Recipe: Nutty Arugula Pesto with Penne

updated May 2, 2019
Nutty Arugula Pesto with Penne and Parmesan
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(Image credit: Megan Gordon)

This past February, I had the extreme good fortune of accompanying my family (or, really, inviting myself) on a vacation to St. Barthes. February in Seattle is one of the darker months, so this was a most welcome break. Since St. Barthes is an island with limited produce deliveries from the mainland, it was a common occurrence that restaurants or grocery stores would be out of a dish or ingredient “until the next boat comes.” There was little urgency about it; people just made do. And one of the ways restaurants made do was to swap ingredients in and out, as was the case with this pesto.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Originally meant to be a more traditional pine nut and basil pesto, the cooks at our favorite beachside cafe had to get creative when they had neither. They whipped up a garlicky arugula pesto instead. I loved it so much I had to replicate it at home.

This recipe has a good hit of garlic and lemon — the juice and the zest add a brightness and a zip that I find so many pestos lack. The arugula is slightly spicy and the walnuts add an earthy toastiness, so it’s extremely well balanced.

If pasta isn’t your thing, spread it on sandwiches instead, dollop it onto morning omelets, or spoon it into warm grains for something interesting and different.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The nice thing about making pesto at home is that you can adopt the St. Barthes island mentality — use the quantities below, but reach for ingredients you have on hand. I’ve made pesto with walnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts alike. I’ve made amazing spinach and kale pestos, too. Each are different, to be sure, but wonderful in their own way. So feel free to experiment with the greens and the nuts as you see fit — or as needs be depending on what you have at home.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I made this pesto this afternoon for lunch — the second time I’d made it since being home from St. Barthes and I’d forgotten how good it was. I’m not sure if it simply conjures up memories of lazy beach days or if there’s something about the bright lemon and zip of garlic that somehow brings me back there. Regardless, it made for one fine lunch.

Nutty Arugula Pesto with Penne and Parmesan

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info


  • 1 1/2 cups


  • 3/4 cup

    chopped fresh basil

  • 3/4 cup

    toasted walnuts

  • 1/2 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 cloves

    garlic, quartered

  • 1

    lemon, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice)

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more to salt pasta water

  • 3 tablespoons

    grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to season

  • 1 pound

    penne pasta


  1. In the bowl of a food processor, blend arugula, basil, toasted walnuts, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and a few grinds of pepper until well combined and smooth. Feel free to add extra olive oil if the pesto feels too thick or chunky.

  2. Place a large pot of salted water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add pasta  and to cook to al dente. Drain and place back in pot.  Fold in pesto. Serve hot in your favorite bowls with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan over the top of each bowl. 

(Images: Megan Gordon)