American Healthy Eating Italian Recipes

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.

116 replies on “Rocket (Arugula) Pesto”

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!

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

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…

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.

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:)

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!

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!

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!

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 😉

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

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.

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.

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! 🙂

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 😉

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!

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!

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!

[…] On a calorie per calorie basis, arugula is not quite as healthy as spinach or even bok choy. However, it is a spicy green that adds a lot of flavor to a salad and is still fairly healthy for you with lots of vitamins and minerals. The biggest reason I cook it other than I like the taste, is with my combination of soil, water and sun it is growing like a weed in my yard. I was therefor fortunate to find a recipe for a small batch of arugula (also called rocket) pesto at Frugal Feeding […]

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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