Arugula Pesto

We have a 3 ft by 6 ft patch of arugula growing in our garden and for the last two months I’ve been looking for ways to make use of it. By the way, arugula (a.k.a. rocket) grows like a weed and re-seeds itself every year. The bugs and snails don’t seem to touch it (they go for the lettuce instead). I had heard that walnuts are good in pesto so I tried making the arugula pesto both ways – one with pine nuts and one with walnuts. I think the arugula pesto with walnuts is better. The strong, meaty flavor of the walnuts balances out the astringency of the arugula, a good blend of flavors. I’ve made pesto both with mortar and pestle and with a food processor. The food processor method is definitely easier but the mortar method produces larger pieces of the arugula.

I prefer a mild garlic flavor that you can achieve by using roasted garlic. The 1/2 raw garlic clove is added for a little kicker. The first time I made this pesto it was with only raw garlic and it was a little overwhelmingly garlicy. Using roasted garlic is a great way to still have the garlic flavor but without the intensity.

Arugula Pesto Recipe

  • Yield: Makes 1 heaping cup.


  • 2 cups of packed arugula leaves, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup of shelled walnuts
  • 1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/2 garlic clove peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


1 Brown 6 garlic cloves with their peels on in a skillet over medium high heat until the garlic is lightly browned in places, about 10 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan, cool, and remove the skins.

2 Toast the nuts in a pan over medium heat until lightly brown, or heat in a microwave on high heat for a minute or two until you get that roasted flavor. In our microwave it takes 2 minutes.

3a Food processor method (the fast way): Combine the arugula, salt, walnuts, roasted and raw garlic into a food processor. Pulse while drizzling the olive oil into the processor. Remove the mixture from the processor and put it into a bowl. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

3b Mortar and pestle method: Combine the nuts, salt and garlic in a mortar. With the pestle, grind until smooth. Add the cheese and olive oil, grind again until smooth. Finely chop the arugula and add it to the mortar. Grind up with the other ingredients until smooth.

Because the pesto is so dependent on the individual ingredients, and the strength of the ingredients depends on the season or variety, test it and add more of the ingredients to taste.

Serve with pasta, over freshly roasted potatoes, or as a sauce for pizza.

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Mortar and Pestle
Pesto de Roquette et Pesto Rouge from Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini

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Showing 4 of 20 Comments

  • Amy

    I discovered arugula pesto on a Rachael Ray TV show and I agree with you it really is wonderful with walnuts. I also discovered that adding a little water really helps the texture. I’m a little more liberal with the olive oil than you are, but I admire your restraint!

  • R G Chesneau

    Wonderful recipe, exact and with the real pesto. Thanks for it.

  • Pat Kernan

    Wow. . .I forgot how fun and easy pesto is–and what a breeze it is with a food processor. I used a little chopper-type unit (Toasmaster, $12.99 at a local Rite Aid today). Pulsed it in halves and then pulsed it all together at the end. About 40 min. from start to finish. Stem-pulling the cilantro and tarragon was the most time-consuming task during this pesto quest!

    I LIKE garlic. So I used the amount called for plus a smidgen more. All raw. For less acutely insane afficionados: remember that different herbs will temper the garlic more than basil, esp. if you don’t have that perfectly sweet peak-season organic basil you had the last time you made this.

    Today: basil, mild cilantro (almost like a hybrid between salsa-pungent cilantro and italian parsley), and tarragon.

    I added a tiny bit of kosher salt and pepper, as well.

    It is going to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours and be tossed with mini penne. There will be extra pesto to top, and extra cheese : )

    Thanks for this pesto primer, and for motivating me to make some.

    Pat Kernan
    Los Angeles

  • Pat Kernan

    Forgot to add. . . another twist. Used pine nuts, and toasted them in microwave as directed. It really enhanced the flavor compared to pestos I’ve made and sampled before. No need to get out a pan for this component.

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