Simply Bangin’ Arugula-Walnut Pesto

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Pesto Without Basil?

Arugula-Walnut PestoOk, who remembers You Can’t Do That On Television?  If you’re a product of the 80’s like me, then you’ll understand what I mean when I say I was concerned that these photos would look like someone on that show just said “I don’t know”!  But it’s pesto, and pesto is green, so get over it.  And by the way, you know what I think about calorie counting, but if you’re still doing it, then just stop reading this post.  Pesto is delicious and full of real, nutritious ingredients, but it’s definitely not a low-calorie food.

Up until a few years ago, I thought I didn’t like pesto.  I had only had it in restaurants, and most of the time it came out thick, overly creamy, and too garlicky.  Then one day I was looking for a new sauce to toss with the fresh gnocchi that I love to make, so I made some pesto from the basil in our garden.  We were absolutely blown away by the fresh, bright flavors, and since then we’ve loved everything about pesto!  To me, it’s summer on a plate.

I’ve tried lots of pestos made with ingredients other than the classic basil and pine nuts, and I’ve been disappointed almost every time (I suppose that’s why it’s a classic).  So I was a little skeptical about this one, which uses arugula and walnuts, but pesto is so fast to make in the food processor that the risk was almost zero.  Let me tell you, it was worth it.

The arugula-walnut pesto turned out light, fresh and flavorful with a surprising slight creaminess, considering there’s no cream in it.  The walnut oil in the recipe can optionally be replaced by olive oil, but the walnut oil really adds a nice flavor and cuts the bitterness of the arugula.  Arugula is in season, so get it at the farmers market freshest taste.  We actually got bagged arugula this time since we missed the farmers market last week, but this pesto was so good that I’m going to make it again with fresh, local arugula.

We had two minor problems with this meal, both of which are easily fixable.  The first problem was that it was too salty.  And I love salt, so that’s saying something.  The recipe was from Fine Cooking.  You can get it here, but I’d recommend my revised version (with more arugula, less salt, and less cheese) that appears at the end of this post.  The second problem was our fault, not the recipe’s.  Without thinking, we used a 12-ounce Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Pastabox of pasta instead of the 16 ounces that the recipe calls for; the result was too much pesto on the pasta after we tossed it all together.  Mario Batali, in Molto Italiano (one of my go-to cookbooks), says that most Americans put way too much sauce on their pasta, and that’s what happened here.  Pasta is such a good, simple food, and sauce should enhance its flavor, not dominate it.  Of course, if you’re using 89-cent pasta then that might not be so true.  We’ve found a really good one from Hodgson Mill; its made from two ingredients–100% whole wheat flour and organic flax seed.  It’s not cheap, but we rationalize it by telling ourselves how much we save by not eating meat!

This pesto is definitely a 4-cow’er out of 5.  With less salt, farm-fresh arugula, and maybe homemade pasta or gnocchi, it’d be a shoo-in 5.  If you think you don’t like pesto, try this, or even a basil one; just make it from scratch and keep it REAL!

Arugula Walnut Pesto Recipe

4.5 from 2 reviews
Arugula-Walnut Pesto
Cuisine: Italian (Vegan)
Serves: 4 servings
  • 16 ounces whole wheat fettuccine (fresh or dried)
  • 5 ounces arugula, preferably fresh from the farmers market
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is best, but really expensive)
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • ½ tsp salt, more to taste and for pasta water
  • ½ cup canola or olive oil
  • ¼ cup walnut oil (can optionally be replaced by olive oil)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  1. Boil water for the pasta; salt until it tastes like the sea. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta cooks, combine arugula, walnuts, cheese, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor. Process for a few seconds until coarsely ground. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until the mixture is almost smooth, with just a little texture. Add more salt to taste.
  3. Toss the pasta with the pesto and season at the table with fresh ground black pepper and more cheese if desired.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 4




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  1. Pesto is the food of my life…you think I’m kidding? I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner before…all sorts of combos and variations. I’m an addict…step one is admitting you have a problem.

  2. This looks so, so good! I love pesto and pasta! This would be great on the my new healthy eating plan that you’re putting together for me. Could you make this and send it to me so all I have to do is put it in the microwave? Thanks! The Mom

    And thanks everyone for your input regarding the healthy no-hassle- minimum/no cooking recipes you sent in the previous blog. I truly get up in the morning, go to my deli to work and then get home, exhausted at 9-10pm, ready to just go to bed. I can’t wait to eat Matt’s 2-week healthy eating plan and see how I feel!

  3. Love this! It sounds so filling and comforting.

    The Duo Dishes’s last blog post..No Need to Boil

    • Definitely. As I’ve gotten a little older I’ve come to appreciate “comforting” as a food quality. And it’s great to find something that’s comforting and reasonably healthy.

  4. I love pesto on anything, especially pasta. This recipe looks and sounds great!

    Pam’s last blog post..White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

  5. Pesto not the besto. I think i’m just more of a tomato based pasta person.

  6. This sounds great! Love pesto. I’d like to try this just to get some arugula in my diet 😛

    A great way to make vegan pesto is to swap the parmesan out for 1/2 the amount in WW dry breadcrumbs + 1/2 the amount in nutritional yeast. If you haven’t had nutritional yeast, give it a try—a couple times. For some reason I hated it the first time. It’s got a deep aroma and flavor that lots of people describe as cheesy. I actually don’t like cheese, but nutr. yeast is still yummy to me! It’s particularly great with pasta or on popcorn.

    • Interesting, I’ve never even heard of nutritional yeast. But I can imagine it being good if it smells like yeast does when I use it for beer or bread. I’ll give it a try if I see it in the store.

      I love arugula! There’s a post on my blog called “My Favorite Salad” that is the best use of it that I know. We just had it two days ago.

  7. Walnut oil is also a natural wormer so if you have a child who picks nose and itches bum, sign of parasites. So walnut oil will get rid of them!!

  8. Thanks for this – I am apparently one of the few people who really, really dislike basil. (Gack!) This recipe gives me hope, because it really does look like a dish worth trying, and I’m glad it can be made in other ways. I’ve tried – and tried – to like basil, but.. yech. Thanks again!

  9. this looks so yummy! Ive bookmarked it ready to get the ingredients next time I brave the supermarket, thanks! Belle

  10. Honey, where’d you get the bit about salting the boiling water until it “tastes like the sea”? Are you tasting it before or after it’s boiling?

  11. Just a question. The recipe is listed as vegan. However you’re using parmesan cheese.

    I think I’m missing something since no one pointed this out. I’d love to try this out if it does avoid dairy.

  12. Great recipe. No need for this to not be vegan though — I second the suggestion for using nutritional yeast (not brewers yeast by the way … that is more bitter) instead of parmesan.
    You also will need to up the salt a bit (parmesan is very salty so without it you need to add some to get the same flavour) and no need for any bread crumbs (someone else suggested). Just nooch (as us vegans call nutritional yeast). A great way to add more B-vitamins to your diet as well. It’s good stuff. My husband is not vegan and he can’t tell the difference when I make pesto with this stuff + a bit of salt instead of parmesan – he loves it. Put it in starting with a 1/2c for this recipe, add another teaspoon of salt and taste. Adjust nooch and salt to taste.
    Cheese is not good for your mucus production or your joints – milk is highly inflammatory …. (also the cows are not so happy about it).

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