Arugula Pesto with Pistachios

Arugula Pesto with Pistachios is a fresh, luscious sauce that goes on just about everything!

Pour it over pasta, burgers, fish, eggs, vegetables or use it as a dip. The possibilities are endless.

Plus it’s so easy and fast to make, you can whip it up in a moment’s notice and be ready to go.

And it’s a great way to add veggies and healthy fats to your meal without feeling like you’re eating something “healthy.”

Italian pesto in a small glass pitcher next to a white plate with pesto-covered salmon on it, plus a white bowl with pesto spaghetti and a white plate with a pesto-covered turkey burger, all on a wooden table

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Arugula Pesto with Pistachios

Classic pesto consists of basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. It’s fresh, fragrant and irresistible. (Check out a recipe for classic pesto here.)

But there’s all kind of ways to change it up: different herbs or leafy greens, different nuts, different cheese, etc.

It can often be hard to find enough fresh basil or other herb to make a batch of pesto but I find that arugula is available in stores year-round, making this Arugula Pesto easy to make whenever you have a pesto craving. Plus arugula has its own fresh, peppery flavor.

I’ve made numerous versions of arugula pesto over the years, but the one I found in Pesto by Leslie Lennox came closest to what I’m looking for. I just made a few minor adjustments to suit my own tastes.

And if you’re worried about arugula pesto being too bitter, see the section below called “Why is my pesto bitter?”

While arugula pesto would be great with pine nuts, pistachios add their own buttery, unique flavor that works particularly well to tone down arugula’s peppery edge.

 

What you need to make Arugula Pesto

arugula, olive oil, salt and pepper, and pistachios in glass bowls next to a block of Parmesan cheese and a garlic clove, all on a wooden cutting board on a wooden table

Ingredients:

  • arugula or baby arugula
  • shelled pistachios (roasted or unroasted, salted or unsalted)
  • fresh Parmesan cheese (not the powdery stuff in the green cans)
  • fresh garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

 

Equipment:

 

How to make Arugula Pesto

Grate the Parmesan cheese.

Use the flat side of the knife to press down on the garlic cloves until the peel cracks, then remove the peels.

Add all the ingredients besides the olive oil to your food processor or blender.

Blend or pulse for a few seconds to create a paste.

Slowly drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube while blending/pulsing until the mixture is combined and it reaches the consistency you’re looking for. You don’t need to use all the oil if you want it thicker, or you can add more if you want it looser.

Stop to scrape down the sides of the processor/blender jar if necessary.

Taste and add more salt or pepper if necessary. (If you do, stir this in by hand. You don’t want to overprocess the pesto.)

 

Storage

You can store pesto in the fridge for up to 3 days before it starts to lose flavor. Store it in glass jars and add a thin layer of olive oil on top (this will create a “seal” to keep out air, which will help slow down the oxidization process which is what makes pesto lose its color and flavor).

 

Can you freeze pesto?

Yep! My favorite way is to freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, add the cubes to a freezer-safe baggie or container. You can thaw overnight in the fridge or add directly to your recipe, depending on how you’re using it (see serving ideas below).

 

Why is my pesto bitter?

Sometimes pesto, whether classic or this arugula version, can taste bitter. This can happen for a couple reasons:

  1. The herbs or leafy greens weren’t as fresh as they appeared.
  2. Olive oil can sometimes have a bitter note to it, especially if it’s old. Use the best, freshest olive oil you can.
  3. Arugula’s peppery flavor can sometimes edge into bitter territory. If you think your arugula is the culprit, add more of the fats to balance and round out the flavor: nuts, cheese and/or olive oil.
  4. You blended it too long in the processor or blender. As you blend it, the speed of the blades is so fast that it can end up almost heating up the pesto which can kill its freshness. Don’t blend any longer than you have to to get the consistency you want.

a white bowl full of pesto spaghetti with a fork in it, next to a small glass pitcher full of pesto, all on a wooden table

 

Substitutions and variations

Like I said above, there’s so many different ways to make pesto. Some options to try:

  1. Replace some of the arugula with basil, mint, parsley or baby kale.
  2. Replace the pistachios with any nuts of your choice, like pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews or hazelnuts.
  3. Replace the Parmesan with a similar dry, salty cheese like Pecorino or Manchego.
  4. Add the zest of half a lemon for a burst of brightness.

