Rocket (Arugula) Pesto

Pesto is one of those timeless ingredients that everyone knows and most people love. However, variety is the spice of life and a little change to the basic recipe for pesto could do us all a little good. Indeed, though rocket is, like basil, green and incredibly adaptable, it has its own very distinctive qualities. For instance, unlike basil, rocket has a very peppery, almost spicy, taste which gives this pesto a rather unexpected kick. In reality I’m rather loath to call this creation pesto, since its character is vastly different from what people usually assume the term to mean. If it wasn’t for the fact that the process was almost identical a more apt term for this devilish creation would surely have been tapenade. In my mind, tapenade evokes thoughts of a much stronger flavour profile than does pesto.

Myriad different sources the internet has to offer have made it abundantly clear that the use of rocket as an ingredient in pesto is an idea of American origin – it appears that you have scored your first point against me, America. Congratulations! The recipe itself, mind you, was one thought up on the spot yesterday lunchtime. Not only was it spontaneous, as some of the best recipes are, but it was also far more frugal than your average pesto. You see, the average pesto uses a good couple of handfuls of basil and a generous smattering of toasted pine nuts. Basil, particularly when out of season, can cost an arm and leg – one is led to suppose that this is because it is known as a herb; ‘herb’ being a label used to leverage the price of fairly standard ingredients. As far as pine nuts are concerned, their price is fairly extortionate. Their presence in an average pesto is easily justified, since their flavour can be easily identified amongst basil. When using rocket, however, all one needs in order to achieve a full body of flavour is a slight hint of nuttiness. As such, it is perfectly reasonable to make use of the cost-effective walnut.

Rocket Pesto

Makes enough for 8-10 servings


• 60g fresh rocket (arugula)

• The juice of half a lemon

• 1 clove of garlic

• 5-6 walnut halves

• A handful of grated parmesan

• A generous glug of olive oil

• A large pinch of salt


1. One could make this using a mortar and pestle, but that would take ages. So, bung the rocket, lemon juice, garlic, walnuts and a little of the olive oil into a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the parmesan, blend until combined. Add olive oil until you have achieved the required consistency. Season to taste.

Cost: The use of both rocket and walnuts, in lieu of basil and pine nuts, means that this entire bowl of pesto should cost one no more than around 70p – so much cheaper than one would find usual pesto for in a supermarket.

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116 comments on “Rocket (Arugula) Pesto

  1. thelittleloaf
    March 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Once you’ve have homemade pesto you’ll never go back. Basil and pine nut is still my favourite but I absolutely love trying out different combinations – watercress and walnut, hazelnuts, rocket and other leaves. This rocket version looks lovely – making me want to whip up a batch very soon!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:15 am

      Oh yes, I know. I’m going to give the watercress one a pop soonish too. I’m you like it, Loaf.

  2. thesinglegourmetandtraveller
    March 5, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Lovely combination, Frugal. There’s nothing quite like home-made pesto. Have a Sea Bream (obviously not frugal!) with Basil & Mint Pesto on my blog and same pesto stirred into a simple risotto with some peas.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:15 am

      Thanks! There really isn’t. I’d love to do that, but I can’t justify it :P. Perhaps I shall when my girlfriend comes to visit…

  3. Wholly Hot Mama
    March 5, 2012 at 9:46 am

    I love pesto! And something green just in time for St. Patty’s Day :)

  4. Zoe @ Pantry and Fridge
    March 5, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I love Rocket! This is fantastic. Your snack looks fantastic. Your photos are equally as … Fantastic! Now I’m hungry…fantastic. :)

  5. Vanesther
    March 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I love rocket and I love homemade pesto so I can’t wait to try out your recipe. And I love the fact that the only ingredient I’ll need to buy in will be the rocket, so truly frugal feeding – bonus! It looks particularly good in that bacon sandwich…

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Great! Please do! It is so much more frugal that average pesto.

