Lemon Pesto Pasta, a delightful fusion of vibrant flavors and textures, presents a refreshing twist on traditional Italian cuisine. This dish, a harmonious blend of zesty lemon and rich pesto, is a testament to the versatility of pasta as a culinary canvas. The base, often spaghetti or linguine, serves as a delicate backdrop for the interplay of ingredients.

Lemon Pesto Pasta

The star of this dish, pesto, traditionally made from basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil, is transformed with the addition of lemon. The citrus not only infuses the pesto with a bright, tangy note but also enhances its herbal freshness. This modification brings a lighter, more summery feel to the dish, making it especially appealing in warmer months.

Lemon Pesto Pasta is incredibly versatile. It can be enjoyed as a simple, meatless option, focusing solely on the flavors of the sauce, or it can be elevated with the addition of proteins like grilled chicken or shrimp. Vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, asparagus, or arugula can also be incorporated, adding color and nutrition.

This dish is not just a meal; it’s an experience. The vibrant green of the pesto, the golden hue of the lemon zest, and the classic pasta strands come together in a visually appealing and appetizing way. It’s a testament to how simple ingredients, when thoughtfully combined, can create a dish that is both comforting and exciting. Lemon Pesto Pasta is a celebration of flavor, a dish that can bring a touch of Italian elegance to any dining table.

Prep time10 minutes
Cooking time20 minutes
Total time30 minutes
CuisineItalian-Inspired, Vegan
CourseMain course
Servings6 servings
Lemon Pesto Pasta

Ingredients for Lemon Pesto Pasta


  • Fresh Basil Leaves – 3 cups, packed
  • Pine Nuts – 1/3 cup (alternatively, you can use walnuts or almonds)
  • Garlic – 3 cloves
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese – 3/4 cup
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 2/3 cup
  • Lemon Zest – from 2 lemons
  • Fresh Lemon Juice – 3 tablespoons
  • Salt – to taste
  • Black Pepper – to taste


  • Pasta (like spaghetti or linguine) – 1 pound (450 grams)

For Serving (Optional)

  • Additional Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Cherry Tomatoes – halved, as desired
  • Fresh Arugula or Spinach – a handful, optional
  • Extra Lemon Zest – for garnish
  • Red Pepper Flakes – a pinch, for a bit of heat (optional)

How to make Lemon Pesto Pasta

Make the Pesto

  • In a food processor, combine the fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, and garlic cloves. Pulse until coarsely chopped.
  • Add the grated Parmesan cheese to the mixture and blend again.
  • While the processor is running, slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady stream. This will help emulsify the pesto and give it a smooth texture.
  • Add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Blend until well combined.
  • Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Adjust the amount of lemon zest and juice if needed.
  • Set the pesto aside. You can also make this ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator.

Cook the Pasta

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until al dente.
  • Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.

Combine Pasta and Pesto

  • Return the drained pasta to the pot.
  • Add the pesto to the pasta and toss to coat evenly. If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the reserved pasta water to loosen it. The starch in the water helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.
  • If you’re adding cherry tomatoes, arugula, or spinach, fold them in now.

Final Touches

  • Serve the pasta in bowls or on a platter.
  • Garnish with extra grated Parmesan cheese, additional lemon zest, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes if desired.
Lemon Pesto Pasta

What to serve with Lemon Pesto Pasta?

  • Grilled Vegetables: A medley of grilled vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and asparagus adds a smoky contrast to the bright flavors of the pasta. Drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for an extra layer of taste.
  • Caprese Salad: The classic combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil in a Caprese salad mirrors the Italian essence of the pesto pasta. The addition of balsamic glaze brings a sweet and tangy element that pairs wonderfully with the lemony pasta.
  • Garlic Bread: Crispy, buttery garlic bread is perfect for mopping up any leftover pesto sauce. The garlicky flavor complements the pasta and adds a satisfying crunch to your meal.
  • Caesar Salad: A Caesar salad, with its creamy dressing and crunchy croutons, offers a rich and tangy side that balances the lightness of the Lemon Pesto Pasta. The Parmesan in the salad harmonizes with the Parmesan in the pesto.
  • Roasted Chicken: For a protein-packed addition, serve your pasta with a side of roasted chicken. The mild flavors of chicken are a perfect canvas for the bold flavors of lemon and pesto.
  • Steamed or Roasted Broccoli: Broccoli, either steamed until just tender or roasted for a bit of char, adds both color and a healthy element to your meal. Its earthy flavor complements the nutty and herbal notes of the pesto.
  • Bruschetta: Tomato bruschetta, with its juicy tomatoes and aromatic garlic on toasted bread, offers a fresh and light option that echoes the Italian flavors in your pasta dish.
  • Italian White Wines: Pairing your Lemon Pesto Pasta with a chilled glass of Italian white wine, like Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio, can enhance the dining experience. The wine’s crispness and acidity cut through the richness of the pesto.
  • Fresh Fruit Salad: End the meal with a light and refreshing fresh fruit salad. A combination of berries, melon, and citrus fruits can provide a sweet and tangy finish that cleanses the palate.
Lemon Pesto Pasta

Variations and substitutions for Lemon Pesto Pasta

Creamy Avocado Lemon Pesto

Swap out some of the olive oil in the pesto with ripe avocado. The avocado adds a creamy texture and a boost of healthy fats. Blend it with the basil, lemon juice, and other pesto ingredients for a smooth, rich sauce.