 

11 ways to use pesto

  1. The most obvious and classic way is to serve it any pasta noodle you like. Reserve some of the pasta cooking water and add a bit at a time when stirring in the pesto to loosen up the sauce, if necessary.
  2. Dollop the pesto on all sorts of things like burgers or turkey burgers, turkey, lamb, any seafood, eggs or vegetables.
  3. Smear it underneath chicken skin before roasting, like in this Pesto Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Carrots.
  4. Dollop it on top of soup, like in this Chicken Vegetable Soup or this Parsnip Pear Soup.
  5. Spoon luscious blobs onto sheet pan dinners like this Lemon Salmon or these Sausage and Peppers.
  6. Spread it on sandwiches or grilled cheese.
  7. Swirl it into mashed potatoes or any mashed veggies.
  8. Spread it on a pizza crust, either before or after baking, then add your favorite toppings.
  9. Smear it on toast or crostini. Top with roasted cherry tomatoes and drizzle with balsamic glaze.
  10. Mix it into your deviled eggs filling for pesto deviled eggs.
  11. Mix it with an equal amount of mayonnaise for a dip that’s great with crackers, breadsticks and sliced veggies like carrots and cucumbers.

 

Other recipes you might like:

 

Arugula Pistachio Pesto in a small glass pitcher next to a bowl of spaghetti coated in the sauce, all sitting on a wooden table
pistachio pesto made with arugula in a small glass pitcher on a wooden table
Print Recipe
5 from 6 votes

Arugula Pesto with Pistachios

This arugula pesto is a fresh, luscious sauce that goes with just about everything! Dollop it on pasta, burgers, chicken, seafood, eggs, vegetables, sandwiches, soup and more. Plus it's so fast and easy to make you'll be whipping it up every chance you get.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time0 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: arugula pesto, Italian pesto, pesto, pistachio pesto
Servings: 1 cup, approx.
Author: Don Baiocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • 4 cups packed (not too tightly but not loosely) arugula or baby arugula
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • cup shelled pistachios
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (or more or less, depending on your preference)

Instructions

  • Use the flat side of the knife to press down on the garlic cloves until the peel cracks, then remove and discard the peel.
  • Add the garlic, arugula, cheese, pistachios and a few grinds of black pepper to a large food processor or high-speedo blender. If using unsalted pistachios, add the ¼ teaspoon salt now. If using salted pistachios, wait until you taste the pesto at the end. Pulse a few times to create a paste.
  • While blending/pulsing, slowly drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube/lid insert, until the pesto is your preferred consistency. You may have to stop at some point to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. (If you do, stir these in by hand. You don't want to process the pesto any longer than necessary.) If your pesto tastes bitter, see the notes below.

Notes

Storage
You can store pesto in the fridge for up to 3 days before it starts to lose flavor. Store it in glass jars and add a thin layer of olive oil on top (this will create a "seal" to keep out air, which will help slow down the oxidization process which is what makes pesto lose its color and flavor).
Can you freeze pesto?
Yep! My favorite way is to freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, add the cubes to a freezer-safe baggie or container. You can thaw overnight in the fridge or add directly to your recipe, depending on how you're using it (see serving ideas below).
Why is my pesto bitter?
Sometimes pesto, whether classic or this arugula version, can taste bitter. This can happen for a couple reasons:
  1. The herbs or leafy greens weren't as fresh as they appeared. 
  2. Olive oil can sometimes have a bitter note to it, especially if it's old. Use the best, freshest olive oil you can. 
  3. Arugula's peppery flavor can sometimes edge into bitter territory. If you think your arugula is the culprit, add more of the fats to balance and round out the flavor: nuts, cheese and/or olive oil.
  4. You blended it too long in the processor or blender. As you blend it, the speed of the blades is so fast that it can end up almost heating up the pesto which can kill its freshness. Don't blend any longer than you have to to get the consistency you want.
Substitutions and variations
Like I said above, there's so many different ways to make pesto. Some options to try:
  1. Replace some of the arugula with basil, mint, parsley or baby kale.
  2. Replace the pistachios with any nuts of your choice, like pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews or hazelnuts.
  3. Replace the Parmesan with a similar dry, salty cheese like Pecorino or Manchego.
  4. Add the zest of half a lemon for a burst of brightness.

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