Walnut Lemon Pesto

This Walnut Lemon Pesto has become my go-to pesto recipe in late summer when the basil is huge and really needs to get cut back before it flowers. 
While I adore a classic pesto, this version has a few advantages over the traditional pine-nut & parm variety. First, it’s way cheaper to make. No $25-a-pound pine nuts or 24-month aged parmesan make this more of a pantry-staple-type pesto. The lack of parm makes this dairy-free and vegan-friendly, which is nice for those who eschew the joie de fromage. And, finally, the simpler (but delicious!) flavor profile makes this pesto a good match for seafood, chicken or pork, vegetables and any number of starches. I’ve used it as a sauce for salmon and as the base for basil salad dressing and so many things in between and it’s never gone wrong.

General pesto tip: do all your chopping in a food processor. Unless you don’t have a job or kids….then go ahead and get all zen with your cutting board and chef’s knife if you want. I chop everything more-or-less separately and combine it in a large, separate bowl so that I have better control over the consistency of the finished product.

Walnut Lemon Pesto
makes about 7 half-pint jars (recipe can be halved)

20 garlic cloves (adjust to taste and based on the size of your garlic cloves)
4 cups walnut halves
1 pound fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry if necessary
2 cups good quality extra virgin olive oil (I break out the good organic stuff for this)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
zest of 2 lemons
2-3 Tbsp kosher salt, or to taste

One at a time, process garlic and walnuts in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process the basil and oil together, working in two batches if necessary, so the basil chops easily. As each ingredient reaches the consistency of course bread-crumbs, or the texture you prefer, transfer it to a large bowl.

Add lemon juice and zest to the pesto mixture, and season to taste with salt and additional lemon juice if necessary. Stir together very well.

When the pesto tastes just right (go ahead and “taste” 5 or 6 huge spoonfuls to determine that it’s just right), transfer it to clean half-pint jars, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, and lid the jars. Label jars and store for months in the freezer.

Variation Options:
Use spinach, arugula, parsley or “exotic basils” in place of some or all of the basil (think if you grew a pound of lemon basil for this recipe…lemony yum!).
Substitute almonds for the walnuts.
Add parmesan cheese to the pesto (this would bring it closer to traditional). If you add cheese, you will likely need less salt.
Play around with ingredient amounts a bit. Discover your own house pesto variations.

How do you like your pesto?

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  1. I've been making a fair bit of pesto this summer, thanks to a very productive couple of plants. My go-to pesto has been more traditional: garlic, basil, oil, roasted almonds and parmesan. Our favourite way to eat it is with cream on pasta, with or without chicken. It's really good mixed with smashed white kidney beans as a dip, too!

  2. I have lots of basil right now, and should give this a try. I really have not been a Pesto user, but can learn!

  3. I'm going to try this, I just harvested all of my basil and I have over a pound in the fridge! It would great to have this recipe by weight instead of volume, I'm using homegrown garlic as well, so there a lot of variation in size. Maybe next time you make this you could weigh everything???

  4. Just made a giant batch of this. Delicious, and way cheaper than my stand-by (I’m so disappointed that the price of pine nuts has gone up at Costco since last time I was there). Thanks!

  5. Made this for a potluck and watched the container empty… so delicious. Did a vat for the freezer with the abundance of basil from the CSA!

  6. Can this be frozen?

  7. Oops!!!! Just read that it can be frozen. Duh!

  8. Sounds delish! Any chance you have a handy break-down of a single jar recipe for those of us who don’t have a pound of basil lying around but would love to try this anyway?

  9. Awww man! This looks so good! I just wish walnuts didn’t give me canker sores.

  10. Radish tops make delicious pesto!

  11. Julie Shipman says:

    Oh my delicious goodness! I love this pesto. I am making my second batch tonight. This has become my favorite appetizer to serve. I spread some over the top of cream cheese and set out crackers. And a jar of it makes a great hostess gift.


  1. […] basil. And I made this. You should too. It’s the food of the gods. You can find the recipe at Northwest Edible Life. And you need to make a lot of it because, uh, you’ll probably end up with less to freeze […]

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