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Kalyn's Kitchen

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

Basil Pesto with Lemon is something I’ve been making for years, and making this perfect low-carb, Keto, low-glycemic, and gluten-free summer sauce with fresh basil from the garden is a long-standing summer tradition for me. Use Fresh Herbs to find more recipes like this one.

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Basil Pesto with Lemon

This recipe for Basil Pesto with Lemon makes me remember the first time I tasted basil pesto, which was simply called pesto back in the days before this type of uncooked Italian sauce started being made from many different herbs or vegetables! 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. Many years ago I had the winning idea of adding some fresh-frozen lemon juice to my basil pesto, and I’d never make it again without the lemon, which brightens up the flavor and keeps the pesto bright green much longer in the fridge.

This ultra popular recipe for Basil Pesto with Lemon is my Friday Favorites post for this week, and a reminder to everyone who’s growing basil that it’s time to be trimming the basil and making pesto! And if you really have a lot of basil it’s time to be freezing fresh basil as well!

One of my favorite tricks when I make a lot of pesto is to freeze it in ice cube trays (old ones from the thrift store!) Then when the pesto is frozen, pop the cubes out of the trays, vacuum-pack it with a FoodSaver into a plastic bag, and store in the freezer, and you’ve got fresh-tasting pesto to enjoy all winter! You can also just store the frozen cubes of Pesto in a Ziploc bag, but it keeps better when it’s vacuum packed.

My Pesto never stays around in the fridge that long at my house, but if you want ideas for using it, check out the list in this post or click to see My Favorite Low-Carb and Keto Recipes with Pesto for even more pesto goodness!

Process photo collage for Basil Pesto with Lemon

Steps for Making Basil Pesto with Lemon:

(This is just a description of the steps shown. Scroll down for complete recipe.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Put the basil and garlic cloves 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.
  4. Add pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese, and fresh squeezed or fresh-frozen lemon juice and process until well blended, about 1-2 minutes more.
  5. Season the pesto to taste with a bit of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
  6. I store pesto in a glass jar in the refrigerator, where it will last for more than a week, but it can also be frozen.

basil pesto with lemon

Ten Recipe Ideas 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) Toss pesto and Parmesan with Roasted Summer Squash.
10) And of course you can always eat your Basil Pesto with delicious Whole Wheat Spaghetti!

Basil Pesto with Lemon

Basil Pesto with Lemon is the perfect summer sauce.


  • 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


  1. Wash basil leaves if needed and spin dry or dry with paper towels.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground black pepper and pulse a few times more.
  5. Store basil pesto in the refrigerator in a glass jar, where it will keep for more than a week.
  6. 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.)


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

This recipe inspired by many basil pesto recipes through the years, with the idea of adding lemon juice something Kalyn has been committed to for quite a few years.

All images and text ©

basil pesto with lemon

Low-Carb Diet / Low-Glycemic Diet / South Beach Diet Suggestions:
Basil Pesto with Lemon is high in fat, but pesto is generally used in fairly small amounts, which would make this suitable for any phase of the South Beach Diet, and of course it’s perfect for low-glycemic and low-carb diet plans.

Find More Recipes Like This One:
Use the Recipes by Diet Type photo index pages to find more recipes suitable for a specific eating plan. You can also Follow Kalyn’s Kitchen on Pinterest to see all the good recipes I’m sharing there.

Nutritional Information?
If you want nutritional information for a recipe, you can sign up for a free membership with Yummly and use the Yum button on my site to save the recipe and see the nutritional information. Another option is entering the recipe into this Recipe Nutrition Analyzer, which will calculate it for you.

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79 comments on “Basil Pesto with Lemon (and Ten Ideas for Using Basil Pesto)”

  1. I have been looking for the right pesto recipe and I am very glad I came across yours. All of your recipes have been winners in our house. Like you said my garden is overflowing with fresh basil.

  2. Hi Kalyn, do you have a weight for the basil leaves needed to make two cups?  Thanks.

  3. My pesto turned out perfect! I did have to use my food processor, FYI, Ninja does not work. I took some of the fresh pesto and mixed it with some cooked chicken breast I had, Shredded Morel and Jack cheese, Spikes seasoning and a bit of pepper, and a tad of bread crumbs, but not sure those are necessary, and stuffed some giant portabella mushrooms I had (I did coat portabellas with olive oil first) baked at 425 for 20 minutes and they were simply fabulous. I got the idea from Kalyn’s Pesto Chicken!!! Thank you Kalyn!

  4. I’m overrun with Basil this year, so bought the ingredients to make this. Can I freeze it? Also, using a Ninja?
    I am such a fan, I think I make more of your recipes then any others!

    • Aw, thanks Karen! So glad you’re enjoying the recipes. Pesto can definitely be frozen. I see a lot of sources who say don’t freeze it with the cheese added, but I’ve done it for years!

      I’m not familiar with the Ninja, but if it’s more of a blender it may make the ingredients too finely pureed. I use a regular food processor.

      You might also like this post on freezing fresh basil if you have a lot of basil. I love to use the frozen basil in soup, stew, and pasta sauce during the winger!

  5. Hi Kathy,
    I like the idea of combining kale with basil to make pesto. Fun hearing from someone in New Zealand!

  6. Hi, Just been reading thru'. Now I know what I'm going to make for dinner on saturday night….having quests over. Baked chicken with pesto. Thanks.
    I will grab a container of my pesto out of the freezer and add a 1/2 lemon juice and zest to it before I cook the chicken. My last seasons pesto recipe was made with 1/2 portion, open tender leaves of kale & 1/2 portion of basil leaves, regular hard cheese and cashew nuts & heaps of garlic. I make mountains of the gorgeous stuff each season and freeze it and it usually only comes out on special occasions. I freeze it with a float of oil on top. I'll try a batch this season with lemon added. Thanks for your great site. Kathy from New Zealand.

  7. This is by far the best pesto I have ever made. YUM!!!! I can't stop eating it. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing. Made the chicken stuffed with pesto and it is Delicious. Thank you again for sharing these amazing recipies.

  8. Juat made a batch of pesto. Sadly, I taste a littke bitterness. Have this happened to anyone?

    • The only thing that could make this taste bitter is one of your ingredients, maybe the variety of basil you used? Garlic can get bitter if it's cooked, but that shouldn't be a problem here. I haven't had that happen; sorry it's happening for you.

  9. Can you make this pesto in a blender?

    • 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.

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

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

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

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

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