I first tasted cilantro pesto a few years back at August restaurant in New York. It came spread on toasted baguette as an accompaniment to a shared starter of steamed mussels; it was a revelation. I have been craving and making it religiously since then.
I toss it with pasta, spread it on bread, serve it with eggs, use it with crostini, and more. It’s really very versatile. But still, my strongest association with it is with mussels, and every time I make them I must have toasted baguette with cilantro pesto on the side. If you have that terrible hereditary thing where cilantro tastes like soap, then, well, I’m sorry for you. Everyone else, you’ll love this. —kmartinelli
Test Kitchen Notes
Sorry basil, but we’re done with you…at least for now. Yes, cilantro can be divisive. Yes, some people say that it tastes like soap and they’re not totally wrong. But this bright pesto recipe has the power to change minds and hearts. It comes together so quickly and is a fun twist on classic basil pesto. There are the usual ingredients here—garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and grated Parmesan. As for what lemon juice is doing hanging around? Just two teaspoons of freshly squeezed juice helps to cut through the richness of the pesto, and adds a brightness that is hard to achieve from cheese and salt alone.
Normally, we’d call for toasting the pine nuts (this is the case with our favorite basil pesto recipe), which enhances flavor and brings even more depth to the herby mixture. But here, we favor the lightness of untoasted pine nuts. Bonus: it saves you time!
This pesto is a little bit looser than some recipes, which we prefer for mixing with pasta or drizzling over mussels; but if you prefer a chunkier pesto, use no more than ¼ cup of olive oil. It’s made completely in a food processor, but a blender will work, too; just be careful not to over blend, so as to not lose the beautiful texture from the herbs, nuts, and cheese.
Once it’s ready, use it immediately or store it in an airtight container for no more than two weeks—though it really does taste best right off the bat. Pour a shallow layer of olive oil over it to preserve the green color. —The Editors
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Makes 1 1/4 cups
extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
1/8 to 1/4 cups
freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
- Put the cilantro in a food processor and pulse until roughly/coarsely chopped. Add the garlic and pine nuts and pulse to combine. Add about half the olive oil and blend until a paste begins to form, occasionally scraping down the bowl. Add remaining olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice and blend until smooth/well-combined.
- Season with salt and pepper. Toss with pasta or serve on toasted bread.