Creamy Arugula Pesto - Vegetarian Recipe

A mere handful of arugula and parsley.
There are a couple things you need to know. First, there is a row of arugula about 80 feet long that hasn't been harvested at my local CSA. Second, I only made 15 of the desired 24 batches of pesto I wanted to freeze for the winter before I ran out of basil.

Since I've been looking at the pesto recipe in my New Best Recipe Cookbook by Cook's Illustrated for the last couple weeks I've had time to notice that there are several variations on the Classic Basil Pesto. One of those variations is Creamy Arugula Pesto. I decided to give it a go.

The arugula and parsley base with the cheese ready to be mixed in.
Basically it is the same recipe as regular basil pesto except switch out the basil for one cup arugula and one cup parsley then add in a 1/3 cup of ricotta to get the creaminess. I whipped up a batch for dinner tonight. It came out this lovely light pea green color; much lighter than basil pesto.
I added some sauteed onion and slightly re-hydrated sun dried tomatoes because I figured the bitter, peppery arugula could use some sweet relief. Couldn't we all use some sweet relief?

As we sat down to dinner I explained to Jeff that we were eating a variation on pesto, but with arugula. During his first bite he looked confused. Then he decided it needed more salt. Then he told me it tasted, "like rubber in the back of my throat". His verdict, it was too bitter. That didn't stop him from eating a huge heaping plate full - wouldn't want to waste food.

I didn't mind arugula pesto. I thought it was good; definitely bitter, but in a nice-change-of-pace way. I'd make it again for myself.

Jeff is not a picky eater.  If he doesn't like arugula pesto that's saying something.  I guess I won't make nine batches of it just so I can get up to the 24 I wanted to freeze.

Twenty-four was a specially calculated number of batches. It's how many batches it would take for us to eat pesto once a week until basil is ready to pick in the garden again next summer. I guess we will have to settle for pesto every ten days or so instead.

I also wonder if this arugula isn't particularly bitter. It was planted when it was hot out and it's huge. The hotter, dryer and older a green the more bitter it generally becomes. I'd bet baby arugula greens would be less potent. Perhaps something to try next year.

If you like a little bitter in your life, give this recipe a go.

Creamy Arugula Pesto 
1/4 cup pine nuts (you could also use walnuts, pecans or almonds)
3 medium garlic cloves
1 cup packed fresh arugula leaves
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
7 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon salt
1 pound of pasta
  1. Toast the nuts in a small heavy skillet. Don't add oil, just do it dry. Pine nuts in particular will go from toast to burnt very quickly so use low heat and mix them around frequently until they are golden brown and fragrant. It shouldn't take more than 4-5 minutes. Set the nuts aside to cool.
  2. Using the same skillet brown the garlic with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
  3. Pick the parsley leaves off the stems and take the rib out of the arugula. All you want are nice tender dark green bits.
  4. Next bruise the arugula and parsley to bring out their flavor. Place the arugula and parsley in a large zip-lock bag and seal it most of the way. You want to leave a little opening for air to escape. Now the fun part, use the flat side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin to bruise the basil. You will know when you are done when all the basil has turned a darker, wet looking green color.
  5. Combine the pine nuts, garlic, arugula, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil in the food processor. Process until smooth. You can also use a blender for this part. Or if you are really dedicated do it the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle. Once everything is smooth transfer your basil mixture to a small bowl and stir in the ricotta and Parmesan cheese.
  6. Now at this point you can package and freeze your pesto if you like. Some folks like to freeze it in ice-cube trays so they can pop a cube out to throw in a soup or season up a sauce. I like to put mine in small freezer bags.

    You can also keep pesto in the fridge by covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Make sure to press the plastic wrap right down onto the top of the pesto so there is not air to oxidize and lose flavor. The recipe says it will keep this way for up to three days. If you want to eat that pesto right now, continue on to step seven.
  7. Bring four quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the tablespoon of salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Then reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. I used thin spaghetti because I like that it cooks in just 7 minutes but use whatever pasta you fancy. Rotini is particularly nice because it has lots of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce.
  8. Stir in 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water in with the pesto, then toss the pasta with the pesto. Add a little more of the pasta water if needed to get the pesto to distribute evenly. You can serve this hot or let it cool to room temperature.


  1. my dear this kind of pesto looks very delicious kiss simmy

  2. Just buzzed :)
    Terrific looking recipe. Pesto can be so versatile!

  3. I personally love arugula and use it as my main salad green, usually. I bet I would love this! thanks for the idea.

  4. What a great dish, this looks delicious! :)

  5. delicious! The arugula you have there looks different from the ones found in the UK.

  6. I love a great pesto recipe. Yum!

  7. This pasta dish looks really good! I love that you made your pesto with arugula!

  8. Sounds pretty good to me! Maybe it would be less bitter with a mixture of basil and arugula? or even spinach and arugula? Either way, sounds like a great way to use up some leftover arugula =)

  9. Another pesto idea: collard greens! I know, you're thinking "Really?" I got a bunch of collard greens in my CSA box and was sick of the traditional ways of cooking them up. Then I found this: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Collard-Green-Olive-Pesto-109229
    It's got olives too. It sounds odd, but it is GOOD. I put it on egg sandwiches on the weekends, and have it with coffee while reading the paper. It's a great way to start your day!

  10. I wonder if you could add a little spinach to counteract the bitterness. I made a spinach pesto a while back and it was crazy bland... I feel like there's maybe some middle ground in there to find.

  11. I like bitter for a change, making some crispy fried garlic with chopped peanuts to accompany eggplant, it's a little bitter too, but in a nice way. Delightful photos.

  12. My hubby and I love pesto, great recipe!

    Check us out sometime @ BloomEveryday.wordpress.com. :) Would love for you to check out some of our recipes.

  13. Yes, think I would agree, the baby arugula would work best as the larger leaves are often bitter. Best to taste them right from the garden or bag..if nice in your mouth then, then nice on your plate later.

    Have a lot of arugula right now, so pesto making tomorrow. Really like your idea of using ricotta though. Was surfing for recipes and yours came up.