As the weather gets colder, basil fades from gardens and farmer’s markets along with dreams of fresh pesto. But you can keep the dream alive with arugula!
If you did not make basil pesto during the height of the season, you are not out of luck. As I recently told my friend Elaine who was looking for a basil-based recipe, arugula makes a great pesto — it has a natural black pepper taste and blended with walnuts, it’s a versatile knock out.
Basil pesto originated in Genoa, Italy and they are famous for their finally ground, creamy pesto. But look around and you’ll find pesto made from cilantro, parsley, garlic ramps, and other types of greens, too. It’s fun (and by far tastier) to match your herb or lettuce to whatever you’re serving. But here’s the tricky thing. You have to let pesto made with ingredients other than basil be themselves. They won’t taste like basil. And that’s the beauty and versatility of pesto.
Arugula has become one of my favorite go-to pestos for two simple reasons: 1. It’s delicious, and 2. It’s available year-round.
I first had arugula pesto when I made it from the cookbook “Polpo,” a Venetian cookbook from UK chef Russell Norman. He serves his arugula pesto over beets, which makes for a beautiful two-tone jeweled colored dish; one that converts beet haters to lovers. Below you’ll find my version.
Pesto’s not just for pasta or chicken anymore. Here are several other ways to use it:
- Roasted potatoes*
- Roasted or boiled beets** (or any root vegetable!)
- Roasted or grilled meats
- Sandwich spread
- Salad dressing
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- 12 cups (300 g), very lightly packed baby arugula (also known as Rocket)
- Note: Taste arugula before using it to make sure it is mild. If it is bitter, it is old and shouldn’t be used
- 1 1/4 cups (156 g) walnuts
- 1 1/4 cups (125 g) grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
- 1 large garlic clove
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (mild)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher (not table) salt (Reduce salt to 1/2 teaspoon if using Pecorino cheese, which is saltier than Parmesan)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Wash and dry arugula
- Place all ingredients except for olive oil into a food processor or high-speed blender
- If doing by hand without a machine, finely mince the arugula and finely chop the walnuts, first. Then, grind into a paste including the garlic, cheese, salt and pepper with a mortar and pestle. Finally, drizzle in olive oil until you reach your desired consistency. Your forearm will get a good workout!
- Pulse the ingredients in the food processor or blender until it reaches a thick paste consistency, but still has some discernible pieces of the ingredients
- With the motor running, slowly pour in olive oil until you reach your desired consistency. You may not need the entire amount of oil
- Use immediately, or transfer to a jar, top with a little extra olive oil to prevent oxidation, and refrigerate until ready for use. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before using
* For fingerling or baby potatoes, wash and dry. Lightly drizzle olive oil over potatoes, sprinkle with sea salt or kosher salt and mix. Bake at 400F (204C) for 30 – 40 minutes (potato skins should be slightly wrinkled and a knife should easily pierce the potatoes.
**For beets, trim off greens and root “tail”. Wash. Boil in ample water with a splash of white or red or white wine vinegar for approximately 40-60 minutes until a knife easily pierces the beet. Remove from water. Let cool, peel. (Warning: Beet juice stains. Use tools that may be cleaned)
Suggestion: Make a double batch of pesto and use what you need right away, and then save the rest in the freezer. Just put the pesto in a jar and top it off with a little extra olive oil.