A Summer’s Riff on Pesto: Arugula, Basil and Walnut Pesto

Arugula Basil Pesto (1 of 1)

Ahhh, the summer garden. How I love the quiet time amongst my little plants in spring, waiting for their roots to take hold and for their stalks or leaves to soar. There is nothing like the joy of seeing that first zucchini blossom, tomato flower or artichoke stem. But then, a business trip calls me away and I return to find my plants have taken on a life of their own – seemingly to have grown overnight into alien versions of their little former selves; weeds, leaves and summer’s bounty all mingling into a little jungle of sorts. This is when my panic usually sets in. How will I ever weed all these beds??? Or in my recent case, what am I going to do with ALL this arugula? (My boyfriend keeps reminding me that I am not very good at sequential planting so as to space out when things mature. I get too excited and plant ALL the seeds at once.)

All I can say is thank heavens for the pesto revolution underway. Pesto is being transformed everywhere. No longer does the standard basil, pine nut variety suffice. It is being whipped up in kitchens with anything from broccoli rape to scallions to kale. All you need is a something green, a lusty cheese and a nut to your liking. To put the icing on the cake, after a quick blanch of some ingredients, just toss everything in the food processor and ta-dah – dinner!

So with armloads of arugula and some fresh basil to boot, my dinner was born – a simple pasta dressed with the garden fresh flavors of the pesto and the bite of some quality extra virgin olive oil. H.E.A.V.E.N.

Feel free to substitute all basil or all arugula; almonds or pine nuts instead of walnuts; all parmigiano. The sky is the limit! Have fun.

Happy Summer,

Buon appetito!


Arugula, Basil and Walnut Pesto


½ cup walnuts

3 cups arugula, loosely packed

3 cups basil, loosely packed

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano

¼ cup grated Pecorino

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound pasta (spaghetti works great)


Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. (You can use this water to cook the pasta after you blanch the greens.) Blanch arugula for 10 seconds. Using a spider or large slotted spoon, transfer the arugula to an ice bath. Let cool. Remove the arugula from the ice bath and squeeze excess water from the leaves.

Put the arugula, basil, Parmigiano, Pecorino, walnuts, lemon zest and garlic in a food processor. Pulse to blend. With the machine running, slowly add in the olive oil. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Salt the water in the pot and return to a boil. Cook the pasta, according to package directions until al dente. Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain the pasta. In a large bowl, place about ½ cup pesto. Transfer the pasta to the bowl and stir to coat. Add some of the pasta water if too thick. Drizzle with additional extra virgin olive oil and pesto. Serve!



Join the Conversation

  1. Teresa Salvatore says:

    Hello Michele and Joey –

    I enjoy reading your narratives about food – my favorite stress reliever – cooking and eating!

    I was just debating with my girls about the best pesto ever, and, I believe, it’s the recipe with toasted walnuts, lemon, parmigiano, basil with a little fresh baby spinach, olive oil, S & P!

    However, I’m going to try the arugula.

    Glad to see you are well. Hope to see you soon!

    Arrivederci! Dio vi benedica!

    Teresa Salvatore

    1. Michele Author says:

      Thanks so much for your comments, Tess!! Love spinach in here as well! Hope to see you soon – enjoy the summer. A presto! Michele

  2. Sharon Wilcox says:

    I correctly have some organic arugula and will try this with my basal.

    1. Sharon: Thanks! Let’s know how it turns out. Joe

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