We’re Just Very Excited About This Whole Lemon Pesto

published Jul 1, 2020
summer
Whole Lemon Pesto with Walnuts and Pecorino

This whole lemon pesto is incredibly versatile: spread it onto a sandwich, melt it over fish, massage it into ribboned kale, or toss it with cooked grains or pasta.

Makes1 cup

Prep5 minutes

Cook8 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

This whole lemon pesto, inspired by lemon relishes and creamy white pestos, is a very good reminder that you can make a lively, vibrant pesto with what you already have around — no fresh herbs necessary. It’s savory, nutty, acidic, salty, and a little bit spicy, and will instantly improve everything you’re cooking this summer.

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

The name comes from the fact that there’s no zesting or juicing involved. Instead, the whole lemon (yes, all of it!) is chopped and seeded and tossed into the bowl of a food processor. When enjoyed this way — juicy and pebbly, the skin and pith chopped fine — it’s enough to give you a jolt without sending you reeling. 

The bright, fragrant lemon is combined with buttery walnuts toasted all the way to the edge, and the slow, sweet heat of garlic and chile. These spiky elements are smoothed out with a tiny bit of sugar, grated Pecorino Romano (I like to do this in the food processor — just load in the cheese and pulse until crumbly), and olive oil. The result is a thick, slightly chunky sauce ready to be dispatched anywhere punchiness is called for.

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

A Versatile Pesto to Use All Summer Long

Some say leopard print is a neutral, and the same principle applies here: You might not expect a zingy, assertive, big-in-every-direction pesto to be so versatile, but it is! Spread it onto a sandwich; melt it over a whole grilled fish; massage it into ribboned kale for an instant salad; or toss it with cooked grains or pasta (thin the pesto with a little pasta water to make the pesto silky and saucy), or roasted vegetables, or boiled new potatoes.

This pesto can stand up to similarly big flavors like grainy, toasty, toothsome whole-wheat pasta; punchy broccoli rabe or asparagus; or anything a little bit charred, like bread, vegetables, chicken, or fish.

Whole Lemon Pesto with Walnuts and Pecorino

This whole lemon pesto is incredibly versatile: spread it onto a sandwich, melt it over fish, massage it into ribboned kale, or toss it with cooked grains or pasta.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 8 minutes

Makes 1 cup

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup

    walnuts (2 ounces)

  • 1

    medium lemon, preferably organic

  • 1/4 cup

    finely-grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1/2 ounce)

  • 1 small clove

    garlic

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • Pinch

    red pepper flakes

  • 1/4 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Place 1/2 cup walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until deeply golden and fragrant, about 8 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through. Meanwhile, cut 1 medium lemon into quarters. Reserve 1 piece for another use. Use your fingers to remove the seeds from the remaining 3 pieces as best you can. Transfer to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until finely chopped but not puréed.

  2. When the walnuts are ready, set aside to cool slightly. Transfer to the food processor and add 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, 1 small garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and a pinch red pepper flakes. Pulse a few times until the walnuts are finely chopped but not pasty.

  3. While pulsing, slowly pour 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil through the feed tube and pulse to combine; over-processing will make the olive oil bitter, so use a light hand here. You want the olive oil to be just incorporated and the pesto to still have some texture. Taste and season with more salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Making by hand: If you don’t have a food processor, you can still make this pesto — just embrace a slightly chunkier texture: Finely chop the walnuts, garlic, and lemon, then stir in the remaining ingredients.

Make ahead: The pesto can be made up to 1 week ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container.