What Is Lemon Pesto?

The amazing colour of citrus pesto

Short answer
Lemon pesto is a Sicilian version of the famous basil pesto from Genoa. It gets its unmistakable kick from the inclusion of lemon juice and zest, and occasionally some orange juice too.

Long answer
Pesto agli Agrumi (AKA citrus pesto) is Sicily's take on the classic basil pesto recipe that hails from Genoa. Featuring some familiar ingredients, herbs, nuts, cheese, and olive oil, the sauce gets its distinctive flavour from the liberal addition of lemon juice and zest. We're fans of adding a little orange juice to the mix, too.

We think lemon pesto is Mediterranean cuisine personified, and the perfect example of how this sauce has long been adapted to utilise the very best ingredients that grow in the surrounding countryside. After all, if you have lemons as good as the Sicilians do, why would you not include them in your pesto recipe?

You can use lemon pesto in the same way as you do with any other pesto, but the fresh, citrusy aroma makes it a particularly good accompaniment to fish and shellfish. The inclusion of capers and oregano makes for a more complex profile, but we prefer to keep things simple.

Citrus Pesto Ingredients

Pro tip
For optimal results, we recommend using a pestle and mortar to make pesto, but we won't think any worse of you if you opt for a food processor instead.

Ingredients for 6-8 servings of lemon pesto

Basil 75g
Lemon zest 3g
Orange zest 5g
Parmesan 30g
Almonds 30g
Garlic 1 clove
Salt pinch
Olive oil as needed
Lemon juice as needed
Orange juice as needed

Start by adding the almonds, garlic, cheese, basil, and salt to a pestle and mortar or food processor, and work the sauce until you reach a creamy consistency.

You're on your own for this next bit, as it's all about personal preference. The zest of the lemon is primarily used for its flavour, while the juices are primarily used for tartness. There's no right or wrong amount to use; you just need to taste as you go.

Once you're happy with the level of citrus, slowly stream in the olive oil until the sauce reaches your ideal consistency. It is best used immediately but will last in the fridge for up to 3 days, making sure there's a little oil on top to prevent the herbs from oxidising and turning your pesto brown.