Baby Arugula Pesto

A small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto on a serving board surrounded by fresh basil, arugula leaves, and walnuts.

Arugula Pesto is a bright and flavourful version of the classic Genovese-style Italian sauce. It features fresh baby arugula greens, fresh basil, and toasted walnuts. Mix it in to pasta dishes, soups, steamed vegetables, and stews for a fresh flavour boost.

Green, fresh, vibrant. The visuals are as stunning as the flavour in this arugula pesto. Use it to make a simple pesto pasta, this Fingerling Potato Salad with Crème Fraîche or drizzle it in Creamy Homemade Tomato Soup for extra flavour.

A small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto on a serving board surrounded by fresh basil, arugula leaves, and walnuts.

Arugula Pesto

Homemade Pesto is an incredibly handy condiment to have on hand for those five o’clock dinner dilemmas. Pair it with leftover chicken and cooked pasta for a quick meal or swirl a spoonful into homemade soup. It’s delicious in potato or macaroni salad and adds flavour to chicken salad sandwiches.

Traditional Genovese style basil pesto contains basil and pine nuts, along with garlic, salt, Parmesan-Reggiano, and olive oil. However, in this Arugula Pesto recipe I have replaced half of the basil with baby arugula and all of the pine nuts with toasted walnuts.

A small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto on a serving board surrounded by fresh basil, arugula leaves, and walnuts.

The pesto still has tons of fresh basil flavour with a touch of bitterness from the arugula. The toasted walnuts round it all out with their sweet nutty flavour. Pesto can be made with various leafy greens and other kinds of nuts. However, this arugula walnut combination is one of my all time favourites.

What is a Traditional Pesto?

In reality, you can make pesto with any combination of flavourful leaves, oily nuts, hard cheese, olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice. However Pesto alla Genovese is such a classic preparation, there is a movement to have it protected as a cultural heritage recipe with UNESCO. It is the most popular pesto in Italy and around the world.

Ingredients for walnut arugula pesto arranged on a wooden board.

‘Pesto’ is a word related to the Italian verb (pestâ) for ‘crush’ or ‘pound’. So, it follows that pesto is an Italian sauce which is traditionally made using a mortar and pestle. You may use this more traditional method (instead of a food processor) to make arugula pesto, if you prefer.

Besides the ever popular Genovese style pesto, there are other regional varieties. Sicilian style pesto rosso contains sun dried tomatoes and almonds while the spicier Calabrian style pesto contains roasted red bell pepper and black pepper.

Outside of Italy (and in my own kitchen) chefs use other nuts and greens to make pesto. I find pesto is a great way to use up my carrot tops or foraged wild ramps/leeks.

Arugula pesto ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.

Arugula Pesto Ingredients

As always, I must point out that fresh ingredients always produce the best results in recipes that contain very few, but specific ingredients. Pesto is no exception to this rule.

  • Baby Arugula
  • Fresh Basil
  • Garlic
  • Walnuts
  • Salt
  • Lemon
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Parmesan-Reggiano

Baby arugula is smaller and far less bitter than fully grown arugula greens. In this recipe it will add a slight bitterness without overpowering the other ingredients. You can substitute many other flavourful greens in place of the baby arugula. Try kale, spinach, carrot top greens, or even dandelion greens.

Vibrant green Arugula pesto in the bowl of a food processor.

There is no substitute for fresh basil. It is an absolute must in any pesto recipe.

Walnuts add a slightly sweet nutty flavour but you can use classic pine nuts if you prefer. Additionally, other nuts such as almond, brazil, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, pistachio, or even peanuts according to availability and for economy.

Lastly, I like to use Parmesan-Reggiano in pesto, though sometimes I will substitute with Pecorino. Sometimes it’s a good idea not to mess too much with a classic.

A small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto on a serving board surrounded by fresh basil, arugula leaves, and walnuts.

How to Make Arugula Pesto

To begin, toast the chopped walnuts in a frying pan over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes or until they become fragrant and release a bit of oil. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add the arugula, basil, walnuts, garlic, salt, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and half the lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture a few times (scrape down the sides periodically) until you have a coarse paste. You can season with salt and pepper if you like, though I prefer to just season with sea salt as this pesto is not meant to have any spice.

Finally, with the motor running, slowly drizzle in 3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil. The finished pesto will have a finely chopped texture, not as fine as a purée. Remove the pesto from food processor bowl and mix in 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, finishing with a final top layer of oil for storage.

A small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto on a serving board surrounded by fresh basil, arugula leaves, and walnuts.

Storing Leftover Pesto

This arugula pesto recipe makes a lot of pesto and a little goes a long way when you add it to dishes. To store, place leftover pesto in a container and smooth out the top. Add a layer of olive oil over the pesto. It will prevent the greens in the pesto from oxidizing and preserve the pesto for up to a week.

You can also freeze pesto with great results. One handy trick is to freeze it in ice cube trays, then transfer the frozen pesto blocks to a plastic bag. Be sure that you will not be using those trays for ice as they will probably retain the garlic flavour even after washing.

A spoon holds a portion of pesto above a small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto.
Pinterest image of a small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto on a serving board surrounded by fresh basil, arugula leaves, and walnuts.

If you make this Baby Arugula Pesto recipe, please be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Pinterest for my latest recipes. Also, if you do make this recipe, please tag me on Instagram, I’d love to see what you guys are making! Thank you so much for reading my blog.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Baby Arugula Pesto

A small stoneware bowl filled with vibrant green arugula pesto on a serving board surrounded by fresh basil, arugula leaves, and walnuts.

Arugula Pesto is a bright and flavourful version of the classic genovese-style Italian sauce. It features fresh baby arugula greens, fresh basil, and toasted walnuts. Mix it in to pasta dishes, soups, steamed vegetables, and stews for a fresh flavour boost.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • lemon; zested and juiced
  • 1 clove garlic; chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese; finely grated
  • 4-6 Tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

  1. Toast the chopped walnuts in a frying pan over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes or until they become fragrant and release a bit of oil. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Add arugula, fresh basil, walnuts, salt, garlic, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and half the lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor.
  3. Pulse the mixture a few times. Then, with the motor running, slowly drizzle in 4 Tablespoons of olive oil.
  4. Remove pesto from food processor bowl and mix in 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, finishing with a final top layer of oil for storage.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

18

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 76Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 160mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g

Nutritional calculation was provided by Nutritionix and is an estimation only. For special diets or medical issues please use your preferred calculator.

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26 comments

  1. Ana

    The nuts really give it a better taste! Great pesto recipe, which I am excited to make.

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Yes, I actually prefer nuts to pine nuts. I enjoy the flavour much better.

  2. Sunrita

    I love to experiment with pestos and I love Arugula! This is perfect for me. So glad I came across this recipe idea!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Same here! I hope you give it a try with arugula.

  3. Terri

    Can’t wait to try this- I’ve only ever had pesto with almonds or pine nuts!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      I was a bit nervous too, especially as walnuts can sometimes be bitter. I always buy fresh walnuts for recipes and roast them to bring out the sweetness.

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