Thursday, May 25, 2006

Searching for the Best Arugula Pesto Recipe, Making Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread, and Discovering Arugula Pesto Pizza

Arugula Pesto Takes Over the Kitchen!

Low fat arugula pesto recipe made with homegrown arugula and canned garbanzo beans

Update: Wondering what else to do with arugula? You might also enjoy my easy Arugula Cottage Cheese Dip/Spread/Sauce Recipe or this Roasted Leek and Potato Soup with Arugula.

If you thought it took me a long time to get around to writing this post on how to make arugula pesto, you should be glad I started researching arugula pesto recipes after I'd already come up with mine. Otherwise I would most likely either still be sitting at the computer, dazed and Google-eyed, or in the kitchen trying yet another variation. Talk about overwhelming.

So what did I discover from 30,000+ Google search hits for 'arugula pesto?' That there are practically as many recipes for arugula pesto as there are cooks in the kitchen—and that the only thing they appear to have in common is that they all include arugula, which is also known as rocket.

I started working my way through the list and found arugula pesto recipes that called for the following ingredients: walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, roasted red peppers, toasted pepitas, chopped olives, aged gouda, parmesan, raw garlic, pan roasted garlic (where the garlic is cooked in a pan on the stove for 10 minutes—I've never heard of this but it sounds intriguing), chives, parsley, ricotta, olive oil, honey, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, miso, Splenda, lemon juice, and one small potato boiled, peeled, and chopped. My goodness.

Recipe below. . .

The top search hit was from my friend Elise at Simply Recipes, who puts toasted walnuts in her arugula pesto and often makes it using a mortar and pestle. One recipe I found didn't even include garlic, and one was made with nothing but arugula and olive oil.

A few of the recipes called for blanching the arugula in boiling water, plunging it into an ice water bath, and then squeezing the leaves dry, but none of them said why they did this* (see note explaining why at the end of this post).

Serving suggestions included everything from simply tossing it with hot pasta or boiled potatoes, to offering it alongside steak, to putting a dollop on delicata squash soup.

I also learned various little arugula tidbits, including that it's high in Vitamins A and C, has only two calories in a one cup serving, and is thought to be a skin clarifier. (Learn how easy it is to grow your own arugula in this post: Lettuce and Arugula in the Garden, with Step-by-Step Photos Showing How To Grow Arugula from Seed in Less than a Month.)

Now let's back up to my own, pre-Google arugula pesto adventures. I went into the kitchen figuring I would make the pesto using the same ingredients that are in my favorite basil pesto: olive oil, Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan), garlic, and some fresh parsley to mellow out the peppery flavor of the arugula. No nuts.

I also decided I would quickly sauté the garlic in olive oil to take away some of that raw garlic kick, but this step is optional.

When I went searching for parsley in the fridge, I came up empty. So I grabbed the only other thing I thought might work—and that I haven't seen in any other arugula pesto recipe: some canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Score! They worked perfectly. They not only mellowed out the flavor of the arugula, but they added a pleasant nutty taste and a healthy boost of fiber as well.

Organic garbanzo beans are a staple in my farmhouse pantry and are also a cook's bargain; I buy them by the case.

Keep in mind that young arugula leaves will make the best pesto. As the leaves mature they get increasingly stronger in flavor, especially in warmer weather. How strong will depend on the variety you're growing.

My first batch of arugula pesto was sublime: smooth but with just enough of that peppery kick to know that you were eating arugula. The last batch was made with mature leaves that were stemmy and already beginning to bolt, and the resulting pesto was too strong and bitter for my taste, even when mixed with yogurt or sour cream.

So here's the final recipe that I came up with. You can personalize it by adding more or less of any ingredient—or adding some of the ones listed above. Most pesto recipes call for more olive oil than this—some as much as an entire cup.

Following the recipe are all kinds of things I did with this yummy stuff, including a second recipe I created for Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread, as well as one of my new favorite foods—arugula pesto pizza.

I wasn't kidding when I said arugula pesto had taken over the kitchen.

Update: Thanks to those of you who let me know how good this arugula pesto tastes with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice added. I've included it in the recipe as an optional ingredient.

Farmgirl Susan's Arugula Pesto

1/3 cup (or more) of your favorite olive oil
1/2 ounce garlic (about 3 smallish cloves), peeled and sliced
6 ounces dry arugula (about 3 cups), preferably very young leaves
3 ounces freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1 cup canned organic garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (about 5½ ounces)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste (optional)

If desired, first cook the garlic:
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic to the hot oil and cook for 1 to 3 minutes until barely golden, turning the slices once.

Combine the arugula, pecorino romano, garbanzo beans, and garlic (spoon it out of the olive oil if you cooked it) in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. (I love my 12-cup KitchenAid food processor, which comes with a handy mini bowl that fits inside).

Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream with the motor running. This will help the pesto emulsify. Add salt to taste and more olive oil and/or freshly squeezed lemon juice if desired.

Arugula pesto will last for at least a week in the refrigerator. Cover it with a thin layer of olive oil if you're the type of person who gets upset when the top of your food turns a different color.

You can also freeze arugula pesto in plastic containers or ice cube trays. Once they're frozen, remove from trays and store the pesto cubes in a zipper freezer bag—keeping in mind this will make everything else in your freezer taste faintly of pesto if you aren't careful.

What I Did With My Arugula Pesto (besides eating it straight from the dish with a spoon):
—Tossed it with hot pasta, sprinkled with lots of freshly grated Pecorino Romano.
—Stirred it into yogurt cheese and dipped organic celery sticks in it.
—Stirred it into sour cream and dipped organic carrot sticks in it.

What Else I Would Do With It:
—Toss it with boiled new red potatoes.

Make Arugula Pesto Creamy No Cream Pasta Sauce:
(I used to make this all the time using basil pesto. Try it on anything from fettuccine to tortellini.)

Place a heat proof bowl over pot of pasta water while it is coming to a boil (I use a large stainless steel bowl) and put several Tablespoons of butter in it (don't let the bottom of the bowl touch the water). Add the same number of tablespoons of flour once the butter has melted, whisk until thoroughly combined, then let cook (still whisking) for a minute or two.

Slowly pour in enough milk to make a sauce, whisking constantly. Whisk in arugula pesto to taste. Add hot, drained pasta to bowl and toss gently until combined.

I also made Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup (or more if desired) arugula pesto
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Keeps several days in the refrigerator. Tastes even better after a day or two.

What I Did With This Spread:
—Put it on crackers.
—Licked it straight off the knife.
—Mixed it with equal parts Easy Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing.

What Else I Would Do With It:
—Stir it into mashed potatoes.
—Use it in a sandwich.
—Spread it on thin baguette slices and pop them under the broiler for a minute or two for an instant, elegant appetizer.

Now this is all well and very good, but my arugula pesto did not truly come into its own until I found myself one evening with a little too much homemade pizza dough and decided to make myself an 8-inch arugula pesto pizza to tide me over until the homegrown beef salami pizza was ready.

Oh. My. God. Let's just say I only had room for a very small slice of the salami pizza that night. I could probably eat one of these two times a week for the rest of my life. There are dozens of other combinations you could make (I read one recipe that suggested arugula pesto, cheddar cheese, and fresh tomato slices), but for me the simplest is often the best. All I did was spread a generous amount of pesto on the dough and then top it with thin slices of fresh mozzarella and a liberal sprinkling of Pecorino Romano.

If you ever get tired of devouring these pizzas on their own, I am sure they would be wonderful served alongside grilled steak and salad instead of French or garlic bread. Or you could make all of the guests at your next dinner party swoon by baking several small pizzas and passing around little appetizer-sized slices.

There. Now that ought to keep you fed for a while. But if you're still hungry, you'll find links to all of Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

*Thanks to my food blogging friend (and awesome chef) Bruno for coming to my arugula blanching question rescue. He says, "As far as reasons for blanching arugula, I learned a couple of things in cooking school that may interest you. You already mentioned one... blanching reduces the intense flavor of certain things. We used to blanch garlic to make it less intense.

"The other thing I learned was blanching maintains the color of things especially when you are going to process them. For example, when making basil or mint oil, blanching in oil or water would keep them from turning a brownish color when churned in a food processor." Very interesting!



  1. You are soo funny sweetie :)
    Love that the arugula took over your life LOLOLOL

    perhaps a reason to blanch the arugula (besides remove water) is to help sterilise it? surely it would last longer then???

    I am going to have to make this you know... ESPECIALLY THAT PIZZA! I think I know a fiancee that would go garbonzo over it :)

  2. I know you already think I'm daft but I had to google Arugula! I now know it's called Rocket over here and oddly enough have had a packet of seeds sat on my windowsill for a while, waiting for an excuse to get sown. Thanks FG, will report back in about 2 months! Oh, and you are soooo right about chick peas.

  3. Yum, this looks sooooo good! I've never had arugala, but am definitely going to have to give it a try. I saw some in the grocery store the other day, but wonder if it's in that "too mature" stage you warn us away from. Guess I won't know til I try it, eh?

  4. My 4x6 plot of arugula is almost ready, I've been putting the thinned plants into salads, but I can't wait for the first salad of argula with breseola and parmaggiano reggiano.

    I'm going to try canning pesto this year, just got a pressure canner yesterday, I'll let you know how it goes.

    The garbanzos were a nice touch, I never would have thought of them.. arugula hummus, maybe?

  5. Great article. Now if my arugula would just hurry up and grow already.

  6. Susan, I saw Jaques Pepin blanche his basil before making pesto. It keeps the pesto bright green.

  7. I'm so excited to make this...if you're anything like me, you've got a ton of basil browing too...I use this recipe that has both arugula and basil:

    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (esp. a lemon-infused oil)
    3 cups (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves
    1 cup (loosely packed) fresh arugula
    1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
    1/3 cup pine nuts
    2 garlic cloves, peeled
    1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
    2 tablespoons lukewarm water

  8. Don't you just love how easy it is to grow arugula? Our patch has been reseeding itself for the last ten years. We have a veritable forest of it every spring. Love the idea of using garbanzo beans. And arugula pesto pizza? Yum!

