Basil Arugula Pesto

Adapted from the traditional Genovese condiment, this basil arugula pesto recipe has a little mustard kick and a zing from lemon. 

Basil arugula pesto (rocket)

In the wake of my preparations for the upcoming trip to Italy in, I find myself cooking a lot of Italian inspired dishes. I don’t know if that kind of thing happens to anyone else while travel planning but as a result, I am posting an adaptation of one of Italy’s famous food exports – a gorgeous, emerald green pesto.

Traditionally, pesto is made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. It comes from Genoa, in the Liguria region of Italy, and is often called pesto alla genovese as to not to be confused with many modern varieties of pesto.

My recipe includes the addition of arugula (rocket) for a little mustard kick and some lemon for both freshness and acidity to balance the heaviness of the oil.

Pesto is such a versatile condiment to keep on hand. I often use it to marinate fish and meat before grilling or to drizzle over cooked lamb cutlets and roast chicken. You can toss it through steamed vegetables, quinoa or salads, jazz up your scrambled eggs and omelettes, or use as a dip for a snack. Plus, this little sauce is super healthy with lots of vitamin K, A, C and monounsaturated fats.

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Basil arugula pesto (rocket)

Basil Arugula Pesto

  • Author: Irena Macri
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 + 1/2 cups 1x
  • Category: Condiments
  • Cuisine: Italian



1 + 1/2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves

1 cup firmly packed arugula/rocket (wild rocket is ideal)

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for sealing

1/3 cup pine nuts (cashews or blanched almonds can also be used)

2 garlic cloves

1 lemon

2/3 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated (optional)


You can use a food processor, an electric grinder or a more traditional mortar and pestle. If using mortar and pestle, pound garlic and pine nuts together first before adding herbs and olive oil.

If using a food processor or an electric grinder, combine basil, rocket, pine nuts, garlic, zest of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Process until smooth and then add and incorporate grated parmesan if you want to include it. It’s just as delicious without.

Store in a clean, air-tight jar or a container with a thin layer of olive oil on top to seal in the mix. Pesto should keep for up to two weeks in the fridge. It will lose a bit of colour over time.


I just threw in raw pine nuts but you can pre-toast them in the oven or in a frying pan before grinding for a deeper flavour. You can use other herbs like parsley, oregano, sage and thyme to create new flavours.

Irena Macri
By Irena Macri

About the author:Hi, I’m Irena Macri. I share delicious recipes that I have cooked and loved. I am a published cookbook author, have been food blogging for over 10 years and have a Diploma in Nutrition. You will find many healthy recipes as well as my favourite comfort food.More about me here. Sign-up for my newsletter and subscriber freebies.

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  1. I have never seen rocket added to pesto before. I have made my own pesto for a long time, I am excited to try the rocket in it. Loving that I stumbled on this website. Thanks!

  2. This is the best pesto I’ve ever had and I’ve had/made a lot !!
    I leave the Parmesan out and it’s still perfect.
    Thanks for a great recipe!!!

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