We’ve been smitten with this arugula pesto, a peppery variation on traditional Italian pesto Genovese, since we first made it. Made with walnuts rather than pine nuts and all the usual other suspects, including basil, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, it’s every iota as versatile as the classic. We always keep a stash of this in the fridge (and when we don’t, we get a little jittery).Angie Zoobkoff

A white bowl partially filled with arugula pesto and a spoon resting in the pesto. A few arugula leaves scattered beside the bowl.

Arugula Pesto

5 from 1 vote
This arugula pesto, which is made with walnuts, basil, and Parmesan, is a peppery riff on the classic Italian condiment that comes together in just 10 minutes.
David Leite
Servings8 servings | 1 cup total
Calories196 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time10 minutes


  • 1/2 cup walnuts (halves or pieces)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups (2 1/2 oz) arugula
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 oz) loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Maldon or other flaky or coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • In a dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the walnuts until golden brown, stirring constantly, 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly.
  • In a food processor, combine all the ingredients and blend until you’re happy with the consistency.
  • Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if desired.
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Serving: 2 tablespoonsCalories: 196 kcalCarbohydrates: 2 gProtein: 3 gFat: 20 gSaturated Fat: 3 gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5 gMonounsaturated Fat: 11 gCholesterol: 5 mgSodium: 112 mgPotassium: 71 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 0.3 gVitamin A: 243 IUVitamin C: 1 mgCalcium: 75 mgIron: 0.4 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Recipe © 2013 Jane Coxwell. Photo © 2013 John Bedell. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

I love regular pesto. I’ve also made a spinach pesto that’s quite good. So I was interested to try this recipe. The recipe comes together quickly and tastes great on pasta. There’s enough basil to keep the arugula from being too bitter and sharp.

I did pulse it initially but then ran the food processor, scraping down between.

I served this pesto traditionally but used whole grain pasta and sprinkled it with a bit more cheese to make it look good before serving.

I’ve yet to meet a pesto that I didn’t like and this one didn’t disappoint! I love how versatile this sauce is and it’s always fun experimenting with different nut and herb combinations.

I served this pesto atop grilled chicken burgers and it was excellent! It can be served in so many ways, from pasta to soups and most any grilled meat.

I think that the basil is an important addition because it seems to balance the strong peppery tones of the arugula. The only thing I might consider adding next time is the zest of a lemon. I’ve included this in pesto I’ve made in the past and it provides a great refreshing flavor to the greens.

I combined all of the ingredients except for the olive oil at once and pulsed until I achieved the consistency that I was looking for. I then added the olive oil and pulsed until incorporated. I added about 1 teaspoon coarse salt and a bit of pepper and the end result was quite flavorful!

What a change from Pesto Genovese and so delicious, peppery from the arugula and just a hint of garlic and basil. I found it a little sharp tasting at first but after a couple of hours it mellowed.

I used baby arugula. I think pine nuts might be a better nut for this and will try them instead of walnuts next time. We enjoyed this on toasted rounds of a baguette, but it would probably work in any of the other ways suggested: on hot pasta, or cold in a pasta salad, or on a burger or steak.

I think this is a nice change of pace for pesto lovers, this being a bit more of an earthy sauce. It comes together just as easily as regular basil pesto. So far I’ve used it on several dishes. Of course it was a lovely pasta, but also I tossed it into some sauteed greens and mushrooms. Delicious!

Measured out my handfuls loosely packed came out to about 2 cups per handful, so all in all I used about 4 cups of very loosely packed arugula. Next time I might use a bit more, I think that would probably equal about half the bag of organic arugula I used. (I imagine other people’s handfuls are much larger than mine with my tiny hands, so I think this recipe should be loosely interpreted, but perhaps defined amounts would be helpful)

I used about a cup of very loosely packed basil. I think this should be optional on a case-by-case basis, because I think the basil added a hint of warm-weather freshness to this rather earthy pesto. In the future I will probably add basil in varying amounts depending on how much I want to lighten this up.

