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Preserve Your Harvest,  Recipes

The “Besto Pesto”: Lemon Walnut Basil Pesto Recipe

Nothing says “summer” quite like fresh basil ~ on everything! Okay, maybe not everything… But here on this homestead, we savor and love our fresh garden basil in many ways: in pasta and egg dishes, with zoodles, in cold summer salads, on veggie sandwiches, and of course, with fresh garden tomatoes. But what about when summer is over? Or, when you have way too much basil to use fresh at once? Not to worry! I have the perfect recipe and way to preserve some of that delicious basil goodness. Turn it into pesto!

You’re going to love our go-to pesto recipe. It is so wonderful, I have lovingly dubbed it “the besto pesto”. I know. So modest, right? Packed with fresh basil, tangy lemon, hearty walnuts, creamy sharp parmesan, and pungent garlic, this pesto is pretty much to die for! It is also super easy to make. Enjoy it fresh, or easily freeze it to enjoy for a full year – until next basil season rolls around! Feel free to skip the cheese for a vegan option. It is excellent either way!


No homegrown basil? No problem. Just pick some up at the local farmer’s market or grocery store. If you aren’t growing your own due to space limitations, keep in mind that basil is a great herb to grow in containers! In general, basil is quite easy to grow – once you know all the tips and secrets! Check out this article to learn more: “How to Grow Bushy Basil to Harvest All Summer Long”.


A man and his basil harvest. It is a huge basket overflowing with green and purple basils of many varieties. A garden scene is blurred in the background.
A man and his basil harvest.


THE BESTO PESTO RECIPE 


Ingredients


  • Basil – We generally harvest a huge basket of basil, and make a large batch of pesto at once. Don’t worry – I am providing the recipe in smaller portions than we typically make, but you can scale up as needed! You’ll want to remove the leaves from the stems. Working in the kitchen, we pull the leaves off the stems and put them in a large bowl of water – to soak and get at least partially clean. Then we rinse the leaves again in a colander.

  • Lemon juice – Fresh-squeezed is best. Meyer lemons are even better, as they add a touch of sweetness! We are blessed with an old prolific Meyer lemon tree in the backyard. If you don’t have access to fresh lemons, organic bottled lemon juice is an acceptable substitute.

  • Parmesan cheese – For a vegan variation, you could hold the cheese or substitute with nutritional yeast, or even a handful of pistachios or cashews instead. See the amounts below.

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Garlic – A few cloves or more, depending on how much pesto you’re making!

  • Walnuts – Halves or pieces, it doesn’t matter! It is all going to get blended up anyways. Walnuts give a great pack of flavor and protein, at a fraction of the cost that those pine nuts in most pesto recipes do! For people with nut allergies, you could try substituting with half the called-for walnuts with hemp hearts instead. Alternatively, swap them out for sunflower seeds.

  • Salt – We prefer to use celtic sea salt.


An image of all the ingredients needed to make pesto on a cutting board, shown from above, and artfully laid out: basil leaves, grated parmesan cheese, a little pile of walnuts, a lemon cut in half, and garlic cloves. The cutting board is surrounded by 12 8-ounce jars of bright green pesto.



Instructions


In a blender or food processor, combine the ingredients listed below, which makes about one pint of finished pesto.

For every 2 cups of basil leaves (washed, packed, and overflowing cups!) add:

  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese  (if you prefer to say “no” to cheese, either omit it completely, substitute with 1 tbsp nutritional yeast, and/or add a handful of raw cashews or pistachios)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (sub with 1/4 cup hemp hearts for those with nut allergies)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil*
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup lemon juice*
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


Blend until smooth. 


Or, pulse if you prefer chunky basil.


*Note that I included a sliding scale for the amount of olive oil and lemon juice. I generally start on the lower end, adding more while blending until the desired consistency is reached. The amount may also vary depending on how tightly you packed your cups of basil. 

We often make a double batch, or more! Scale up all of the ingredients as needed. The ingredient feature photo was probably about 6x the recipe! In a 64-oz Vitamix, we can easily fill it with a double batch in one round of blending, no problemo. Then dump and repeat.


6 images in one. Each image is the same angle, showing the top of a vitamix blender. The first image is just  basil in the blender, then each ingredient is added on top in subsequent photos: grated parmesan cheese, walnuts, salt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and then a final image of the bright green pesto, after blending.


Storage & Use


Our freezer is always stocked with homemade garden pesto! It is easy and safe to freeze excess pesto in wide-mouth mason jars. When we make a batch, we generally keep out a small portion and freeze the rest. This pesto will last for about a week in the refrigerator, and a year in the freezer! The addition of lemon is a great natural preservative, and also helps it maintain a beautiful bright green color. 

When freezing, we’ve found the half-pint size portions are perfect for our little family of two (humans). Make sure to get the jars labelled “freezer safe”. Other types can crack, especially those with shoulders. Add pesto into the jars up to their “fill line”, leaving about half an inch of room on top. Throw on a lid, freeze, done! To defrost, we simply pull a jar out a day or two before we want to use it and pop it in the fridge. Use within one week of defrosting


Want to know a secret?

In addition to all the classic ways to use pesto, such as with pasta, pizza, sautéed mixed veggies, or on homemade sourdough bread, we learned a couple pretty rad ways to use this pesto too. One is to add a dollop of pesto mixed with eggs, like you would milk or cheese when whipping up scrambled eggs, or even when making a quiche or frittata. Green eggs, anyone?

Even more, make a killer pesto salad dressing! When we have about a half a small jar or less, we top off and thin down the remaining pesto in the jar with some extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, another squeeze of fresh lemon, maybe a dash of apple cider vinegar – and boom! The result is a pourable, delectable pesto salad dressing. So good.