Nut-Free Pesto

For a nut-free version, replace pine nuts with sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. These seeds provide a similar texture and subtle nutty flavor without the allergens.

Gluten-Free Option

Use gluten-free pasta, such as those made from rice, corn, or quinoa, to make Lemon Pesto Pasta suitable for those with gluten sensitivities.

Vegan Twist

Omit the Parmesan cheese and use nutritional yeast instead to achieve a similar cheesy flavor. Ensure that the rest of your ingredients, like pasta, are also vegan.

Spicy Lemon Pesto

Add a kick to your pesto by including red pepper flakes or a small amount of fresh chili. This addition brings a warm heat that contrasts nicely with the lemon’s brightness.

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

Introduce roasted red peppers into your pesto for a smoky, sweet variation. Blend the roasted peppers in with the basil and other pesto ingredients.

Herb Variety

Experiment with different herbs in your pesto. Try adding parsley, cilantro, or mint for a unique flavor profile.

Citrus Variations

Instead of lemon, try using lime or orange for a different citrus twist. Each brings its own distinct flavor and level of sweetness or tartness.

Protein-Enriched Pasta

Add grilled chicken, shrimp, or tofu to the pasta for a protein-rich meal. This addition makes the dish more filling and satisfying.

Whole Wheat Pasta

For a healthier alternative, use whole wheat pasta. Its nutty flavor and firmer texture add an interesting dimension to the dish.

Lemon Pesto Pasta

How to store and reheat leftover Lemon Pesto Pasta?

Storing Leftover Pasta

  • Cool Down: Allow the pasta to cool to room temperature. Do not leave it out for more than 2 hours to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Airtight Container: Transfer the leftover pasta into an airtight container. This helps to retain its moisture and flavor.
  • Refrigerate: Place the container in the refrigerator. Properly stored, the pasta can last up to 3-5 days.

Reheating Leftover Pasta

  • Microwave Method: For a quick and easy option, place the pasta in a microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle a little water or olive oil over it to keep it moist. Cover with a microwave-safe lid or plastic wrap, allowing a small vent for steam to escape. Heat on medium power for 1-2 minutes, stirring halfway through to ensure even heating.
  • Stovetop Method: Reheat the pasta in a skillet over medium heat. Add a splash of water or extra olive oil to prevent the pasta from drying out. Stir gently until it is heated through, which usually takes about 5 minutes.

Tips for best results after reheating

  • Avoid Overheating: Reheat only until the pasta is warm. Overheating can make the Lemon Pesto Pasta mushy.
  • Add Freshness: Consider adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese after reheating to refresh the flavors.
  • Separate Sauce and Pasta: If possible, store the pesto sauce and pasta separately. Reheat the pasta first, then mix in the pesto sauce. This helps maintain the texture and flavor of the Lemon Pesto Pasta.

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Nutrition Facts of Lemon Pesto Pasta

  • Calories: Approximately 350-400 kcal
  • Protein: 10-12 g
  • Carbohydrates: 45-50 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 3-4 g
  • Sugars: 2-3 g
  • Fat: 18-20 g (Saturated Fat: 3-4 g)
  • Cholesterol: 5-10 mg
  • Sodium: 200-250 mg
  • Vitamin C: 10-15% of Daily Value
  • Calcium: 10-15% of Daily Value
  • Iron: 10-12% of Daily Value
Lemon Pesto Pasta

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQ’s

Yes, you can prepare the pesto in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. The pasta, however, is best cooked fresh. If you need to save time, cook the pasta ahead and reheat it gently when serving.

The traditional recipe is not vegan due to Parmesan cheese. However, you can make it vegan by substituting Parmesan with nutritional yeast or a vegan cheese alternative.

Simply use your favorite gluten-free pasta. There are many options available, including those made from rice, corn, or quinoa.

If pine nuts are unavailable or you’re allergic, you can use walnuts, almonds, or even seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds as a substitute.

You can add grilled chicken, shrimp, or even chunks of pan-seared tofu. These protein sources complement the flavors of the lemon pesto and make the dish more filling.


Lemon Pesto Pasta is a versatile and delightful dish that can be easily tailored to suit various dietary needs and preferences. Whether you’re making it ahead of time, adapting it for a vegan or gluten-free diet, or boosting its protein content, this dish remains a crowd-pleaser.

Its combination of zesty lemon and rich pesto creates a perfect balance of flavors, making it an ideal choice for a quick weeknight dinner or a special occasion. This pasta not only satisfies the palate but also offers the flexibility to get creative and personalize it to your taste.

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