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Avocado Lemon Pesto

September 20, 2012

I made pesto more times this summer than in all (30) previous years of my life combined.

And no, it’s not because my CSA has been showering me in fresh basil.

On the contrary: the one week the list of items in our CSA box included basil– and I got all excited about it– there were THREE sprigs of basil. I was so disappointed, I actually stopped at a local produce market on my way home just to buy enough additional basil to make pesto.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I assumed it’d be a whole bunch of basil, when if the CSA lists “rosemary” they mean ONE sprig… But one sprig of rosemary can pep up handfuls of chopped roasted potatoes, or a whole loaf of focaccia flatbread. Three sprigs of basil can’t go quite as far.

I guess I could have used them to garnish one big batch of my Lentil Green Bean Salad with Vinaigrette or to sprinkle over the top of a pizza or two, like Grilled Summer Squash Pizza, but I had pesto on my mind.

And not just any pesto; Pesto with lemon.*

If you’ve never squeezed fresh lemon juice into your pesto, then you’re missing out. The lemon tackles the strong, pungent paste and turns it into something lighter, something refreshing; a garlic basil sauce with an addictive tangy zest that will leave your mouth watering for more.

Nearly every batch of pesto I make is just a little different; sometimes I switch out half the basil for spicy arugula, sometimes I use pistachios or walnuts instead of pine nuts… you know the drill. But I always use lemon juice. Even in my Basic Basil Pesto recipe.

This Avocado Lemon Pesto is my favorite version to date.

First, take note: it’s vegan! (…if you want it to be.)

Second, who can resist the creamy boost of avocado that holds it all together and provides a buttery backdrop to the garlic, basil, and black pepper. Pine nuts come along for the ride– for tradition’s sake– while the cashews jump in as a cheesy substitute for (/lovely addition to) grated parmesan.

Third, remember the secret ingredient: chili pepper flakes.

Any pasta can serve as the medium here, whether short or long. (I actually like pesto best with a short curly pasta, called gemelli.)

So if you’re vegan, or just a lover of pesto, pasta, or avocados, enjoy! (And if you’re nervously wracking your brain for what main dish to make for your vegan friends at a dinner party, relax: the search is over.)

* Thank you, Madison Farmers’ Market, for giving me two genius ideas that I’ll never stop coming back to: Lemon Pesto and Cilantro Pesto.

P.S. I still have a Giveaway going on [Now CLOSED]. Hop on over to see my recipe for Almond Cinnamon Baklava and to enter for a chance to win!


Print this recipe.


Avocado Lemon Pesto

(Makes 4½ – 5 cups of pesto; Serves up to 6)

~ 4 oz. dry pasta (per person)
~ 1 large ripe avocado
~ 2 medium lemons
~ 3-4 cloves garlic
~ ¼ cup cashews
~ ¼ cup pine nuts
~ 2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
~ ½ cup olive oil
~ salt, to taste
~ pepper, to taste
~ chili flakes, to taste
~ fresh grated parmesan or asiago, to taste
~ diced tomato or halved cherry tomatoes, to garnish

How to make it:

1. Fill a pot of water for the pasta, and set it to boil.

2. Meanwhile, pulse the garlic, cashews, pine nuts, and (optionally) cheese in a food processor along with half of the lemon juice and just a bit of the olive oil.

3. Halve the avocado, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into the cuisinart. Blend until smooth, then add the remaining lemon juice and olive oil, and the basil leaves, and blend again. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes to taste.

4. Cook the pasta according to package directions. (For each 8 oz. of pasta, which serves 2, I use about one third of this pesto sauce recipe, or 1½ cups. So with this recipe, you can either double or triple that amount of pasta, to serve 4 or 6.)

5. Drain the pasta, and immediately transfer to a serving bowl and spoon over the pesto (¾ cup per person). Stir to coat the pasta with sauce.

6. Serve with a bit of fresh diced tomato or some halved cherry tomatoes, a sprinkle of grated cheese, and some fresh ground black pepper or chili flakes.

Note: You can use an ice cube tray to freeze your extra pesto sauce in small portions!

