Arugula Pasta with Arugula Pesto
on Apr 17, 2023, Updated May 23, 2023
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This 10-ingredient arugula pasta is tossed in a simple arugula pesto that you can whip up in minutes in a food processor. You can even make it ahead of time. This pasta is full of lemon, garlic and lots of peppery arugula leaves. It’s a wonderful vegetarian dinner recipe.
Pesto is probably my favorite way to dress pasta. Check out this post about how to make pesto. It includes lots of variations of this perfect Italian sauce.
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Why You’ll Love This Recipe
It is a simple weeknight pasta dish with basic ingredients. And that is a total compliment. It is very possible that you might already have them on your grocery list or in your pantry. You may be planning to buy arugula for a salad. Try saving some of it for this pasta or get more.
You can make pesto in advance. I love doing prep work the night before the actual meal. You can quickly make a batch of arugula pesto. Then it’s done and so is the cleanup. The next day you can focus on just the pasta and stirring everything together.
Everyone loves a bowl of pasta. I am fan of this recipe when you need something quick and homemade. And it is still special enough to serve if you’re having family or friends over for dinner. Start with a charcuterie and cheese board. Pair the pasta with a salad for the main dish and then have something sweet for dessert.
What is Arugula?
Baby arugula is a more delicate lettuce, but it has a distinct peppery, almost spicy, taste. Also known as rocket, arugula is a member of the brassica family, which includes cruciferous veggies like cabbage, mustard greens and broccoli. So technically arugula is not lettuce even though that’s how we think of it.
Peak arugula seasons are in spring and fall, but you can find it year round at the grocery. You often see it include in salad mixes, but it’s really good when you don’t combine it with other leafy greens. Besides salads, I use it on Sun Dried Tomato Pizza, stirred into White Bean Barley and in pasta recipes like this one.
This is what you need:
- Pasta: You can go with long noodles like linguine, spaghetti or bucatini. But if you have shorter shapes like penne, fusilli or gemelli, they will do a good job holding onto the arugula pesto. And you can also use alternate pastas like whole wheat, lentil or chickpea pasta.
- Arugula is very easy to find at the grocery and farmers markets. You can substitute with a baby spinach arugula mix. If you go all spinach, you will lose that peppery flavor that is so unique to arugula.
- Garlic: The pesto starts with a 2 garlic cloves. If you are a big garlic person, you can throw in another clove.
- Walnuts: Since I love to add them to salads, I am more likely to have walnuts in my pantry than pine nuts, which are traditionally used in basil pesto. For this arugula version, I reach for walnuts. Of course, you can swap them. Almonds are a great substitute too.
- Parmesan is a main ingredient in the pesto. I also sprinkle on cheese as a garnish on the finished pasta.
- Lemon: I puree lemon juice with the arugula and the rest of the pesto ingredients. Then I save the zest to fold into the pasta with the arugula leaves.
- Olive oil: Make sure to use high quality extra-virgin olive oil.
- Red pepper flakes, salt & pepper add a touch of heat and a solid base level of seasonings.
How To Make Arugula Pasta
The best way to time it is to start by making the pesto first and then the pasta.
1. Finely chop the garlic cloves in the food processor.
2. Add the arugula, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
3. Chop the ingredients. With the food processor running, pour in the olive oil. Puree until smooth.
4. Cook the pasta until al dente. Save 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and then drain the pasta.
5. Warm the pesto in a large skillet over medium heat. It will just need a minute or two.
6. Stir in the cooked pasta and the reserved pasta water. The starch from the water will make the pesto a bit creamy.
7. Toss in the arugula and lemon zest.
8. Top with grated Parmesan.
This is a fantastic weeknight pasta recipe. You can serve it with a salad and that’s it. If you want to go all in on arugula, make this Arugula Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette. And if you’re willing to put in a little more effort and a few more ingredients, I love an Italian Chopped Salad.
Make-Ahead Tips, Storage & Leftovers
If you make the pesto ahead of time, you can keep it in an airtight container in the fridge up to 5 days. Then it will just need a couple minutes longer to warm up in the skillet before you stir in the pasta.
You can store leftovers of the assembled pasta in the refrigerator up to 3 days—much longer than that and the noodles will get soft. Warm it in the microwave or on the stove with a splash of olive oil. Once it’s warmed, add more fresh arugula.
If you are planning to have leftovers, you can eat them cold like a pasta salad. If you do that, I recommend using shorter pasta like penne or fusilli. You can even add a little balsamic vinegar.
More Easy Pasta Recipes
Easy Arugula Pesto Pasta Recipe
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 cups baby arugula
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan plus more for serving
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 8 ounces linguine or spaghetti
- Finely chop the garlic cloves in a food processor. Add 2 cups arugula, walnuts, Parmesan, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Chop everything. Then while the motor is running, drizzle in the olive oil through the feeder tube until the pesto is fully combined.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just al dente according to package instructions. Save 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Drain in a colander.
- Warm the arugula pesto in a large skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the pasta and the reserved pasta cooking water. The pesto will become creamy as it coats the noodles.
- Fold in 2 cups arugula and the lemon zest.
- Top with additional grated Parmesan before serving.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.