Make Ahead

Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto & Preserved Lemon Cream

June 10, 2010
6 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 5 minutes
  • Serves 6 slices
Author Notes

I can't really say where the inspiration for this recipe came from, except that it was literally the first thing that popped into my head when I read "lemon, thyme and a grill." Then when I made it, I found myself staring down at my bread and saying, "where have you been all my life?" It's a wonderful appetizer or side to make if you're grilling. The smokey grill flavor and crustiness of the bread combined with the salty, tangy, nutty, creamy, herbiness of the toppings is wonderful enough by itself, but it can also serve as a jumping off point for any number of sandwiches. You can top the bread and spreads off with slices of grilled chicken or a runny fried egg and grilled asparagus, for example, and your life will never be the same... - fiveandspice —fiveandspice

Test Kitchen Notes

We love the simple, rustic quality of this dish -- and its ability to inspire endless adaptations: you use a different herb for the pesto, dab with ricotta instead of lemon cream, or, as fiveandspice illustrates in her blog, top with a fried egg. Grilled bread is so much better than toasted, and the heady perfume of the thyme pesto seduces you before you can even get the toast to your mouth. The preserved lemon cream softens any rough edges and adds richness. Unless you have many people to feed -- and to help you strip the thyme leaves from their stems -- we recommend halving the pesto recipe. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 2 cups baby spinach, cleaned and torn into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh thyme leaves (stems removed)
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 2 teaspoons minced preserved lemon
  • 6 thick slices of good Italian country bread
  1. In a food processor, combine the spinach, thyme, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, and salt. Process until the ingredients are roughly chopped. With the processor running, gradually drizzle in the olive oil until you have a chunky pesto. Set aside. (This will make more pesto than needed; the rest can be kept refrigerated for about a week and used in other dishes like pasta, chicken, and fish.)
  2. In a small bowl, combine creme fraiche and preserved lemon. Allow to stand in the refrigerator for about a half hour for the flavors to combine.
  3. Heat the grill. Lightly brush each slice of bread with olive oil on both sides. Grill the slices a minute or two per side until they are crusty and have charred grill marks but are still soft in the middle.
  4. Spread each slice of bread with the pesto, and top with a generous smear of preserved lemon cream. Enjoy!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Cecile
  • Maura
  • LauriL
  • cjbollinger