Print this recipe!

Related Recipe Posts:
> Purple Potato Gnocchi and Basil Pesto
> Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad
> Avocado Hummus

29 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2012 8:44 am

    Yum, yum yum! This sounds amazing! I definitely need to try this out! I am a pesto fiend!

    • September 20, 2012 10:00 am

      Thanks! I guess I am a pesto fiend lately, too! I never used to be until this summer, but now I can see this pesto-craving/making habit sticking around :)

  2. September 20, 2012 9:03 am

    Love me some cheese, but I can appreciate a good vegan version of anything! This looks amazing.

    • September 20, 2012 10:01 am

      Same here! And I obviously didn’t keep it entirely vegan, since then I went and sprinkled cheese on top… But the cashews really do give it a slight cheesy flavor and make the sauce thicker, while the avocado makes it creamy and rich.

  3. Donna permalink
    September 20, 2012 11:36 am

    This sounds so good that we’re going to make it for dinner tonight.

  4. September 20, 2012 12:43 pm

    This pesto looks perfect my friend, stunning :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  5. September 20, 2012 12:53 pm

    Ooooh! That’s a fantastic idea Allison! Lemon, avocado and chili pepper flakes in pesto –brilliant! I will definitely use those ingredients in my next pesto. :) Love the photos, as always.

    • September 20, 2012 6:34 pm

      Thanks! And I’ll try to make your roasted tomato version for my next pesto :)

  6. September 20, 2012 5:08 pm

    My baby brother is a huge fan of pesto, needless to say, I’ve had to make a variety of pesto’s for him and this is something new which I’m excited to make for him soon!!!

    • September 20, 2012 6:35 pm

      Yay, I’m glad I could help you come up with a new variation! I hope you and your brother both like it. :)

  7. September 20, 2012 8:41 pm

    Reblogged this on QuarterFlip and commented:

  8. September 21, 2012 2:45 am

    Yum, this sounds and looks amazingly delicious! Do hope to try this soon, thanks for sharing!

  9. September 21, 2012 9:37 pm

    Allison, you’ve managed to combine three of my all time most favourite things to eat: tomatoes, avacados and pesto. It looks beyond yum, I can’ WAIT to try it!

    • September 23, 2012 5:57 pm

      Yay! Tomatoes (obviously), avocados, and pesto are three of my all time favorite things to eat too. :)

  10. September 24, 2012 3:27 am

    This looks deliciously fresh! I’ve had the saw issue with my CSA – some things just seem to come in very odd amounts! Although It’s also part of the charm if the process I think – I’ve made a few dishes I never would have otherwise thanks to it!

    • September 25, 2012 8:59 am

      That’s true, I did mostly enjoy that aspect of my CSA. I liked having to come up with ways to enjoy vegetables that I might never have bought in the first place. I really should have no complaints, even about the 3 sprigs of basil– they never said it’d be a whole bunch! :)

  11. September 24, 2012 11:07 pm

    Allison! This looks wonderful. I’m a big pesto lover too and have some recipes that I make all the time. The addition of avocado sounds so yummy. I agree with you too, I always add lemon to my pesto! I need to try your version!

    • September 25, 2012 9:01 am

      Thanks! I’m glad we agree about lemon in pesto. It adds so much to the flavor of the pesto, and keeps the color bright green, too. I hope you like adding avocado, too!

  12. September 27, 2012 4:01 pm

    this pesto looks delicious!

  13. November 5, 2012 3:42 am

    Wow wow wow – your blog is jam packed with amazing ideas! I want to make and eat this pesto right away! Avocado in pesto is something I would never have considered – but the idea is sooo appealing!

    I have just started a new blog: and am looking for ideas of how to improve it etc. How long have you been writing your blog for?

    • November 7, 2012 9:31 am

      Thank you for your lovely comment! I’m sorry it took me a few days to respond… avocado in pesto is awesome– it makes it so creamy. This is definitely a vegan dish that nearly everyone would enjoy!

      I’ll head over to check out your blog! I’ve been writing mine since July 2011, so just a little over one year now! :)


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