Pesto is my go-to topping sauce in the summer. Especially this easy lemony basil pesto that's ready in 10 minutes (or less if you don't grate your own cheese).
Basil is everywhere right now. I keep potted basil plants near the kitchen, including the plants I started from seed last May. And still, I purchase extra basil nearly every time I head for the market.
Ingredients for Lemony Basil Pesto
Pesto doesn't need a lot of ingredients. In fact, basic basil pesto typically calls for 5 ingredients plus salt and pepper. This one includes preserved lemon because I love lemon.
- Pine Nuts
- Preserved Lemon
- Parmesan, Romano or Asiago Cheese (see vegan option below)
- Kosher Salt
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Vegan Lemony Basil Pesto
Many people think cheese is vegetarian, but it's good to always read the labels. Many cheese use animal rennet for the coagulant. An increasing number of cheeses now use vegetable rennet, and the plant-based cheese industry is constantly introducing new products.
I'm severely reducing my dairy intake, and have launched my own research in plant-based cheeses. It's a work in progress, but for recipes calling for Parmesan cheese, I've been very happy with Follow Your Heart's Dairy-Free Parmesan Style Shredded Cheese Alternative.
Best Technique for Making Basil Pesto
There are several techniques available to making basil pesto. I think I've tried them all now, and my favorite method is with my mini-chopper that came as part of my Mealthy Hand Blend package.
Pile the basil, garlic, pine nuts, preserved lemon, cheese, salt and pepper into the bowl of a mini-chopper as shown above.
Whirl it like crazy. The amount of whirling you need is completely dependent on the texture you like. I don't like mine completely smooth, but rather to have a little texture to it. Below is roughly half-way done for me.
As you can see, there are still whole leaves towards the middle. Using a small rubber spatula, stir it around a bit to redistribute the leaves before continuing.
Add half of the oil, and whirl again. Check the consistency of the pesto before adding additional oil.
Other Methods for Making Basil Pesto
Even my smallest bowl insert for my food processor yielded unevenly cut basil. And I constantly had to remove the top and scrape the pesto-ish content from the sides of the bowl where the blade had slung it.
The pesto result was fine for both flavor and texture, but I got tired of moving the pesto from the sides of the bowl to where the blade could reach it.
I had the same problems I experience with the food processor, only worse. If I was making a LOT of pesto, this method would have worked better.
Mortar and Pestle
I wanted to like this method for making my lemony basil pesto - after all, it's authentically Italian. But this was my least favorite technique to try.
In case you're not familiar with this method, the garlic and salt are first pounded and mooshed together to form a paste. Next, add basil leaves. Use the pestle to grind the leaves along the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and blend into the pesto, one by one, using the same process. To finish, stir the oil into the paste with a spoon.
It was a lot more work and a lot of more time for no gain, IMHO. I'm sure I could use an upper body workout, but have other ways I'd rather do it. The basil didn't break down evenly, and some of it was stringy in the final pesto. Also, the oil didn't blend into the pesto as thoroughly with a spoon. The result was too oily for me.
Honestly, I ended up piling it all into my mini-processor to finish it.
Uses For Basil Pesto
Serve with tortilla chips as an appetizer
Add a dollop to a Tomato Caprese Tart or Tomato Caprese Salads
Smear some on Pesto Cauliflower Steaks
Stir into pasta for quick weeknight dinner (although this example uses a Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto!)
Stir into vegetable soups
Spread some on your next Italian Panini
Mix into your favorite Chickpea Salad (my newest one is coming to you next week!)
Add more olive oil and lemon juice to make a vinaigrette
Tips for Making Perfect Lemony Basil Pesto
- A mini-processor is my favorite tool to make this pesto.
- Grate your own cheese, if you're using dairy-based cheese. Pre-grated cheeses typically include cellulose for anti-clumping, which mutes the flavor. Pre-grated cheese is also dryer
- You can toast the pine nuts, if that's your preference. This gives the pesto a more savory, nutty flavor.
- Purchase preserved lemons at your market, or make your own. Either way, slice off the amount you want, and scrape out the pith completely using a spoon. Thoroughly rinse the rind before mincing, since it's preserved with salt.
- It's important to use a good quality of olive oil. When there are only a few ingredients in a recipe, the quality of each ingredient needs to shine.
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Easy Lemony Basil Pesto
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or Romano or Asiago cheese
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon smashed and minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon rinsed and minced preserved lemon
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt, or ⅛ teaspoon table salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Pile all of the ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil in the bowl of a mini-chopper appliance. A small food processor also works fairly well.
- Whirl it like crazy to a well chopped consistency. Check on the consistency through the process to prevent ending up with a purée. Redistribute leaves that are still whole, so that you end up with an even consistency.
- Add the olive oil. If using a mini-chopped, add half of the olive oil, and whirl it just enough to incorporate it into the pesto. Then add enough to achieve the consistency you want. If using a food processor, use the feeder shoot to gradually add the olive oil.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Alternately, freeze in mini-ice cube trays, pop out when frozen, and store in the freezer in a sealed plastic bag or carton.