84 Reviews

Mattie August 28, 2020
This is a favorite around the holidays and especially for large gatherings. I've been asked for the recipe more than once. It is so delicious. Picking the thyme leaves is a labor of love, but beyond delicious and well worth it. I found my preserved lemons (which I add extra in the recipe) at a local Mediterranean market. So glad I ran across this recipe. SOOO GOOD!
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
From a cook I know who lived and cooked for many years in the Middle East (whence come preserved lemons): "Quick Preserved Lemons: 4 lemons, unwaxed (or scrubbed of wax)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar.
Dice lemons, including peel, removing as many seeds as possible. Put the lemons and their juice in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and sugar; toss well and transfer to a jar. Let the mixture sit for at least 3 hours at room temperature, shaking the jar periodically. It can be served at that point or refrigerated for up to a week
Rosalind P. September 12, 2019
This reminds me of the recipe that introduced me to pesto, way back in 1968, when fresh basil was rare even in the summer and non-existent in winter. From an Italian cookbook, called "Winter Pesto". Like this one, it used spinach (and parsley)as the body of the sauce, to replace the body of fresh basil, and seasoned it with dried basil and garlic, adding the pine nuts and cheese. So a spinach-based pesto could be used as the basis of a pesto flavored with any herbs that can't provide the volume.
Cecile September 11, 2016
Divine! Worth the effort of using fresh thyme leaves. My family and guests inhaled this dish. I grilled the bread on an iron griller I put on the range, and this worked fine. I have little patience for setting up the outdoor grill or even the stone grill in my stove, so I avoid dishes that absolutely require it.
Maura August 6, 2016
This is fabulous and so colorful. I've made it twice and everyone loved it, so much people asked to take leftovers. Thanks for a lovely recipe!
Aimi August 2, 2015
Sooooo delicious!!!!!
LauriL July 27, 2014
This was amazing! found some three cheese Italian bread at a farmers market in CT and it was "over the top" with the pesto. I had leftover pesto and brush it on tuna kabobs before grilling....wonderful! I
cjbollinger June 1, 2014
I was intrigued by this recipe combo...and honestly wasn't sure the flavors would work together. It was a real hit at my party! A lovely and lively mix of spring time deliciousness.
jameny January 24, 2014
Would it be okay to mix the preserved lemon and creme fraiche a day in advance? Hoping to do most of the steps ahead of time...
fiveandspice January 24, 2014
Yes, you definitely could.
Kathlyn P. August 17, 2013
I intend to try this lemon preserve recipe b/c I LOVE lemon; but, I do watch my salt intake. How would this recipe work if I were to reduce the amount of salt?
fiveandspice August 19, 2013
Well, the lemons are preserved in salt, so they're naturally quite salty, like pickles. You could try rinsing before using, which would remove some of the salt. If you were really worried you could replace the preserved lemons with some lemon zest and juice, but it would definitely give you a different flavor. Preserved lemons taste quite unique.
Carolyn December 16, 2013
I used ricotta cheese (I couldn't find the lemon preserve or creme at my local supermarket) with lemon zest and juice. Everyone thought it was delicious!
ltosoc May 3, 2012
With the lemon preserved which one should I buy? I've seen some brined in olive oil? Is there a certain one I should look for?
fiveandspice May 3, 2012
You know, I always make my own, so I'm not entirely sure what to look for in bought ones, but I think the kind brined in olive oil would be good. What I've usually seen are lemons that are brined/preserved in a mixture of salt, lemon juice, and olive oil.
currypaste February 1, 2012
I have made this a few times for parties and it is completely delicious. Even better than it sounds!
fiveandspice February 1, 2012
That's so great! Thanks!
Crispy January 27, 2012
To die for!!
fiveandspice January 28, 2012
Aw, thanks so much!
Mandy C. January 14, 2012
Preserved Lemon Cream sounds like a wonderful addition to so many things! I will be borrowing that idea for sure!
fiveandspice January 14, 2012
Oh my gosh, yes, it's very versatile! I love it on pan seared fish or scallops, especially. It's also be good over roasted chicken breast, or on different Middle Eastern spiced meats and vegetables wrapped up in pita, or on garlicky sauteed greens, or add slices of cucumbers to make a cool side dish in the summer... Lots of fun things to do!
rep_woman September 1, 2011
Made this last week. Loved it!!!
fiveandspice September 1, 2011
Yay! I'm so happy you liked it!!!
currypaste August 24, 2011
I am late to the party on this recipe, but we made it tonight and it was demolished within about 3 minutes. So so delicious with a bit of grated lemon zest and pepper on top. Thank you-- will be making again and again, year round.
fiveandspice August 24, 2011
Oh, thanks for letting me know! That is just great to hear!
Italianshortie July 31, 2011
Can you buy preserved lemons or do you have to make them?
susan G. July 31, 2011
Here's a recipe, and in the comments a lead to a quick version.
susan G. July 31, 2011
You'd like to see the link?
fiveandspice July 31, 2011
They do take about a week of sitting and preserving, but otherwise they're quite easy to make! Here is the recipe I use:
It's based on Paula Wolfert's - who is simply brilliant - approach.
em-i-lis July 28, 2011
Sure thing. I'll definitely be making this again very soon. In fact, it was the highlight blog post on my site tonight so hopefully others try it too. Many thanks! :)
em-i-lis July 28, 2011
We just made this and ate every bit (did halve the pesto but wish we hadn't). Mamma mia this is good!! Great recipe fiveandspice!
fiveandspice July 28, 2011
Oh, thank you em-i-lis! I'm thrilled to hear you guys liked it!
susan G. April 17, 2011
Happy that this has popped up "12 minutes ago." Another destination for my preserved lemons!
fiveandspice April 18, 2011
That's great! I would love to hear what you think!