This 5-minute arugula pesto with walnuts, lemon, garlic, and parmesan is fresh, vibrant, garlicky, and peppery. Perfect for spreading over sandwiches, using in pasta, over proteins, and more!
I’m never without pesto in my fridge/freezer. And, while traditional Genovese basil pesto will forever be a favorite, I love experimenting with new flavor combinations. Like carrot leaf pesto, vegan pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto, and now this walnut arugula pesto recipe (aka rocket pesto).
It’s fresh, bright, and peppery. It requires just 6 ingredients and 5 minutes to prepare in a blender or food processor. While the ingredients aren’t traditional, this arugula walnut pesto has the same overall flavor notes as regular pesto. Plus it boasts the pungent, peppery bite of fresh arugula and robust walnuts.
Not only is arugula available year-round, but walnuts are more cost-effective than pine nuts. And, this recipe is easily veganized too. Plus, you can store it for up to a week in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer, ready to boost any meal!
What Is Arugula Pesto Made of?
- Arugula: (aka rocket) I prefer milder baby arugula, but mature arugula works, too.
- Walnuts: Use raw unsalted walnuts for a rich, buttery flavor/consistency. However, you could use pine nuts or Brazil nuts. Almonds or pistachios may also work.
- Olive oil: Use a high-quality mellow extra virgin olive oil to create a silky consistency without overwhelming the arugula flavor.
- Lemon juice: An acidic ingredient like fresh lemon juice (or lime) will help cut the bitter flavor in the arugula and add brightness. You could add lemon zest too.
- Parmesan: Use high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano/pecorino or a vegetarian-friendly parmesan. For a vegan version, use nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan.
- Garlic: Adjust the garlic cloves to taste. Use roasted garlic for a mellower flavor.
- Salt: It’s best to use kosher salt for the best flavor.
Check the recipe card below for variations including mixed greens pesto.
How to Make Arugula Pesto
First, toast the walnuts in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until toasty and fragrant.
Meanwhile, peel the garlic and juice the lemon.
Then, pulse the garlic and salt in a mini food processor or blender until relatively smooth.
Add the walnuts and pulse until ground.
Add the remaining ingredients (arugula, oil, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese) and pulse to combine until finely chopped but with some texture.
There’s no need to make it too smooth, but you can pulse it to your desired consistency (chunky, smooth-ish, smooth). Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is blended evenly.
Finally, taste and adjust any ingredients (lemon juice, parmesan, garlic, salt, pepper) to taste, and enjoy!
How to Store Arugula Pesto
Store: Store the arugula walnut pesto in an airtight container (I use a sterilized glass jar) in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
Covering it with a thin layer of olive oil will help prevent oxidization. It will keep it fresher, with a bright green color. Note the olive oil will solidify when chilled but will still be scoopable.
Freeze: You can freeze it for 4-6 months (the former for the freshest flavor). Place it in a Ziplock bag or individually portioned in an Ice cube tray (then transfer the cubes to a bag once frozen). Thaw at room temperature or pop a cube directly into sauces/paste on the stove to thaw when needed.
How to Use Arugula Pesto
Just like other pesto recipes, the serving suggestions for this arugula pesto sauce are plentiful:
- As a spread: As a sandwich spread or for grilled cheese, wraps, bruschetta, crackers, etc.
- With pasta: Either warm pesto pasta, in a lasagna, a cold pasta salad, or even other grains, like couscous or quinoa. You can also use it over zoodles, etc.
- With proteins: Smear some over steak, chicken, fish, or tofu.
- To garnish: Dollop over pizza, a Caprese salad, dips, cooked/roasted vegetables (like roasted tomatoes, asparagus, baked squash), and more.
- With eggs: Make pesto-fried eggs, enjoy with shakshuka, drizzle over poached eggs, etc.
You can also serve it as part of a charcuterie board or party spread alongside other dips/spreads and crackers, bread, etc.
You could use pine nuts (which aren’t actually nuts), pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds.
You can make this arugula walnut pesto the old-fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle. But it will require more arm work and you’ll need to finely chop the ingredients first. Refer to the traditional pesto recipe on my blog for the full method.
Arugula can have a bitter, peppery flavor, especially if harvested too late. However, pesto can also become bitter if the olive oil is overheated when blending. So it is important to add it towards the end and only pulse the mixture a few times.
More Sauces and Spreads
- How to Make Hogao (Colombian Creole Sauce)
- Raising Cane’s Sauce Recipe (Copycat)
- Homemade Garlic Aioli
If you try this easy arugula pesto recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
Arugula Pesto Recipe
- 3.6 oz arugula 3 cups; you can also mix spinach, parsley, or basil with the arugula
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil mellow flavored
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice optional to cut the bitterness of the arugula
- 0.8 oz walnuts 1/4 cup shelled; OR pine nuts, brazil nuts, pistachios, or almonds.
- 0.6 oz parmesan cheese 1/2 cup grated; use vegetarian parmesan if needed or use nutritional yeast to make it vegan
- 0.35 oz garlic 2 cloves or use roasted garlic and adjust to taste
- 1 teaspoon salt
This will yield about 1 cup of pesto.
- Blender/Food processor
- Toast the walnuts in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until toasty and fragrant.
- Meanwhile, peel the garlic and juice the lemon.
- Pulse the garlic and salt in a mini food processor or blender until fairly smooth. Add the walnuts and pulse until ground.
- Add the remaining ingredients (arugula, oil, lemon juice, and parmesan) and pulse to combine until finely chopped but with some texture. There's no need to make it too smooth, but you can pulse it to your desired consistency (chunky, smooth-ish, smooth). Pause to scrape down the sides to ensure everything is blended evenly.
- Taste and adjust any ingredients to taste, and enjoy!
- Store: Store in an airtight container (I use a sterilized glass jar) in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Covering it with a thin layer of oil will help prevent oxidization and keep it fresher. Note the olive oil will solidify when chilled but will still be scoopable.Freeze: You can freeze it for between 4-6 months (the former for the freshest flavor) either in a Ziplock bag or individually portioned in an Ice-cube tray (then transferred to a bag once frozen). Thaw at room temperature or pop a cube directly into sauces/paste on the stove to thaw when needed.
- Allow it to “marinate”: If you find any individual flavors in the pesto a little too intense immediately, you might prefer to leave it to marinate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld.
- Easily adjust the consistency: Pulse the pesto to your desired consistency. To thin it, you can add a little water.
- To reduce oil: You can replace it with water, but note this can reduce the shelf life to just 2-3 days.
- Experiment with greens: The bitter, peppery flavor of fresh arugula can be a bit much for people, so feel free to use other greens like spinach, parsley, or basil. Start with a 50/50 blend and then tweak it in future batches.
- Mixed greens pesto: Because of the robust, peppery flavor of fresh arugula, you may prefer to make pesto with mixed herbs:
- Arugula basil pesto
- Spinach arugula pesto
- Arugula parsley pesto
- Red pepper flakes: Add a pinch for some subtle heat.
- Olives: Adding just a few pitted olives adds a more tangy, salty flavor.
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