Arugula Pesto


Arugula pesto made with fresh arugula leaves, garlic, olive oil, walnuts, and Parmesan cheese.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Have an abundance of arugula? A great way to use it up is by making an arugula pesto.

By the way, gardeners out there, if you ever plant arugula, be warned, it grows like a weed! (Hence our need to make pesto.)

To make this pesto I used mature arugula from our garden (though you could use baby arugula too, it just isn’t as strong.)

I tried making it with both walnuts and pine nuts and strongly prefer this pesto with walnuts. The strong, meaty flavor of the walnuts balances out the astringency of the arugula, a good blend of flavors.

Arugula Pesto

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 garlicky. Using roasted garlic is a great way to still have the garlic flavor but without the intensity.

Arugula Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • 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 the garlic: 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: 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 Process in food processor: (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 Use Mortar and pestle: 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.

4 Adjust to taste: 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

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

26 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Bonnie

    Delicious! But I cheated and used 2 raw garlic cloves instead of roasting garlic! Yum


  • John

    This recipe sounds amazing! How long will this stay good for if kept in the refrigerator? I have a ton of arugula i need to do something with! Thanks!

  • Tony

    I had a bag of arugula just on the brink of going out, so I decided at 10pm on a Wednesday to make this, and it was fantastic. I also decided to forgo the blender and use my mortar and pestle. It was pretty tough work, but I love the texture hand ground sauces have oppose to blending. I would suggest anyone going about this method to use a tad less oil though, and instead of adding the oil to the cheese, I added it a few spoon fulls at a time to the chopped arugula which was ground in batches. I found that by taking time to allow the oil to somewhat emulsify with the arugula, it gave just as good a result as blending. Worked great as a topping for roast chicken and potatoes! I just spread some on a few minutes before the chicken was fully cooked so the flavors wouldn’t deteriorate with the high heat.


  • teresa

    i made this last night in my new food processor (took like 2 minutes) and it’s incredible. thank you!


  • Ashley

    I made this a few days ago and loved it so much I just had to come back to comment. I’ve made pesto a gazillion times with basil, but never thought to try arugula until now. I might like this version better than the traditional!

    The bag of Trader Joe’s arugula offers a pesto recipe, but it doesn’t use nuts or cheese. Sounds crazy to me…

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