For more ways to use pesto, check out our Pesto Zoodles recipe, or this cast iron sourdough pizza crust recipe. Besto Pesto takes them to the next level of delicious.


A hand holds a half-pint jar of bright green creamy pesto. Three other full jars are in the background beyond the hand.
The finished product.


So simple, right?!


And remember, frequently harvesting your basil keeps it coming back even bushier and stronger! Harvest now, and plan to make this a few times this summer. We always do.


In all, I hope you enjoy this pesto recipe! If you make it, please report back and let us know how you like it.


Stay tuned for many more quick and easy recipes to use and preserve garden harvests, or produce you pick up at the farmer’s market! As always, feel free to ask questions ~ and spread the love by passing it on.


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4.69 from 29 votes

“The Besto Pesto” Lemon Walnut Basil Pesto Recipe

Nothing says "summer" quite like fresh basil! But what about when summer is over? Or, when you have too much basil on hand to use fresh? This is the perfect pesto recipe to enjoy now, or, freeze to enjoy all year long! Enjoy our nut-free and dairy-free variations if you desire.
Prep Time20 mins
Processing Time5 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Dressing, Sauce, Side Dish
Keyword: Basil Pesto, Pesto, Vegetarian
Servings: 1 pint

Equipment

  • Blender, or food processor

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Washed fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup Grated parmesan cheese (Vegan variation: substitute with 1 tbsp nutritional yeast and/or a handful of raw cashews)
  • 1/2 cup Walnuts (Nut allergies? Substitute with 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, or 1/4 cup hemp seeds or sunflower seeds)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup Olive oil*
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup Lemon juice*
  • 2 – 3 cloves Garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp Salt

Instructions

  • Wash basil and remove leaves from stems.
  • In a blender or food processor, combine all of the ingredients as listed above.
  • *Start with 1/3 cup each of lemon juice and olive oil, and add more as needed to reach your desired consistency.
  • Blend until smooth.
  • Enjoy! Store in the refrigerator, and use within one week.
  • Add to freezer-safe wide-mouth jars if you intend to preserve it. Freeze, and use within one year.



64 Comments

  • Nikita

    Hey, Deanna! I can’t wait to make this recipe with our basil before our season ends! Have you ever used different types of basil in pesto? I have an abundance of Thai basil in my garden (whoops) and I won’t be able to use all of it fresh before our first frost date. Was wondering if you think it would sub well into this recipe.
    Thanks!
    Nikita

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Nikita, absolutely you can use different types of basil. We have used a variety of Genovese, Cinnamon, Opal, and African Blue basil. Good luck and enjoy!

  • Sarah

    5 stars
    Can’t wait to try this! I was wondering though if you are vegetarian? I haven’t come across any mention of meat recipes on your blog but I also know that Parmesan cheese is technically non vegetarian. (Unless you are using a vegetarian Parmesan)

    Also loving all of your articles on here! I’m trying to convince my mom to let me have a worm bin!!

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Sarah – We are vegetarian, yes. Over 13 years now I think! But cheese is indeed considered vegetarian – it isn’t “meat”. Cheese isn’t considered suitable for vegan diet however. Maybe that is what you’re thinking of? Vegans do not eat any animal-sourced products whatsoever, even honey. We are fully vegetarian (no meat, fish, etc) and I’d say borderline vegan. The only eggs we eat are from our own chickens, never buy them, and limited organic cheese/yogurt, but no milk, ice cream, whey protein isolate, etc. Anywho, thanks for reading and tuning in!

  • Katie Braswell

    4 stars
    My pesto came out tasting very lemony! I only added 1/3 of a cup to start. My husband and I don’t keep salt in the house. Any thoughts on how to bring down the lemon taste? Thank you!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Just reduce the amount of lemon used in the recipe or emit it all together. We enjoy the lemon flavor and feel it gives it an extra tang and twist that regular pesto doesn’t have.

  • Amanda Brazil

    5 stars
    Love this super simple basil recipe. It’s easy and delicious and I love that it uses walnuts instead of pine nuts (which I don’t love anyway and are expensive). Such a great recipe to have for using up all that basil we’re growing!

  • Jen

    5 stars
    I don’t usually eat pesto because it always tastes like perfume to me. However, I made this recipe because my son and husband love pesto, and HOLY SMOKES. I’m a pesto convert. I’m not sure if it’s the lemon or garlic or walnuts or what, but this stuff is SO delicious. Definitely full of basil flavor, but you can taste the other flavors, too. Top notch!

  • Taylor Ozimac

    5 stars
    Hands down the only pesto recipe you’ll need!! I’ve tried a bunch of different ones and this will be my go-to from here out.
    Nailed it again, Deanna!

    • Bonny

      5 stars
      Hi Deanna

      I have been making pesto for years but because I live in winnipeg, we have a short growing season so in winter I usually have to buy it as needed. I can never find basil pesto that doesn’t taste bitter. But I finally found and made your recipe with lemons and walnuts and froze it. I was stunned at how fresh and delicious. I love lemons and always added zest to mine but never the juice. Wow. Anyway thank you for this amazing recipe. I’ve never had better nor do I ever think I will 🙏🏻❤️

  • Tiffany

    5 stars
    This pesto recipe is delicious!! I LOVE that you can adjust the ingredients and still end up with something so tasty. I’ve tried this the classic basil way, but also with carrot tops and it’s amazing!! This is my go-to pesto recipe from now on!

      • Riley Bianchi

        5 stars
        So good! My husband has a nut allergy so we use hemp hearts instead and it’s still the “besto”. He likes the texture of them rather than blended so we add them after blending everything else. Also, I love how versatile this recipe is; we have also made it with carrot tops and parsley and all sorts of garden goodies. I’m not a big basil fan, so I like to mix it up with other herbs and greens.

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