The bright flavor of arugula shines through in this leafy green take on pesto. Enjoy this arugula pesto on pasta, as a sandwich or quesadilla spread, or as a dipping sauce for a variety of dishes. Done in 10 minutes!
If your experience is anything like mine, it can be a difficult task procuring enough fresh basil from the supermarket to make a hefty batch of traditional basil pesto. The few leaves in those tiny plastic containers are more often than not in rough shape, not to mention expensive!
Enter: alternative pestos.
Each with their own flavors, both spinach pesto and this arugula pesto pack in the health benefits of leafy greens, stay longer in the fridge, and cost a whole lot less when buying them at the store.
Why This Recipe Works
- In addition to doubling the nuts from my usual pesto recipe, these walnuts are toasted for a deeper, nuttier flavor that provides balance to arugula's sharpness.
- Arugula's bright and pepper-y flavor shines through so well for an easy twist on pesto. In fact I omit black pepper entirely here, which is something I usually add to pestos.
- If you've ever experience homemade basil pesto browning shortly after it's made, you likely won't have to worry about it here. I've found this arugula pesto recipe much less susceptible to discoloration without any blanching necessary.
- Arugula: This recipe uses a little over half of one five-ounce supermarket carton of arugula, or two very well packed cups. This shakes out to around $2 worth of arugula. With the extra, consider making a scaled-down grilled fruit salad - delicious!
- Walnuts: Toasting the walnuts boosts their flavor as a delicious foil to arugula's flavor.
- Parmesan: As this sauce is raw, good quality ingredients are recommended. Grating a wedge of Parmesan is preferred over pre-grated versions for the freshest flavor, but the next best thing would be pre-grated found in the refrigerated deli section of the grocery store.
- Garlic: Adjust the amount used in line with your tastes, though I wouldn't go over three medium-sized cloves.
- Lemon juice: Lemon juice offsets some of the bitterness of raw greens like arugula. Freshly-squeezed is recommended.
- Add the arugula, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to a food processor and pulse until broken up into small bits.
- Pour in the olive oil while the processor is running, then add the grated Parmesan.
- Pulse in the Parmesan until combined.
- Be sure to stay close to the oven while the walnuts are toasting as they can go from golden-brown perfection to burnt quickly. They'll be done shortly after you start to smell them toasting.
- Uses: One batch of this pesto will coat one pound of pasta. Other delicious ways to eat it are using it as a quesadilla or sandwich spread (so good in grilled cheeses) or mixing it with mayonnaise for a dipping sauce.
- Storage Instructions: Store arugula pesto in a covered jar or container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. You may drizzle a little bit of extra olive oil on the pesto's surface to prevent the top layer from browning, but I've honestly forgotten to do that before and it's been just fine.
- Freezer Instructions: Add pesto to a freezer-safe container or sealable quart-sized plastic bag. If using a plastic bag, press out excess air and flatten the pesto into an even layer inside the bag to take up less room in the freezer.
I don't blanch arugula for this pesto recipe. I find it rarely browns like basil pesto can when stored so the color-preserving aspect isn't necessary. A benefit of making pesto with arugula is for its flavor to shine through, and the risk (and extra work!) of blanching the greens a tiny bit too long and losing flavor just isn't worth it.
Be sure you are using quality ingredients in the sauce - and enough of them! Both salt and lemon juice work to offset raw leafy green bitterness so I wouldn't skip them here. If you've already made the pesto and find it too bitter, consider processing in extra walnuts and/or Parmesan.
One standard-sized package of arugula makes just about two batches of arugula pesto. You can make one to use and then freeze the other, or you can add it to regular salads along with lettuce for a bright pop of flavor. It also makes a nice and nutritious addition to this Mediterranean-flavored, no-mayo tuna pasta salad.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
- 2 cups (3 oz, 85g) arugula very well packed
- ½ cup (60g) walnut halves or pieces toasted
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice from half a lemon
- 3 medium-sized cloves garlic chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup (40g) grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Place walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan or baking dish and toast in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until they've turned golden and are just becoming fragrant. Transfer the toasted walnuts immediately to a plate to cool if not making the pesto right away.
- Add arugula, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the arugula is broken up into tiny bits.
- With the food processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until the mixture liquefies. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the Parmesan and pulse in until evenly combined.
- Don't stray too far from the oven while the walnuts are toasting as they can go from nicely-toasted to burnt in a hurry.
- You don't have to press or finely mince the garlic (but you can) since everything goes through the food processor, but do give the cloves a good chop just to reduce the risk of any large chunks sneaking through into the final pesto.
- Yield: One batch of this recipe makes enough to coat one pound of pasta.
- Storage Instructions: Store arugula pesto in an air-tight container or jar in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. You may a drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on the top surface to prevent it from browning as it's stored, but I've found it's not really that necessary when using arugula.
- Freezer Instructions: Transfer pesto to a quart-sized zip-top plastic bag (my preferred method) or a freezer-safe container. Press the excess air out of the bag, then lay the bag flat and arrange the pesto into an even single layer. Freeze it flat for maximum space-saving. Use within six months.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer