil pesto: Add the basil, lemon zest and juice, and parmesan to the food processor. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ground black pepper as desired. Pulse to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the processor running, slowly stream in the olive oil until your desired consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  3. Serve: Enjoy your lemon basil pesto immediately. It’s, of course, great tossed into your favorite pasta dishes. (this Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops is one of my all-time favorites). It’s also great in breakfast burritos, drizzled over a gorgeous summer salad, whipped into an herbaceous aioli, folded into a turkey burger, and so much more. Get creative and have fun with it – sky’s the limit!


  • Jess’ Notes and Tips:
    • Easy Recipe Variations: The beauty of pesto is its versatility. If you do not have pine nuts on hand, feel free to swap them out with toasted walnuts or pistachios. Similarly, you can use another hard cheese like asiago or pecorino romano in place of the parmesan. Doing so will result in a slightly different flavor profile, but your pesto sauce will be delicious nonetheless!
    • Dietary Restrictions: This lemon basil pesto sauce is naturally meatless. To ensure it’s vegetarian, be sure to use your favorite rennet-free parmesan. To take it a step further and make it vegan, opt for your favorite non-dairy parmesan.
  • Storage and Freezing: The wonderful thing about pesto is that it’s incredibly make-ahead friendly. Feel free to make a double batch and store in your refrigerator or freezer until you’re ready to use it.
    • Storage Instructions: Transfer the lemon basil pesto sauce to an airtight container or jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
    • Freezer Instructions: To freeze lemon basil pesto pesto, transfer to a freezer-safe container or divide between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – these are my absolute favorite freezer containers! – and freeze up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen pesto sauce in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw.