Lemon Arugula Pesto

Peppery arugula, the sunny burst of lemon, nutty parmesan, and sweet pop of basil harmoniously meld together in a bright and verdant pesto. Lemon Arugula Pesto draws from the flavors of the classic Italian salad and will have you dipping, topping, and spreading this fresh sauce on everything.

Lemon Arugula Pesto

Making homemade pesto is both easy and rewarding. It not only gives you full control of the ingredients but allows you to play around with the flavors. Whether it’s a little smoky and spicy like Charred Jalapeno Pesto, or this peppery and punchy creation, it’s a versatile sauce that can be used in numerous ways.

Why You’ll Adore This Recipe

Lemon Arugula Pesto gives you all of the familiar flavors and texture of a classic pesto alla Genovese, but with the bright addition of lemon and spicy pop of arugula. You can use this pesto in the same ways you would a more traditional pesto.

Arugula Pesto
  • Versatility – This arugula pesto can be used in the same ways you would a more traditional pesto. Whether it’s tossed with warm pasta and a splash of pasta water or used as a finishing sauce for fish.
  • Meal Prep – It only takes a few minutes to make this pesto, and you can use it all week long if stored properly.
  • Easy Process – The food processor does most of the work of creating this raw sauce.
  • Flavor Profile – The flavors are similar to a basil pesto while also giving a nod to the simple Italian arugula salad.

Ingredients for Lemon Arugula Pesto

Not only does making homemade pesto come together quickly, but it also only requires a handful of ingredients. Because you only need a few ingredients make sure that you pick quality ingredients.

Pesto Ingredients
  • Arugula – Arugula is a peppery, spicy, and slightly tart green in the same family as cabbage and mustard greens. Sometimes referred to as rocket, it can be served both raw and also cooked such as in pastas and soups.
  • Basil – The natural sweetness and slight licorice flavor of the basil balances the peppery bite of the arugula.
  • Lemon – Both the zest and the juice bring a brightness to this pesto. In addition, the acid in the juice helps the pesto stay bright green longer.
  • Pistachios – While traditional pesto uses pine nuts, pistachios offer a slightly mellower, buttery flavor. Use roasted, unsalted pistachios if possible.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano – This not only brings salt to the pesto but also a layer of umami.
  • Olive Oil – Pick a flavorful olive oil that you enjoy as it adds richness to the sauce.
  • Salt/Pepper – Season how you like. Keep in mind that if you are adding this to other salted things, the finished dish could get too salty.

How to Make Lemon Arugula Pesto

Making pesto at home is easy. It’s all about a few simple steps and tips. Once you get it down you can have fun experimenting and adding your own favorite flavors.

  • Mise en Place – Roughly chop your garlic and make sure that your arugula and basil is washed and dry. Zest your lemon and squeeze the juice.
  • Pulse – Add the pistachios and garlic to your food processor and pulse until it is a sandy texture, about 15 seconds.
Homemade Pesto
  • Blend – Add the basil, arugula, lemon juice and zest, and a couple of ice cubes to the food processor. Puls until the mixture is finally chopped.
  • Drizzle – With the food processor running slowly drizzle in your olive oil until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and pulse a couple of times to combine.
Homemade Pesto
  • Store – Transfer your pesto to an airtight container. You can add a small layer of olive oil over the top if desired.

Variations and Substutions

The combination of basil and arugula gives that balance of peppery but sweet. However, you can make this same recipe with all arugula for a more predominate arugula flavor. In addition, you can swap out the cheese in this recipe for Pecorino-Romano. Like things spicy? Add some crushed red pepper flakes in at the end when you add the cheese.

How to Use Pesto

You can use this lemon basil pesto in the same way you would your favorite pesto recipes or store-bought pesto. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Pasta – Toss your favorite pasta with this pesto. Don’t forget to add a little extra Parmigiano-Reggiano and some of that pasta water!
  • Chicken – Chicken is delicious marinated in pesto. Add a little extra lemon to the marinade for more of a bright pop of flavor. This is the marinade I use for my Grilled Chicken Parmesan with Cherry Tomato Sauce.
Pesto Grilled Chicken
  • Vinaigrette – Add a tablespoon or two to your basic vinaigrette for an herbaceous pop of flavor.
  • Caprese Salad – Drizzle this over your summer tomatoes and fresh mozzarella for a caprese salad with bold flavor.
  • Shrimp – Toss shrimp in this pesto and skewer for a quick and easy grilled pesto shrimp recipe.
  • Soup – Stir into soup just before serving. This would be a great addition to Tuscan White Bean Soup with Croutons.
  • Potatoes – Toss warm roasted or boiled potatoes in this pesto for an instant burst of flavor. This is also delicious with grilled or roasted vegetables.
  • Fish – Use this as a marinade or finishing sauce for fish such as salmon, sablefish, halibut, sea bass, or grouper.
Cod with Pesto

Storage and How to Make Your Pesto Stay Green Longer

Have you ever wondered how to make your homemade pesto stay green longer? Oxidation is a natural process that happens with everything from avocados and apples to the arugula and basil in this lemon arugula pesto. However, it doesn’t affect the flavor of your pesto. If kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator it will last for a week. In addition, you can also freeze it and keep it for up to a month. Here are a few tips though for making its vibrant color last a little longer.

  • Ice – Add an ice cube or two when blending your pesto. This shocks the herbs and locks in their color.
  • Olive Oil – Drizzle olive oil over the top of your pesto. It creates a barrier slowing down the oxidation process.
  • Acid – Squeeze lemon or lime over the top of your pesto depending on what you used. If your homemade pesto doesn’t call for any sort of acid use the olive oil method.
  • Blanch – Briefly blanch your herbs in boiling water for ten seconds and then transfer them to an ice bath to shock them. Make sure they are thoroughly dried before making your pesto.

Tip From the Beach

Arugula Pesto

Have you ever picked up a lemon at the grocery store and noticed it had an almost unnatural sheen to it? Many commercial citrus have a thin layer of wax on the outside. While it is totally safe to consume once washed, when it comes to purchasing citrus that you plan on zesting, always opt for organic when you can. Not only is this citrus free of the waxy coating, but it is also free of pesticides.

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Lemon Arugula Pesto

Lemon Arugula Pesto

  • Author: Nicole Stover
  • Total Time: 10 minutes


The peppery bite of arugula and sunny burst of lemon give a twist to the traditional basil pesto. 


Units Scale
  • 1 cup basil, packed
  • 1 cup baby arugula, packed
  • 2 garlic cloves roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, roasted and unsalted
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 2 ice cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Add the garlic and pistachios to a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly chopped.
  2. Add the arugula, basil, lemon juice and zest, and ice cubes to the food processor. Pulse until mostly finely chopped.
  3. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Blend until you’ve reached your desired consistency. 
  4. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and pulse until just combined.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Transfer to an airtight container and keep refrigerated until ready to use. 


  • You can use salted pistachios for this. However, don’t add any additional salt at the end. 
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Category: Condiment
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: lemon arugula pesto, arugula pesto, pesto recipe, lemon basil pesto

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