The Gift of Basil: Light Lemon-Pecan Pesto

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – Basil of Caesarea


Recently, I woke up to find a large bag filled with fresh basil and ripe tomatoes at my doorstep. It’s true fortune to have generous, kind neighbors – especially those with green thumbs. Suddenly, I was seeing green: a case of pesto on the brain.


Fresh basil is one of my favorite things about Summer, now gone. I love to make big batches of it with kids, the ultimate kitchen-helpers and spoon-lickers. When bumper crops of basil are at their peak, pesto can be made in bulk and frozen to be enjoyed throughout Fall and Winter. Simply freeze pesto in  ice-cube trays or small, 1/2 cup containers. Then, defrost the green glory to add a bit of fresh, fancy and fabulous to any dish at a moment’s notice.

Trained Italian chefs, look away: I often re-invent the traditional pesto. I may add citrus, swap the basil for parsley or cilantro or substitute a different nut (the traditional being the pine nut, which is actually a seed. Oh, I digress).


Pesto is delicious on almost anything: pizza, pasta, steak, chicken, fish or toasted baguette. It is a sauce that does not discriminate. I prefer to eat it straight from the mason jar with a devilishly large spoon. Is pesto on the food pyramid yet?


“A man taking basil from a woman will love her always.”                               – Sir Thomas Moore

My husband, “Farmer Greg,” loves pesto on a medium-rare elk steak, sliced thinly across the grain. A friend in Albuquerque, Gayle, is married to a talented hunter of game. They have elk on their ranch in northern New Mexico. She is the most generous person I know – even with prized elk. Recently, she dropped off a large elk sirloin. Can anyone ask for a better friend?


In short, between neighbors that drop off large bags of fresh, savory basil and friends who come bearing gigantic hunks of red, sumptuous elk, Shabbat dinner was pretty amazing. What a tasty Friday night. What are we waiting for? Let’s make some pesto! I can already smell the sweet fragrance of torn basil leaves.


First, grate the highest quality, aged cheese you have. I used an artisanal goat cheese that is salty, hard and boasts small bits of crystallization throughout. Pure heaven.


Next, add the basil to the food processor and pack it down.


Then, throw in the peeled garlic, salt and pepper.


Oh, nuts. Don’t forget the roasted, unsalted pecans and the lemon juice.


Process until fine, scraping down the sides. Then, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.


Add the treasured ingredient, the cheese, and pulse until combined.


“Mom, is the next ingredient dark chocolate chips?” – The Princess.


Deliciousness in a bowl. Please pass a spoon.



Light Lemon-Pecan Basil Pesto

A healthy, fresh and modern interpretation of traditional pesto


7 cups fresh basil, lightly packed

8 medium garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 tsp. fine salt

1 tsp. cracked black pepper

2/3 cup pecans, roasted and unsalted

1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, the best quality you have

1/2 cup grated Il Saggio Goat Milk cheese (or any hard, aged, flavorful Italian cheese), not packed


1.) In a food processor, process the basil, garlic, salt, pepper and pecans until a fine mixture is formed. Scrap down the sides of the food processor.

2.) Add the lemon juice and process for about a minute. Scrap down the sides of the food processor.

3.) While the food processor is running, very slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

4.) Add the cheese and pulse the food processor just until combined. Scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times.

5.) Taste and re-season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, depending on the salt content in your cheese. Pulse a few more times. A rule of thumb: one can always add more salt, but she can never take it back.


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©Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, (2013), unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author, Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, and/or owner is strictly and completely prohibited.


14 thoughts on “The Gift of Basil: Light Lemon-Pecan Pesto

  1. Love it!!!! Glad you liked the elk….. John will go hunting again in a couple of weeks. Hopefully our freezer will soon be stocked again!!!!!

  2. This sounds like a very flavory pesto and, while reading the recipe, I realized that I had failed to bring home basil from the farmers market yesterday. Drat!

    1. Oh, no! What you need is a nice neighbor with a basil garden, then… haha. You know, I have made some very successful pestos using parsley and cilantro… maybe you could experiment with an herb that you have on hand? 🙂

  3. Thank you, Chef Janet! I have a legal pad where I write down exact ingredients / amounts when baking or cooking. When “The Princess” made this comment, I jotted it down in the “preparation” section, precisely where she had suggested we add the dark chocolate. I love the way that girl thinks – and would love to see the world through the eyes of a three-year-old! 🙂

  4. How nice to have neighbors that drop off bundles of fresh produce at your doorstep 🙂 Pesto really should be on the food pyramid! It’s got greens, healthy fats, etc. 😀 I like the use of pecans–pine nuts are delicious, but they’re pricey! Dark chocolate chips sound like an interesting ingredient to experiment with 😉

    1. Haha. Thank you, Ada, for the nice comments. I agree – pesto is so healthy and flavorful. I have seen pine nuts at Costco in bulk, but they are still quite pricey. I would not recommend the dark chocolate chips (pesto mole – ewwwww). 😉

    1. It’s funny… I often bringing meals and treats to friends and share garden produce and chicken’s eggs. Sometimes, food karma comes back and feed (not bite!) you! So, keep giving – and hope that what goes around comes around.

  5. The recipe sounds delicious, but where will I get seven cups of basil??? a few stems cost $1.50 here. It’s so ridiculous. I have saved the recipe all the same. Maybe I shall come across some…who knows? thanks for sharing! Best wishes!

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