Whether you call it rocket, rucola, or arugula, it makes a great pesto! It’s an easy green to grow, one that we always include in the soil or in pots, and can be grown much later in the season than basil. Since the leaves are so soft, it makes a nice smooth pesto with a slightly spicy flavour.
Rocket grows well at about 10°C, so it’s a very good cooler weather crop that grows well in spring and autumn, or even into winter in warmer regions. We grew it just about year-round in a protected area in the Netherlands and it does get below freezing there. If you live somewhere that doesn’t get quite hot enough for basil, this is an excellent alternative.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Rocket: leaves and thin stems can both be added. If the leaves are very large or feel old, they will make a stronger, slightly bitter pesto. Young, tender leaves will make a milder version.
- Nuts or seeds: sunflower seeds as pictured, pine or cedar nuts, walnuts, and hemp hearts are all good here. Harder nuts like almonds or hazelnuts don’t mix as well, but can be used if you don’t mind a chunkier sauce.
- Lemon: because you’re using the zest, try to find an organic, unwaxed lemon and wash it well before use.
- Garlic: pictured is young garlic (why it hasn’t separated into cloves). Be wary of adding too much garlic – you want a balance, not to breathe fire.
- Olive oil: extra virgin will give you the best overall taste, but any type of olive oil can be used.
- Cheese: if you want to include cheese, mix in a finely grated hard cheese like parmesan after the oil has been blended in.
Step by Step
Step 1: add everything but the olive oil to a mixing container.
Step 2: mix until very finely chopped, then add the oil in a slow stream and blend until smooth.
Rocket pesto is rather mild compared to one made with pure basil, but far from bland, especially with the addition of lemon zest. If you’re using it for pasta, be sure to save some of the cooking water to mix in so that the pesto adheres more effectively to the pasta.
You can use a small food processor for this recipe, but it won’t get as smooth as with an immersion blender or small blender. You need to be able to add the oil while it’s mixing, so a bullet blender doesn’t work.
How to Store
Storage: keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to five days. I recommend glass as plastic can absorb the garlic smell.
Freezing: transfer the pesto to an airtight container or freeze in dollops on a parchment paper-lined tray and then transfer to a container. Freeze for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator before use, and mix again if the pesto has separated.
- Avoid flowered stems: once rocket starts to flower, the stems and leaves can turn a little bitter. While the flowers are their own delicious addition to many dishes, it’s a good idea to let your plants flower in any case as additional food for the insects that frequent your garden.
- Season to taste: like any dip or sauce, this should be seasoned to your personal preference with salt and pepper. If you mix in any type of cheese, add less salt from the beginning.
- Add herbs: if you want to use this as a base to stretch out a herbal pesto, add a handful of basil, parsley, or oregano to the mix.
If you make this Arugula Pesto or any other vegetarian dips on Occasionally Eggs, please take a moment to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It’s such a help to others who want to try the recipe. For more OE, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, purchase the Occasionally Eggs cookbook, or subscribe for new posts via email.
Rocket Pesto (Arugula Pesto)
- 100 grams rocket leaves arugula or rucola
- 50 grams sunflower seeds or other seeds or nuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- Juice 1 lemon ~3 tablespoons
- Zest 1 lemon
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt to taste
- 50 ml olive oil extra virgin
- Add the rocket, seeds, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt to a blending container or small food processor. Mix with an immersion blender or pulse until very finely chopped.100 grams rocket leaves, 50 grams sunflower seeds, 2 cloves garlic, Juice 1 lemon, Zest 1 lemon, ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- Pour in the olive oil in a slow stream while blending. Once fully incorporated, the pesto should be very smooth.50 ml olive oil
- Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to five days. Rocket pesto freezes well.
* For American cup measurements, please click the pink link text above the ingredient list that says ‘American’.
Nutrition is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate. If this information is important to you, please have it verified independently.