Dressings and Sauces

Homemade Basil Pesto With Lemon Zest

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Fresh, green basil pesto with pine nuts and walnuts takes just a few minutes to make in the food processor. A perfect staple to make in bulk for pasta sauce, soups, appetizers, and more!

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Pesto is a fantastic staple to keep in your fridge – one of my favorites. If you have a jar of quality pesto, you’re only some cooked pasta or a sautéd chicken breast away from a perfectly delicious and respectable home-cooked meal. Also, it’s a great way to get a lot of green into even the pickiest eaters – I mean, does anyone not like pesto?

If you’re the one who doesn’t, I’m not sure I want to know. 🙂

I definitely like to change things up with different types of pesto, but there’s always a place for the classic, and this, to me, is it. Basil pesto with pine nuts and Parmesan. Simple, fresh ingredients that add to up even more than the sum of their parts.

A jar filled with homemade basil pesto, sitting on a cutting board with basil leaves, pine nuts, and a chunk of Parmesan.

Lemon Zest for Added Freshness

This is a pretty basic pesto recipe, so I won’t belabor the explanation. A food processor makes quick work of combining everything into a smooth, delicious sauce.

The process of making homemade basil pesto in the food processor.

I’ve adapted this over time from an Ina Garten base recipe, tweaking the amounts and simplifying a few minor steps in the preparation. (Do we really need to chop the garlic before it goes in the food processor? I love you, Ina, but really?)

As per the original recipe, I like to make this with half pine nuts and half walnuts, because, well, I love the flavor of pine nuts, but those puppies are expensive. You could certainly do all of one or the other, or experiment with another combination entirely.

The only other addition I would highlight here is a sprinkling of lemon zest. I added this more or less on a whim one day, and loved the results. It’s very subtle, but adds just a touch of, for lack of a better term, brightness to the finished result. Also, I swear having a bit of lemon in there, even just the zest, helps keep the color nice and bright green, even when the pesto has been stored a few days in the fridge. And we eat with our eyes first, after all!

Have you ever added lemon zest to basil pesto? It keeps everything fresh, bright, and flavorful!Click To Tweet

A large spoon filled with homemade basil pesto.

The Best Way To Store Pesto

One final note: I love these Weck jars, pictured above, with all my heart, for storing sauces and dressings and everything else. But I realized after transferring the pesto into this jar this day that it was far too small to allow for the critical final step: covering the top of the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil while it’s stored in the fridge.

Doing this really helps keep the pesto fresh and clean-tasting, since the oil effectively acts as a barrier to keep air out, not to mention any unwanted fridge smells!

So, I silently thanked the dishwasher and transferred the pesto once more to a Quattro Stagioni mason jar, another of my loves. Obviously there’s a bunch of air in there, since now there is extra space, but the pesto is protected by the olive oil. I didn’t use this for about a week after I made it, and it tasted and looked as fresh then as it did straight out of the food processor.

A large mason jar filled with homemade basil pesto, and a thin layer of olive oil to seal in freshness.

Speaking of using it, that recipe is coming your way next week!

And, if you’re in a pesto kind of mood, here are two of my other favorites – zucchini basil pesto, which is tied with these meatballs for my all-time most effective method of coaxing vegetables into my son; and sun-dried tomato pesto, which is the most amazing sub for plain tomato sauce on pizza or pasta.

Enjoy! ♥

A jar filled with homemade basil pesto, sitting on a cutting board with basil leaves, pine nuts, and a chunk of Parmesan.

3 votes


Homemade Basil Pesto



Yield about 2 cups

Fresh, green basil pesto with pine nuts and walnuts takes just a few minutes to make in the food processor. A bit of lemon zest keeps it fresh and bright, a perfect staple to make in bulk for pasta sauce, soups, appetizers, and more.


  • 1/4 cup walnuts or walnut pieces
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/2-3/4 cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Add walnuts, pine nuts, garlic, and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor, and process for 20-30 seconds to finely chop garlic and nuts.
  2. Add basil, Parmesan, salt, and pepper, then, with the processor running, add 1/2 cup olive oil. When oil is fully incorporated, stop and check the consistency; depending on your desired consistency, you may want to add as much as 1/4 cup more olive oil.
  3. Process for a few more seconds until thoroughly pureed, then transfer to a container that can be tightly sealed. Pour a small layer of olive oil over the pesto, seal, and store in the fridge. Use within 1-2 weeks.


Adapted from Ina Garten.

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  • Reply
    January 27, 2018 at 12:29 am

    This looks so yummy!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2018 at 12:14 am

    Once you make basil pesto at home you’ll never want to buy it from the store again. A great recipe!

  • Reply
    Maggie @ Mama Maggie's Kitchen
    January 26, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    I’ve never tried making my own basil pesto. Must give this a try.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    What a lovely basil pesto recipe, I will need to try adding some lemon zest next time I make homemade pesto. Sounds absolutely delicious!

    • Reply
      January 26, 2018 at 11:04 pm

      Thanks so much, Diana! I hope you like the addition!

  • Reply
    Annemarie @ justalittlebitofbacon
    January 26, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    You can’t go wrong with the classic pesto combination. And I love the addition of the lemon zest here. I agree it’s is so great for keeping flavors bright. For longer term storage I like to put the pesto into ice cube trays and then into freezer bags. That’s how I deal with my late summer bounty!

    • Reply
      January 26, 2018 at 10:43 pm

      Yes! I did that for the first time last year and it worked so well. Great tip!

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