What Is Amalfi Lemon Pesto?

An Amalfi lemon used to make pesto

Short answer
Lemon pesto (Pesto di Limone) hails from the Amalfi Coast, where chefs use their highly-prized lemons to produce a unique style of pesto that has a bright, citrus quality that is characteristic of the region.

Long answer
Prized for their very high vitamin C content, Amalfi lemons were historically grown for their medicinal qualities as a way to ward off scurvy among the region's many sailors.

Often called the "queen of lemons," sfusato amalfitano is the name of the oversized, elongated lemons that grow all along the Amalfi Coast. They're not the most attractive fruit you'll ever encounter, but they do have unique characteristics that mean they are safeguarded from inferior copycats by their Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) accreditation.

Lemons are the backbone of Amalfi cuisine and feature heavily in many of their favourite dishes. You'll find them in everything from sauces to salads to desserts and drinks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, lemons are the star of the show in the local pesto which has an unmistakable citrus kick which makes it taste fresher and lighter than the more well-known basil pesto from Genoa. Some chefs include anchovies in their pesto too, which provides a deeply savoury vibe and gives a nod to the coast's maritime heritage.

A lemon stall on the Amalfi coast

The first time we saw Amalfi lemons was on a roadside stall as we were whizzing up and down the coast on Vespas. In our naivety, we assumed they were simply a larger version of the lemons we have at home. We rustled up a gin and tonic that evening and were wholly disappointed by the fruit's lack of sharpness.

An English-speaking local explained that their lemons were renowned for their exceptional sweetness and unmistakable fragrance. Sweetened by the Amalfi sun and protected from cold winds by the Lattari Mountains, the lemons can be eaten just like you would an orange. If you see them for sale, then fill your boots because local restaurants and limoncello producers snap up most of the 100,000 tonnes of Amalfi lemons that are produced each year.

The "Consortium for the Protection of Costa d'Amalfi Lemon P.G.I." was established in 2002 to protect the quality and authenticity of this valuable asset. It also acts to promote the lemon's world-class quality to international audiences and the continuous improvement of cultivation techniques.

Limoncello made from Amalfi lemons

Pro tip
When it comes to serving your pesto with pasta, a great way to sneak even more citrusy notes into the dish is to add a little lemon zest to your pasta cooking water as it comes up to temperature.

Amalfi Lemon Pesto Recipe

Ingredient Quantity
Lemon juice 40g
Olive oil 40g
Basil 60g
Parmesan 50g
Almonds 30g
Lemon zest x1 lemon
Garlic x1 clove
Salt pinch

Roughly chop the lemon zest and add it to a food processor along with all the other dry ingredients. Pulse until the ingredients reach your preferred consistency.

Transfer everything to a mixing bowl and stream in the lemon juice and oil.

Pesto is best eaten immediately, although it will last in the fridge for several days.

Italy's Amalfi Coast