Homemade Basil Pesto With Lemon Zest
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Once you start making pesto, you’ll find endless ways to use it. One of my favorites is to toss it into a quick pasta dish for a fresh and fast dinner! Try this pasta with pesto and roasted salmon, simple pesto pasta with peas, or the best Noodles and Company copycat pesto cavatappi.
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.
Homemade Basil Pesto
- 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
- Add walnuts, pine nuts, garlic, and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor. Process for 20-30 seconds to finely chop garlic and nuts.
- 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.
- 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.