An easy, delicious twist on traditional pesto made with baby arugula. Bright, lemony and peppery in flavor, arugula pesto pasta is the perfect quick and easy dish to enjoy year-round.
I’m a HUGE fan of traditional basil pesto. It’s one of my favorite things to make all summer when everyone’s garden and window boxes are bursting with fresh herbs. During the rest of the year, getting your hands on copious amounts of fresh basil may be a bit more difficult (and expensive!) and this arugula version is the perfect alternative.
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Why is arugula my favorite green?
All arugula has ever done is make things more delicious. It’s highly underrated and absolutely my favorite green. Arugula is on my weekly shopping list year round. It’s a perfect, crunchy sandwich topping, a delicious salad or power bowl base, great for folding into omelettes, pastas and absolutely divine drizzled with olive oil and piled on top of pizza. It also holds up really well in the refrigerator and doesn’t get wilty or require any prep. Just grab a bag or two at the grocery store for an instant nutritional boost to many of the dishes you’re already eating!
Arugula is super good for you. Although it looks like salad greens, it’s actually a cruciferous vegetable. Cruciferous veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, brussels sprouts and a few others. Rich in vitamins and minerals such as folate and vitamin K, cruciferous veggies are known to reduce the risk of cancer, lower inflammation and promote strong bones and a healthy heart. We can eat pasta and do something good for our health in one dish, it’s a win!
How to make arugula pesto pasta
For many people, pesto only means traditional Genovese pesto. The familiar and delicious basil paste from the Italian Riviera. The word pesto is just the past tense of the Genoese verb “pestare,” which means “to crush.” For this recipe, we’re going to crush arugula instead of basil to make the bright green sauce for pasta and for anything else you wish to enjoy it with.
Pesto could not be easier to make. Simply load everything into a food processor (or a blender if you don’t have one), blitz it up and drizzle in good olive oil so the mixture emulsifies and comes together in a thick, almost creamy and absolutely delicious paste like sauce. This arugula pesto is so good, you’ll be eating it with a spoon!
The most important step in serving pesto pasta is to reserve about a cup of the starchy cooking water before you drain the pasta. The salty, starchy water not only adds flavor but helps glue the pasta and sauce together; it will also help thicken the sauce. You should actually be doing this anytime you make pasta. Using pasta water is a professional chef level technique that will majorly upgrade the pasta dishes you make at home to restaurant quality. After you cook your pasta add it back into the warm pot, add the arugula pesto, and add a splash of pasta water. Toss and serve.
What do I need to make arugula pesto pasta?
The ingredient list for this recipe is very simple.
Arugula – I grab a bag or clamshell container of it pretty much every shopping trip.
Almonds or Pine Nuts – traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts. I actually tend to use almonds in this recipe as I always have them in my pantry. Pine nuts are also really expensive! Use whichever one you have.
Garlic – pesto is garlicky.
Lemon – fresh lemon juice is what gives this sauce some brightness. It really compliments the peppery flavor of the arugula.
Parmesan Cheese – this adds that salty, cheesy flavor that makes pesto so delicious.
Olive Oil – use the good stuff in pesto. The ingredients are simple and raw so you will taste each component. I recommend The Furies Olive Oil. It’s a bit of a splurge but it’s SO worth it. Organic, cold pressed olive oil, sourced directly from family farms in Greece. Once you have it, sorry but you’re spoiled for life.
Salt – Just a few pinches for seasoning. I use Himalayan Pink Salt in pretty much all of my recipes.
Pasta – you can use whatever kind of pasta you like. Pesto goes on everything! In this post, I used Bucatini. It looks like thick spaghetti but it is actually hollow in the middle. It’s just fun.
Other Mix-ins – You can really mix in any additional ingredients you want into this pasta. It’s so flexible. I’ll take anything as an excuse to eat Burrata cheese so that’s what’s pictured. I also make this with broccoli, fresh tomatoes or with a little bit of my Tomato and Garlic Confit or even Italian Sausage. Whatever you like!
What are some other ways to enjoy pesto?
Pesto isn’t just for pasta. It’s really a versatile sauce that can be enjoyed on so many things! Dollop it on baked chicken or fish, put it on pizza, use as a sandwich spread, mix into risotto or grain bowls, top tomatoes, caprese or just have it on it’s own with a big hunk of bread. This Panzanella With Olives and White Beans is also one of my favorites with arugula pesto.
One of my favorite things about pesto pasta is that it tastes great hot, room temperature or cold straight out the fridge. It’s the perfect pasta for meal prep or dressing for a delicious pasta salad. Pesto also freezes really well, although I doubt you’ll have any leftovers. I hope you love it!
Bright, lemony and peppery in flavor, arugula pesto pasta is the perfect quick and easy dish to enjoy year-round.
- 2 cups packed baby arugula
- 1/4 cup almonds or pine nuts
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 lb pasta
- Optional: 8oz torn burrata cheese or other mix-ins of your choice
- Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil for the pasta. While you’re waiting, make the pesto.
- In the bowl of your food processor add arugula, almonds, garlic, parmesan, cheese, lemon juice and salt. Pulse until arugula is broken down and mixture is slightly incorporated.
- While the food processor is running, drizzle in olive oil until everything comes together is a rough paste. I like the mixture to have a bit of texture and not be completely smooth.
- Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
- Set aside pesto and cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Before you drain the pasta, use a mug or heat safe measuring cup to scoop out about a cup of pasta water and set aside.
- In the warm pasta pot, add cooked pasta back in, desired amount of pesto and a splash of pasta water. Use tongs to toss and coat the pasta with the sauce, adding more pesto or water until desired taste and consistency.
- Serve immediately with torn burrata or other mix-ins of your choice.
The arugula pesto can be made ahead of time and will keep well in the fridge for about 5 days.
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