This easy homemade arugula pesto recipe is ready in five minutes! Walnuts, parmesan cheese, and lemon juice make a simple pesto sauce to use with pasta, chicken, and more.
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ARUGULA! Easily one of the most underrated greens of all time, and the bright, peppery star of your new favorite five minute pesto.
This homemade pesto is at the top of my “most made sauces” list for SOOOOO many reasons. Let’s hit some highlights:
- It’s easy to meal prep, which makes this creamy pesto sauce perfect for quick weeknight dinners and make-ahead potluck dishes alike (TRUST ME when I tell you that an arugula pesto pasta salad will totally make you the hero of your next barbecue).
- It’s FORGIVING. Toss in some fresh basil leaves, swap roasted garlic for the raw garlic cloves, swap pine nuts or pistachios for the walnuts, or leave the nuts out entirely for a nut-free pesto. (Side note: I DO love the depth and creaminess that walnuts lend here, but if you want to mimic that texture in a nut-free pesto, you can add half an avocado instead of the nuts!)
- It goes with EVERYTHING. Toss with fresh pasta, drizzle it over sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, serve it over grilled chicken or salmon, slather it on homemade pizzas, or toss it with your favorite salad.
How long does arugula pesto last?
This pesto will keep for up to a week in the fridge, or 3-4 months in the freezer (see below).
If you store arugula pesto in the fridge, cover the surface of the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep it from browning. If the top DOES brown a little bit, no fear! Just give it a good stir and the bright green color will often come back to life.
How to freeze pesto:
I like to freeze pesto in small quantities so it’s easy to defrost just what we need at a time – no worrying about what to do with leftovers! Here are our favorite ways to freeze pesto:
- Small Containers. Pack ½ cup or so of pesto at a time into small airtight containers (I love to use small Mason Jars or a snack-sized Stasher Bag!) and pop them into the freezer. Perfect if: You’ll likely use frozen pesto in larger quantities, or will use it in multiple meals over a few days.
- Ice Cubes. Freeze extra-small quantities of pesto in ice cube trays (we love these stackable ones from OXO!) Just freeze, pop out the cubes, and transfer to an airtight container for storage! Perfect if: You like just a touch of pesto in sauces, soups, or salads, and you don’t want to be eating it every day for a week.
- Small Scoops. Line a tray with a nonstick baking mat (you could also use waxed paper) and use a spoon or a cookie scoop to place small scoops of pesto onto the mat. Pop the tray in the freezer and transfer the “pesto blobs” (technical term, let’s not overthink it) to an airtight container for storage once they’ve frozen. Pro tip: The pesto will hold its shape better for this method if it’s chilled and on the thicker side. You can always pop it in the freezer for a few minutes to help it firm up and hold its scooped shape if need be. Perfect if: You want a bit more control over the size of your pesto blobs (or if you just don’t feel like cleaning out your ice cube trays).
While this pesto sauce will technically keep indefinitely in the freezer, I find it starts to lose its brightness after 3-4 months. If your previously frozen pesto tastes a little boring, you can bring it back to life by stirring in some fresh lemon juice or re-blending it with some fresh arugula or herbs.
How to fix bitter pesto:
Arugula is a fairly bitter, peppery ingredient (I LOVE that flavor, but it isn’t everyone’s favorite!) and because ingredients can vary so much, it’s possible to end up with pesto that’s on the bitter side. If your finished pesto (whether it’s this recipe or not!) is too bitter, there are a few easy ways to fix it:
- Taste test your olive oil. Olive oil varies widely – and there are plenty of bitter varieties! Taste your oil on its own to gauge bitterness – if the oil is the culprit, add a splash of water, vegetable or canola oil, or extra lemon juice to balance your pesto out!
- Adjust the arugula. Swap out half the arugula for fresh basil if you’d like to mellow the flavor of the arugula. You can also blend in some fresh spinach!
- Nix the raw garlic. Garlic flavor varies from clove to clove, and I’ve often heard friends describe a dish as “bitter” when what they actually mean is “super duper garlicky.” Reduce the amount of raw garlic in a recipe or substitute roasted garlic cloves (SO GOOD) to mellow that flavor out.
- Add fat or salt. Both can help cut bitterness. Blend in another handful of nuts and/or cheese, and don’t be afraid to add an extra pinch of salt! Taste the pesto as you go so you can tell what’s working.
- Add a dash of honey. This is usually a last resort for me – you don’t want pesto to be too sweet! – but in a pinch, a little honey or sugar can go a long way towards rescuing bitter pesto.
VIDEO: HOW TO MAKE ARUGULA PESTO
Easy homemade arugula pesto recipe ready in five minutes with walnuts, parmesan, and lemon. Perfect on pasta, chicken, salad, and more!
- 4 packed cups fresh arugula
- ½ cup walnuts
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- Kosher salt to taste
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (you likely won’t need it all)
- Add the arugula, walnuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to the bowl of a food processor (you can also use a blender). Pulse 5-10 times, until the mixture is evenly chopped and has formed a rough paste.
- Turn the food processor off and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spoon or spatula.
- With the food processor running, slowly stream in the olive oil until the pesto has reached your desired consistency. You likely won’t need all of the oil here – we tend to use about ⅓ of a cup – so add it a little at a time and keep an eye on the pesto while it blends. You may want to scrape down the sides of the food processor again to make sure all the ingredients are smoothly blended into the pesto.
- Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
How to serve: Toss this arugula pesto with pasta or salads, brush it over grilled fish or salmon, add a scoop to your favorite sauces, or drizzle over roasted vegetables.
Use high quality ingredients! Use real parmigiano reggiano cheese and a good quality olive oil here – great ingredients make all the difference with such a simple recipe!
Consistency: The exact amount of olive oil used will vary based on your ingredients, equipment, and personal preference. If you want a thinner pesto, stream in a bit more olive oil!
Freezing & Storing: This pesto will keep up to a week in the fridge and 3-4 months in the freezer. For more about freezing and storage, refer to the post above!
Vegetarian & Vegan Options: Strict vegetarians should look for parmesan cheese made without rennet or omit the cheese entirely. To make this recipe vegan, omit the parmesan cheese and reduce the amount of olive oil used. Add a teaspoon or two of nutritional yeast if you want to mimic the flavor of parmesan without using real cheese.
Substitutions & Adjustments: Use pine nuts, pistachios, or almonds in place of the walnuts. Add a handful of fresh basil or parsley for an extra layer of flavor. The acidity here will vary based on the lemon juice you use. Lemon juice can vary widely between bottled varieties and even between fresh lemons. If you’d like a brighter flavor after you taste the pesto, add more lemon juice. This is a VERY forgiving recipe, so don’t be afraid to taste and make adjustments as you go!
Equipment: If you have an especially large food processor, you may want to double this recipe to ensure everything is chopped evenly. One of our testers used a 14-cup Cuisinart food processor with no trouble, but one tester with a large Ninja food processor found this pesto worked better for her with a smaller food processor or blender.
This post was originally published in 2012. It has been updated for ease and clarity.
Keywords: frozen, keep, serve, bitter, homemade, walnuts, pasta, summer