What do you think of when you think of pesto? Basil, garlic, olive oil, right? As it turns out, you can make pesto from almost anything. The word pesto simply means pounded — not pounded basil, nor pounded garlic, just pounded, and is related to the word pestle, the pounding/grinding part of a mortar and pestle.
This past Tuesday we got a large bunch of arugula in our CSA share, so, today we’re going to rustle up a big batch of arugula pesto that we’ll use throughout the week. It’s nice to mix in with pasta or rice for a quick dinner, or to use for an open-face sandwich that you run under the broiler (think bruschetta here), or even as a condiment for sandwiches. It would even make a nice dip for some crackers. Pesto is really versatile, and surprisingly easy to whip up.
We’re going to make this in a food processor, but, if you don’t have one, don’t worry; you can make this with just a knife and a cutting board. That’s the way we did it for many years, just chop, chop, chop the arugula (or basil), garlic, and nuts, then in a bowl add the oil and cheese. We called it Pesto Rustico.
- Large bunch arugula (or basil, or both)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4-1/2 cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Okay, we hate to have to say it, but Parmesan cheese does NOT come in green cylinders. Check the ingredient list on those cylinders and you’ll find that sawdust (cellulose) comes in green cylinders. Besides, pesto is a fresh, bright-tasting dish, so use fresh high-quality ingredients. It makes a difference.
Wash and dry arugula. Note our high-tech salad spinner for drying the arugula. We fill this up, take it out back and give it a few whirls, and voilà, dried salad. Plus, it takes up very little space when stored.
Toast nuts. Toasting really brings out the flavor in nuts; they transform from ordinary nuts into super nuts. You can either put them on a baking sheet and bake them at 350°F for 7 to 10 minutes, or put them in a heavy skillet (no oil) and heat them on the stove for 7 to 10 minutes. Watch them like a hawk. Nuts will go from toasted to burnt very quickly.
Peel and chop garlic. We didn’t have garlic cloves in the house, so we had to go with some prepared crushed garlic. Not as good, but available.
Chop. Put the nuts, arugula, garlic, and cheese in the bowl of a food processor and whir ’til the cows come home, or until it’s pretty finely chopped.
Add oil. With the processor running, start adding the olive oil. Keep adding until you get a nice paste that looks like pesto.
Season. Taste it, and add salt and pepper, as needed, whirring between additions.
Done. Serve it however you would serve pesto.
We make arugula pesto moderately often when we get a bunch of arugula. It tastes different from pesto made with basil, still good, but different. Basil pesto is still, to us, the gold standard, so we have to knock the arugula version back a star.