I pulsed this in my food processor while slowly adding oil to bring it to the consistency I preferred. Perhaps adding oil while running the processor would help people maintain the amount of oil they prefer in their pesto.

Lastly, this recipe leaves a lot of room for playing around with the ingredients, which can be a lot of fun, I will definitely turn to this recipe again in the future.

There are so many pesto variations out there, I almost didn’t try this version. Glad I did. The recipe is super easy of course but the combination of ingredients just worked so well together. You had the bitter arugula, the earthy walnuts, the salty cheese, and middle tones of sweet basil. None of which overwhelmed the other but made for a more complex pesto.

If I were making this for a sauce, I would definitely add more oil. But as a spread or accompaniment to steak, chicken or fish, the texture was perfect. This is a rustic recipe but still 2 handfuls is nebulous. I have the hand span of a ten-year-old (kidding but close) so my handful would be a lot different than another persons.

File this one in your weeknight secret weapon folder. As our go-to salad leaf, we always have arugula in the house, specifically baby arugula. Given how the younger leaf is a bit less spicy then a mature plant I thought it would be well represented here in this pesto. The recipe is a good straight up riff that took me virtually no effort to put together.

I cooked up a big bowl of farro (wheat berries), tossed in some walnut pieces and chopped celery, and dressed it all with the pesto. That was a great quick dinner for us and it was even more delicious cold the next day. My husband used the leftover pesto on a roast beef sandwich (yum!). I like how versatile the flavors are and how well it plays with others.

Frankly, I’m lazy and since I was using a blender to break down the ingredients I did not mince the garlic. I added the garlic and oil to the blender jar and processed those alone first. I added all of the remaining ingredients to the garlic oil and blended until I had a very fine sauce that was well emulsified.

Truth be told, I am not a basil fan, so I omitted it from this batch. The pesto needed a fair amount of salt despite the addition of Parmesan. I also longed for a bit of acid to brighten it up. I recommend perhaps a bit of lemon zest and a delicate squeeze of its juice—just to make the pesto a little more complex.

How do I love this pesto? Let me count the ways. First, it uses accessible and inexpensive ingredients (compared to a purely basil and pine nut pesto). Second, it comes together so fast. Third, it tastes fresh, light, nutty, and summery and can be made any time of year. Fourth, it’s great on every-day pasta or unique pasta saved for a special occasion.

A student brought me back some pasta in the shape of communion wafers from Liguria, Italy. I was saving it for a special occasion. This pesto tasted perfect on it. Finally, the pesto is fabulous on pasta or grilled chicken. I did use the basil in the recipe as it lifted the earthy flavor of the arugula to a brighter flavor. This pesto made enough for a pound of pasta.

When you say, “This is really good,” with almost every bite, I think you have a real winner.

I had 4 cups of arugula, which was probably 4 normal handfuls or 2 really generous ones. Since I seemed to have doubled the arugula, I doubled the amount of garlic as well as the amount of walnuts. I did not double the olive oil. I don’t like an overly oily pesto. I first made the pesto without any basil, just to see how it tasted. It was really very good, and would have been just fine with the pasta. However, I added a handful of basil, just to taste the difference. The basil added a brightness to the pesto that was lovely.

I pulsed the mixture in the food processor, just enough to roughly chop everything, because I like a chunky consistency to my pesto. We ate this with a locally made fresh pasta, a lemon ricotta ravioli in lemon pasta.

OMG. It was delectable! I liked this even better than regular basil pesto and it is so much easier to make. Arugula can easily be washed and spun dry. (For me, it’s very time-consuming to take a bunch of basil, get all of the leaves off of the stems, wash the leaves and dry them, and then make the pesto. To get 4 cups of those leaves would be long and painful.)

This pesto was extremely easy to make and we were rewarded with a fabulous finished product in a very short period of time.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    Absolutely outstanding. What a superb way to use up late summer languishing arugula (several varieties) from the garden. The addition of fresh basil was spot-on. I always freeze some in small jars-without the Parmesan, which I like to add freshly grated with the pasta..(.and to really guild the lily, some melted butter)….. just phenomenal with fresh gnocchi! Thank you!