  6. Villy
    March 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I love pesto on bread! I thought I was weird.. :) Very nice idea the arugula!

  7. MonsieurBelly
    March 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    looks lovely 😀 i wonder if it would be too bitter though..hmmm..

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm

      Thanks! It isn’t, or I wouldn’t have posted it :)

  8. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide
    March 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Looks beautiful. I just planted some arugula yesterday too. Gotta say rocket sounds cooler.

  9. Sarah
    March 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    looks delicious. will definitely try this one soon!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Thanks! I hope you like it… I know you will :)

  10. denlyn3
    March 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    What a great idea, I will give this a try.

  11. Lorna
    March 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    This looks delicious: I’m definitely going to try making it soon!

  12. Brianne
    March 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Oh, I love arugula pesto. And after an awful experience with pine mouth (when everything tastes like metal for 3-4 days after eating bad pine nuts), I only use almonds or walnuts in my pestos. Fortunately, I have all the ingredients for arugula pesto on hand, so I’m going to make a batch of this and put it on my sandwich at lunch today.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Oh. I’ve never heard of or had pine mouth. Awesome, let me know how it goes!

  13. Just A Smidgen
    March 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    As I was scrolling down I thought, oh, I hope he used walnuts… I’d love to know how that tastes.. and you did! Fantastic combination and of course, very frugal! I love arugula:) and walnuts:)

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:08 am

      Haha, that’s cool, Smidge! Give it a pop 😀

  14. Karista
    March 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Absolutely lovely combination! Two of my favorite flavors. I love a bit of Arugula pesto stirred into risotto with a splash of lemon. I think I could eat Arugula pesto by the spoonful! The pictures are fantastic Frugal!

  15. flowercityfoodie
    March 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I made arugula pesto last summer, but with cashews instead of walnuts (because I had some leftover from another recipe). I really enjoyed mine served over cheese tortellini–and so did my kids!

  16. threeblondesandatomas
    March 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    another great thing about using rocket or even spinach in pestos like this is that they actually stay green, unlike a basil pesto that turns brown!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:06 am

      Exactly. Though, adding the lemon juice generally performs that duty just fine.

  17. TheDorsetFinca
    March 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Pesto is my favourite thing EVER! This variety looks amazing. Once I get the food processor that I have been hankering after for ages, I’m going to get cracking on this recipe! x

  18. kshap
    March 5, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Mmm. Pesto is something I would eat right off the spoon — this variation looks great!

  19. Sharyn Dimmick
    March 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Arugula pesto is delicious. Cilantro pesto made with lime juice, walnuts and a bit of red onion is very nice as well.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      It is indeed. I intend to do coriander pesto sometime soon – don’t spoil the surprise 😀

  20. bitsandbreadcrumbs
    March 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    You know, I just love this. You’re so right, getting enough basil for pesto, especially off season, is costly…too much for me. But I love arugula, grow it year round and need to make this pesto. It would make a great base for a pizza with some prosciutto, and also tossed with some pasta might be tasty…as well as in a sandwich or tartine as you have here. Thank you for the idea!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:06 am

      Thanks! I am going to try my hand at growing rocket and watercress this year. I was thinking about putting it on a pizza base. I shall have to use it alot :D. Watch this space :)

  21. The Townhouse Homesteaders
    March 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    We love pesto. I’ve never heard of arugula pesto. What a great idea. Our favorite is pesto made with garlic scapes. We’ll give yours a try since there are a couple of months until scape harvest time. Thanks for sharing.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 11:23 pm

      Oh you must give it a whirl. It’s delicious. I shall have to look up scapes? Is it essentially wild garlic?

      • The Townhouse Homesteaders
        March 8, 2012 at 2:39 am

        Scapes are the greens that grow above the garlic bulb. They are only available in the spring and are incredibly delicious. They taste like a milder form of garlic.
        Next time I get arugula from our CSA, I’ll be making yours!

        • frugalfeeding
          March 8, 2012 at 10:57 am

          Ahha, thanks! I shall make sure we plant some garlic this year then.

