How to Make Arugula Pesto

Move over, basil! We're loving arugula pesto. Here's how you can make pesto at home with a different green.

You know pesto as the basil-forward sauce that can top anything from pasta to pizza. But basil isn’t the only green that can go into this bright sauce. Instead, swap in a favorite spicy salad green and make arugula pesto.

What’s in Arugula Pesto?

Making arugula pesto follows all the same steps as a traditional pesto, but with a few tweaks to the ingredients.

Arugula: First and foremost, instead of raiding your herb garden for bunches of basil, you’ll want to make sure you pick plenty of arugula. This green has a peppery kick that pairs well with pasta, tomatoes and other Italian ingredients.

Walnuts: You’ll also notice that in lieu of pine nuts, our arugula pesto uses walnuts. Walnuts are more affordable and add a similar flavor profile. Of course, if you’d like to stick with pine nuts, feel free! You can swap in the same amount in this recipe.

Parmesan: This hard cow’s milk cheese is a traditional component of pesto. You want freshly grated, not the jarred kind.

Garlic: Pesto needs a bit of bite from fresh garlic. Next, try this garlic scape pesto recipe.

Oil: Reach for a good quality, smooth-tasting extra-virgin olive oil. Here are our favorite olive oil brands.

Lemon juice: Don’t skip the lemon juice! It brightens the flavor of the greens and keeps the sauce looking vibrant green.

How to Make Arugula Pesto

How To Make Arugula PestoTMB Studio


  • 4 cups fresh arugula
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Step 1: Toast the walnuts

Spread the walnuts evenly on an ungreased sheet pan. Bake at 350ºF for 5 to 10 minutes, until you can start to smell a lightly toasted scent.

Editor’s Tip: Toasting nuts of all kinds adds more depth of flavor. Our Test Kitchen regularly makes this recommendation in recipes that call for nuts.

Step 2: Pulse the ingredients

Next, add the arugula, Parmesan cheese, garlic and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Cover and pulse until chopped. Then add in the cooled walnuts and lemon juice.

Step 3: Drizzle in the oil

Lastly, break out your favorite extra-virgin olive oil. Set the food processor to blend on low speed and slowly add a steady stream of olive oil into the mix.

If needed, scrape down the sides of the processor bowl and pulse until you reach your desired consistency. Some folks like a super smooth pesto, while others like to see a bit of texture—either works!

How to Use Arugula Pesto

How To Make Arugula PestoTMB Studio

Arugula pesto can be used in any recipe that calls for jarred or fresh pesto sauce. These recipes with pesto are a great place to start, but keep these applications in mind, too:

  • Dip: Arugula pesto has a bit of a kick. It makes a great dip for fresh vegetables. If you want a more mild flavor, stir fresh pesto into sour cream or softened cream cheese.
  • Marinade: You can also use arugula pesto as a marinade for proteins and veggies. Simply cover your ingredients in the sauce before tossing them on the grill or in the oven.
  • Spread: Got crostini? Or a pizza? Or crackers? Spread a bit of pesto on top. You can serve as is, or layer on prosciutto, burrata or roasted vegetables.

How to Store Arugula Pesto

If you don’t plan on using the pesto right away, store it in the fridge or freezer.

To keep arugula pesto fresh in the fridge, pop it in an airtight container or Mason jar. Then pour a drizzle of olive oil over the top, cover and refrigerate. This layer of oil will prevent the pesto from turning brown. Discoloration won’t affect the flavor, but it does disguise this sauce’s vibrant hue. The sauce will keep this way in the fridge for about a week.

If you’d rather store your pesto for much later, freeze it. You can freeze small portions in an ice cube tray. Once fully frozen, remove from the tray and store in an airtight container or bag. When you’re ready to enjoy, defrost in the fridge. You can also just freeze the sauce in a freezer-safe container of your choice. No matter the method, arugula pesto will last about six months in the freezer.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.