Arugula Pesto

Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in a region of northern Italy. The name is the contracted past participle of “pesta” meaning “to pound or to crush” in reference to the sauce’s crushed herbs and garlic.

I love pesto. It’s sweet basil and garlic flavor is great on pizza, as a light pasta sauce, spread on crackers, tossed with potatoes, as a sandwich spread or even served alongside chicken or steak.

Earlier this summer when I went to a wine tasting, I had my first experience with arugula pesto. This was a new thought for me. When I think of pesto, I always think of basil. However, fresh basil isn’t always ready in your garden in early spring. You don’t need to limit yourself to using only basil, but can experiment with other herbs from your garden that are ready to harvest sooner like arugula.

Arugula is a spicy leaf herb with a “peppery bite” that is also sometimes referred to as rocket, roquette, rugula and rucola. It’s always been popular in Italian cuisine for flavoring oils, and I developed a love/hate relationship of my own with arugula while in Italy. It was used heavily in salads and on sandwiches (I can’t tell you how happy I was to come home to some romaine or iceburg on my sandwich!).

The daunting task of making pesto is deciding on a recipe. Do I need to blanch the basil or herb I am using? Do I want to use Asiago, Parmesan or Romano cheese? Do I want to use pine nuts or walnuts? Should I toast them? Should I toast the garlic or use it raw? How much olive oil should I add? Should I add sundried tomatoes? Really friends, pesto should not be this complicated or take this much thought!

I decided if I was going to try arugula pesto on my own, it was going to be the simplest recipe ever. And simple this recipe is! It took me a total of 3 to 5 minutes to make, which was perfect while my pasta boiled. If the spicy taste of the arugula is too much for your taste, I recommend adding 1 teaspoon of sugar until it reaches your desired sweetness.

Arugula Pesto

2 cups arugula, stems removed
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup toasted pine nuts
1 teaspoon sugar, if desired

In a blender or food processor, blend arugula, garlic and Parmesan cheese until smooth. Slowly add olive oil and pine nuts until you reach desired consistency.

This is served great over warm pasta or as a spread on ciabatta with turkey and provolone.