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Creamy Arugula Lemon Pesto

This extra creamy arugula lemon pesto is inspired by Trader Joe’s lemon pesto sauce. Bursting with pungent arugula flavors, this lemony pesto features almond butter and extra lemon zest, transporting you to long summer days at the Amalfi Coast, where Amalfi lemons are featured in many regional specialities. It’s an incredibly versatile sauce that instantly infuses your pasta dishes, and sandwiches, or serves as a delicious dip on its own.

A bowl of creamy lemon pesto sauce next to lemons and a linen tea towel.
Table of contents

Why you’ll love my lemon pesto recipe

  • From-scratch: Trade Joe’s copycat recipe without seed oil and flavorings.
  • Summer flavors: Just as my sunflower seed pesto, this recipe is another fresh take on the traditional pesto alla genovese.
  • Quick & easy: 8 ingredients and 15 minutes is all you need to make this simple pesto recipe.
  • Versatile: Perfect as a quick pesto pasta sauce, dip, or simple marinade.

Ingredients

Creamy lemon pasta ingredients on a linen tea towel.
  • Lemons – Organic large lemons including the famous Sfusato Amalfitano work best but you can also use Lisbon or Meyer lemons. Make sure to thoroughly wash them before zesting if they’re non-organic.
  • Arugula – Also known as rocket or rucula, arugula leaves add a pungent peppery note to this pesto that works beautifully with the citrus flavors and the heat of the chili. The perfect substitute to fresh herbs.
  • Almonds – Crunchy or smooth almond butter is used in place of pine nuts to add a nutty flavor to this Italian sauce. If you’re using whole almonds blend them thoroughly before making the almond pesto.
  • Parmesan – Parmesan cheese adds rich, salty, and nutty flavors, creating a creamy texture and boosting umami.
  • Garlic – Garlic adds much flavor to a classic pesto.
  • Olive oil – Extra-virgin olive oil helps to blend and bind the other ingredients together into a cohesive sauce.
  • Seasoning – Red pepper flakes add heat while salt and freshly ground black pepper round out the flavors.

How to make lemon pesto in 3 easy steps

  1. Wash and dry rocket leaves, then blend in a food processor or blender with almond butter, garlic, lemon zest, and fresh lemon juice until a thick paste forms.
  2. Drizzle in olive oil; adjust consistency with more oil or water if needed.
  3. Season with chili flakes, salt, and pepper, then blend briefly.

Tips

  • Adjust consistency: If the citrus pesto is too thick, you can add a bit more olive oil or a splash of water to thin it out.
  • Season to taste: Taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning if necessary. You can add more lemon juice, salt, or pepper to balance the flavors according to your preference.

5 easy ways to use lemon pesto

Lemon pesto pasta (aka spaghetti al pesto di limone): Toss al dente pasta such as spaghetti, tagliatelle, fettuccine, fresh egg pasta, or hand-rolled pici with pesto for a quick and easy dinner. You can also mix in some roasted vegetables or grilled chicken breasts to make lemon pesto chicken pasta.

Sandwich spread: Spread the pesto on sandwiches, wraps, or Turkish bread for a burst of flavor.

Dip: Use pesto as a dip for fresh vegetables or crackers. It adds a zesty element to your snack platter or charcuterie board.

Salad: Great addition to warm or cold salad. This bright pesto adds extra flavor to pasta, potato, or roasted vegetable salads.

Grilled meats: Use lemon pesto as a marinade or sauce for grilled meats such as chicken, fish, or shrimp. It imparts a delicious herby lemon flavor to seafood and white meat.

A bowl of pici pasta with creamy lemon pesto sauce next to a linen tea towel.

FAQ

Can you freeze pesto?

Freeze pesto in ice cube trays or containers, leaving space for expansion. Top with olive oil, cover, and freeze. Transfer frozen cubes to a bag, label with date, and store for 3-6 months.

How long does homemade pesto last in the fridge?

Store homemade pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 7 days. Drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto to help preserve its vibrant green color.

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A bowl of pici pasta with creamy lemon pesto sauce next to a linen tea towel.

Creamy Arugula Lemon Pesto

Caro Jensen
This extra creamy arugula lemon pesto recipe is an incredibly versatile sauce that instantly adds summer flavors to your pasta dishes, sandwiches, or serves as a delicious dip on its own.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course Staples
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 8 servings
Calories 129 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

  • 4 cups arugula aka rocket or rucola
  • 1/4 cup almond butter smooth or crunchy
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup olive oil extra virgin
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes adjust to taste

Instructions
 

  • Wash the rocket leaves thoroughly and pat them dry using paper towels.
  • In a bowl of a food processor, combine the rocket, almond butter, minced garlic, lemon zest, and juice. Pulse until the mixture is well blended and starts to form a paste. You might need to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl and blend again to ensure everything is well incorporated.
  • With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. If the pesto is too thick, you can add a bit more olive oil or a splash of water to thin it out. Blend until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Add chili flakes, salt, and pepper to taste. Blend the pesto again briefly after adding the seasonings.
  • Use the lemon pesto as a sauce for pasta, a spread for sandwiches, or a dip for veggies and bread.

Video

Notes

  • Adjust consistency: If the citrus pesto is too thick, you can add a bit more olive oil or a splash of water to thin it out.
  • Season to taste: Taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning if necessary. You can add more lemon juice, salt, or pepper to balance the flavors according to your preference.

Nutrition

Calories: 129kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 3gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 151mgPotassium: 107mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 311IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 81mgIron: 1mg
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