  22. filingawaycupcakes
    March 5, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    What a bright and colorful change to an old favorite!

  23. Laura
    March 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    I make pesto all the time, but am embarrassed to say that I’ve never thought of it as a sandwich spread before! Shame on me!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 11:23 pm

      Shame on you indeed :D. It works very well 😀

  24. Chica Andaluza
    March 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Gorgeous and in the sandwich – amazing! I make big batches of pesto here ever year but with our own almonds, oil and garlic and a local hard cheese instead of parmesan – using the traditional ingredients would mean taking out a mortgage here 😉

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Thanks! I adored that sandwich :D. Your version sounds incredible!

  25. Kimby
    March 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Your idea of using walnuts is frugal and tasty!!

  26. baconbiscuit212
    March 5, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    So yummy looking! I know it must have been really good for you to have admitted that one of our culinary ideas rocked you like a hurricane 😉

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 10:04 am

      Thanks! Yes, I suppose it was… but regular service shall be resumed 😀

  27. kaylakakes
    March 5, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I love pesto. I usually make the traditional kind, but I’ll have to try this recipe.

  28. Marina@cowboycountryvegetarian
    March 6, 2012 at 1:43 am

    Wonderful idea with using walnuts.

  29. The Vegan Kat
    March 6, 2012 at 2:27 am

    This looks great and a nice alternative to pesto! I will definitely have to try it out sometime. I also wanted to let you know that I’ve given you a Liebster Blog Award: :)

  30. PolaM
    March 6, 2012 at 5:03 am

    Must be even better than regular pesto with its spiciness!

  31. Razel Rull-Navarro
    March 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Perfect! I have leftover baby rocket leaves from the other night. I can make this pesto sauce for tomorrow :) Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Awesome! I do hope you like it.

      • Razel Rull-Navarro
        March 8, 2012 at 12:56 am

        I’m sure I will. Thanks again!

  32. promenadeplantings
    March 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    “herb’ being a label used to leverage the price of fairly standard ingredients” so true!! And you are right about rocket making a great pesto, the spicy peppery kick makes a nice change.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Haha, that occurred to me as I was writing :D. Yes, it’s great having a bit of a kick.

  33. foodistherapy
    March 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Oh my goodness this looks amazing!! I LOVE pesto! Great recipe!!

  34. aaliamb
    March 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    my fav kind of pesto! looks delicious.

  35. k.m.
    March 6, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I love rocket pesto, though I always thought it was a British thing, I think GoodFood had it a while back? Well, it’s a great idea that clearly deserves to be known everywhere!

    Hopefully this year I can make it more than once or twice, I’m not such a great arugula/rocket grower.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

      Well, they may have, but I believe the original idea is American. I hope it grows better for you 😀

  36. 35aweek
    March 7, 2012 at 12:03 am

    It should be noted this is probably much more palatable with BABY arugula—I made an arugula pesto (also with cheaper walnuts) a few years ago with ginormous, older leaves from the yard, and while reclassifying it as a tapenade would’ve helped, it was still disturbingly bitter. If using more mature leaves, it’s probably best to mix in some basil.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      I don’t think that’s necessarily true – one could always add a small amount of sugar or honey to balance it out. To be honest, large rocket is delicious in a salad anyway.

  37. Julie @ happygoodtime
    March 7, 2012 at 1:30 am

    This looks amazing! Much more interesting than basil.

  38. offallytasty
    March 7, 2012 at 2:22 am

    This is one of my favorite ways to use up too much arugula in the summer! Looks beautiful!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

      Thanks. Yes, it work very well – it is SO cheap at the moment for some reason.