  9. OMG, I must make this. I've bookmarked the recipe. Your idea with the garbanzo beans was just brilliant.

  10. Now you have put me on the argula pesto track as well! Really nice WHB post!

  11. Blanching it will only help keep the color vibrant.. but is not needed if you're not particular about things such as that.

  12. OK, now I have to try this, but my arugula was planted this spring, and of course it bolted in the hot weather. I noticed some new shoots coming off at the bottom, can I cut off the top and harvest the new shoots?

  13. I made the arugala pesto last night. Tossed it with whole wheat penne. Must admit I was a little unsure of the chick peas BUT wow, yummmy! Great easy recipe and the chick peas are absolutely genius!

  14. My Arugula is comming in strong and I didn't know how to use it except to put into soup. I made your pesto and stuffed a pork tenderloin with it. I loved the idea of the garbonzo beans in place of nuts, so healthy. This is a keeper receipe.

  15. Your recipe was delicious! I made a few changes, though because it's summertime and that requires some extra summer flavor.
    -about 7 big cloves of garlic
    -3 big bunches of arugula
    -handful of fresh basil
    -1/2 cup sunflower seeds
    -1/3 cup pecorino
    -1 tbsp fresh honey
    -1 tsp lemon juice

    We used ours on some farmers market gnocchi.

  16. apparently the ice water after the blanching is supposed to take away some of the kick. maybe if you do this with the more mature greens the pesto would be better/less bitter? i don't know, because i've not tried it yet, but we'll see.

  17. Oh, this is perfect! I've got half a row of arugula that's nearing the end of its edibility (is that a word?), and another half that's perfectly young and tender. Plus a can of garbanzo beans sitting in my pantry with nothing else to do.

  18. Hi there, I live in a country house in Italy, my Dad was from Missiouri.. I just wanted to give you some great advice, if you don't mind. You really put way too much garlic in that arugula pesto.. believe me I had some American guests last year and everyone made fun of them when they decided to make pesto! They used so much garlic that it ruined the meal.. not to mention our stomachs! My Italian boyfriend is a cook and man was he upset... Garlic has to be used in small amounts, otherwise it burns your mouth and spoils the other ingredients.. good luck!!

  19. Great pesto recipe, thanks! I didn't blanche the arugula first, and I added lots of raw garlic, and some walnuts. It's very good mixed with cream cheese on crackers. I like the chick pea addition -makes it hummus-y.

  20. The blanching (of arugula or even basil) is done to destroy some of the enzymes that cause it to decompose. Blanching preserves flavor and color. You do not want to cook the leaves nor lose any flavor - so use lots of boiling water so the temperature remains near boiling, add the leaves whole and the water on high heat and bring to boil again and then until the leaves wilt. Drain and put into iced water to prevent further cooking.

    As you probably know, basil should never be refrigerated else it darkens. I often do not have time after harvesting or picking up my veggie share to get around to processing all the food, I find that blanching allows me to refrigerate the basil for a few days before I get around to the next step of making the pesto or using it in sauce.

    Since I have been doing this, at the suggestion of a friend, my pesto has been better and beautifully colored - I freeze it and we use it in mid-winter.

  21. OMG! This is SOOOooo GOOD! And it does indeed make a fabulous pizza. I like to spread this over the crust, then add shredded muenster and shrimp. YUMMmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!! It also makes a tasty quesadilla with shrimp and feta. The garbanzos are a great addition to the pesto. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  22. Hi,
    Tried this with fresh older arugula. Did not have any garbanzos, so I tried adding more walnuts to tone down the sharpness it helped a lot. Want to try the garbanzos though. Loved reading all the tips from other arugula lovers. I didn't know it would reseed itself (slaps her forehead)!
    Granny Sandy

  23. WOW! I am SO glad I came across this on Pinterest, and didn't spend an entire day Googling. I just made this, and it is FABULOUS! I am so happy. Thank you!

    I used ONE large garlic glove, and even as a garlic lover, this was the perfect amount. I also juiced a large lemon into it. Perfect!!

  24. Ha, you are the first result I clicked! I already made an arugula pesto tonight. It has no garbanzos, just arugula, parsley, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and the cheese. Interestingly one of my sons said it tasted too much like hummus to him (he's not a fan of hummus). I'm tempted to make this recipe just to see what he says!

  25. Nice, healthy option, especially served over brown rice pasta. But it's even better if you reduce the cheese by about half (I found it too salty as is) and add a little more olive oil as well as a few squeezes of lemon. Thanks!

  26. I haven't tried this recipe yet, but it sounds yummy!!On the garlic issue...I have a recipe for regular basil pesto and they "blanche" the garlic in boiling water for a minute. It mellows the garlic.

  27. I have arugula growing in my garden right now and I feel like I struck gold with this blog post. I was drooling by the time I read about the pizza- sooo doing the pesto, pizza and dips. Thanks.


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