This is a variation of our pesto base recipe. While basil and pine nuts create a more traditional summer pesto, arugula and walnuts are great for fall and winter meals. This easy arugula walnut pesto is great for fish or chicken or is a delicious addition to pasta, salads, or sandwiches.
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Culinary Tips for Making Arugula Pesto
When measuring the arugula, gently pack the leaves into the cup, but don’t pack so much that the leaves fall out of the cup.
Depending on the size of your food processor or blender, you might need to double the recipe. The jar/bowl needs to be full of enough ingredients to properly blend.
Be careful with the amount of fresh garlic you use – it has strong flavor! It’s better to start with less and then add more to taste.
Process until you reach your desired texture. For a smooth and creamy pesto sauce, process for longer.
Different pesto recipes may have slightly different ratios, but the ingredients will generally be the same: greens, olive oil, nuts, cheese, garlic, and salt.
- Arugula: substitute some of or all of the arugula with any greens of your choice (spinach, kale, basil). Greens such as mustard greens, swiss chard, and beet greens have a stronger taste, so consider using a milder green, such as spinach, for half of the recipe. You can also add green herbs such as fresh dill, mint, parsley, or cilantro. Keep in mind the flavor profile of the dish you’ll be making when choosing the herbs.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: substitute infused extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. We don’t recommend using vegetable oil, as this is not a heart-healthy oil. If you want to enhance the pesto with a strongly flavored oil, such as walnut or truffle oil, use extra virgin olive oil as the base, then add the strong oil a little at a time, to taste.
- Parmesan: substitute Pecorino Romano, asiago, or aged cheddar. We think that cheese blocks taste best, but we recognize the added convenience of pre-shredded cheese.
- Walnuts: substitute pine nuts, cashews, pecans, or almonds. If using pine nuts or sliced or slivered almonds, use 1/4 cup. We don’t recommend using peanuts in pesto, as they have a very distinct taste.
- Garlic: substitute ½ teaspoon garlic flakes, ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic, or ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder.
We love getting our oil and vinegar from Enzo’s Table. Click on the picture below to try out dozens of different oils, vinegars, and more!
To reduce the pungency of the garlic, roast it in the oven for a few minutes with its peel on. Unpeel after roasting.
For a more complex flavor, toast the walnuts before adding to the blender.
Add lemon juice and/or zest to brighten the flavor.
To make this pesto recipe vegan, leave out the cheese. To maintain some of the umami flavor, add 1 Tablespoon of nutritional yeast.
Need some pesto recipe inspiration?
Are you nuts for pesto too? Use our base recipe to make it your own, or try out these other variations!
Use these kitchen tools for pesto recipe success!
Health Benefits of Homemade Basil Pesto
Learning how to make pesto sauce from scratch is a great way to expand your culinary horizons. Arugula walnut pesto is a healthy sauce/dip/spread that can boost the nutritional quality and flavor of a dish. The featured ingredients in this recipe are arugula, walnuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
Leafy green veggies are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that promote health and help fight diseases. Blending arugula into a healthy pesto recipe is an easy way to help promote your health.
Nuts of all varieties contain plant-based protein, fiber, and healthy fats. These nutrients promote heart health and help you feel satisfied until your next meal. Walnuts contain plant-based omega-3 fatty acids that promote brain and heart health. (1)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean Diet. It contains high amounts of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols which may reduce inflammation. Additionally, certain nutrients require fat for absorption; using extra virgin olive oil in pesto can boost the nutritional quality of a dish. (2, 3)
Serve this arugula walnut pesto on top of fish, tossed in a grain-based salad, combined in meatballs or burgers, as a sauce for pizza, or mixed in with noodles to make pesto pasta. These are some of our favorite recipes with pesto, but use your creativity to use it in whatever dish sounds delicious to you!
Pesto oxidizes in the refrigerator which turns its beautiful bright green color to olive green. This doesn’t necessarily affect the flavor – it just doesn’t look as pretty! To help preserve some of the color, drizzle olive oil on top of the pesto before refrigerating. Alternatively, cover the pesto with plastic wrap and let it touch the surface so that it doesn’t have any contact with the air.
Pesto also freezes well. For easy use and thawing, freeze pesto in small servings (a silicone ice tray is great for this). When ready to eat, simply pop one or two cubes out, thaw, and use as normal!
Want more healthy sauce recipes?
Try out these tried and true recipes!
Arugula Walnut Pesto
- 2 cups packed fresh arugula leaves (~1 ½ ounces)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup shredded parmesan
- ½ cup walnuts
- 1 medium garlic clove
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place arugula, oil, parmesan, walnuts, and garlic in a blender and puree until fairly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To store, pour into container and top with a little extra virgin olive oil to keep your pesto nice and green! Enjoy!