  39. Meredith
    March 7, 2012 at 3:43 am

    I had to find an alternative to basil becausee I live with someone who hates basil (can you imagine?!). One day I bought some lovely french radishes and someone mentioned to me that I should eat the greens right away. So I found a great recipe for radish leaf pesto and gave it a Texas spin with pecans, pumkin seeds, and lemon zest. Arugala would be great in this too! thanks for the idea!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 9:56 am

      I can’t imagine hating basil, weird… Your idea sounds really great too 😀

  40. Hayley (Oat Couture)
    March 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Oh sweet jesus… that pesto! That bread! That BACON!!! Three of my favourite things! I shouldn’t look at your blog when I’m hungry (which is always!) as it’s torture!! In the best way possible, obviously! :)

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm

      Haha, I’m so very sorry :D. It was a lovely sandwich!

  41. motherofwonder
    March 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    ooooh, I love pesto! And what a great way to do it in a more cost effective manner! I’ll have to give a it a try! And great idea pairing it with bacon. Everything’s better with bacon 😉

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm

      I know! It suddenly occurred to me that this would be SO much cheaper. Please give it a go. Even vegetarians are better with bacon 😀

  42. DumboDomestic
    March 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    just the recipe I need! I just got a lot of Arugala from my CSA and its quite peppery. wasn’t sure if a salad would cut it.

  43. Purely.. Kay
    March 7, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    I LOVE arugula, but never had it in pesto form. I am not really a fan of pesto, but you are making me a believer my friend.. let me tell ya lol.

    • frugalfeeding
      March 7, 2012 at 11:12 pm

      Oh you must give it another try – it was so amazing.

  44. txirimiri
    March 7, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    This looks delicious and may be one more reason for me to invest in a food processor…

  45. emmycooks
    March 8, 2012 at 5:52 am

    I LOVE arugula pesto. I also make mine with walnuts. We eat it all summer. I should go plant some arugula now!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 8, 2012 at 10:56 am

      You should! We’re going to do so this year :D. Along with watercress.

  46. chefeye
    March 8, 2012 at 7:56 am

    It’s great to see variations on the traditional pesto. In the restaurant I used to work in, we played around with quite a few different flavours and combinations of herbs and leaves and nuts in pesto, mizona being one of my favs with water chestnuts for an oriental style pesto, but never did I try with walnuts.
    Great pictures too!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 8, 2012 at 10:56 am

      It is indeed, change can be very good :D. Your variations sound great. I shall be trying a few even more inventive ones over the coming months!

  47. Liz Tesar
    March 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    I’m really getting into Pesto. I can’t wait to try this!

  48. KitchenKraftInc
    March 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    How long do you think this would keep in the refrigerator? I now cook for one, and hate waste (very anti-frugal, that).

  49. Alexis
    March 11, 2012 at 2:00 am

    Beautiful recipe and beautiful pictures. I’d say this is more of a pesto than a tapenade ;), but as long as it tastes good, who cares what you call it. I sometimes substitute cavolo nero (otherwise known as black or tuscan kale) for basil for variety and it’s lovely – not for the faint of taste-buds as it’s very earthy!

    • frugalfeeding
      March 22, 2012 at 8:43 am

      Thanks! Indeed, who cares? :D. That’s a nice variation. I have a few more up my sleeves myself.

  50. brookeO
    March 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I love making pesto with Arugula.

  51. accordingtocarey
    April 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I adore walnut pestos! Might have something do with with the fact that I grew up on Walnut Avenue… on a farm… where we farmed acres of walnut trees…
    I know just what I’m going to do with this pesto: toasted ciabatta with Sonoma goat cheese and your arugula (rocket) pesto, and a glass of California Chardonnay. Lunch divine!

    • frugalfeeding
      April 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      Haha! I think it might! That sounds like an amazing lunch!

  52. m&m
    May 4, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Yum! I absolutely love pesto and arugula is always a nice change for it!

  53. Seven Second Rhapsody
    January 9, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    I love rubbing rocket pesto on lamb chops (before or after grilling) for a very simple yet pronounced meal. I love your rocket pesto post, and I’m intrigued by using walnuts in the recipe – I’m gonna have to try it!

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