Easy Arugula Pesto with Pasta

How I pounded out dinner with a mortar and pestle

My post originally appeared on The Daily Meal.

Penne with arugula pesto

I love pesto, my husband doesn’t. Our taste in most foods is pretty similar, but for some reason, dinnertime is when we come up with our disagreements. When we discovered pesto could be made with arugula, our pesto posturing ended.

I was trying to think of something easy to make for dinner and guess what popped into my head? Easy Arugula Pesto with Pasta with pesto sauce. Off to the grocery store I went to pick up some arugula for dinner, and other goodies to get us through the weekend like ice cream and lemons (hey, if you’re going to drive to the store, you might as well make it worth the effort).

My cupboards are not bare

Even though I’ve made pesto a million times, I decided to check out some recipes online. As I was browsing, I noticed that one recipe included instructions for making it with a mortar and pestle. We own a mortar and pestle. My husband bought the set against my wishes. Must have been dinnertime.

My big complaint against the purchase was that our already-crammed kitchen couldn’t possible hold another cooking gadget. Particularly one that might get used, oh I don’t know, maybe once every four years? But, we bought the set and promptly shoved it into a cabinet that was the holding ground for things like a hand blender (used maybe twice a year) and a Panini press (don’t get me started).

Ingredients and a small pestle

To help justify its existence in our cupboard and because it seemed like it might be fun to use (and I hate cleaning the food processor), I decided to make use of the mortar and pestle set. Besides, this is how pesto was traditionally made (no food processors back in the day) and this would be a lovely traditional meal. Maybe it was because I was angry about our crowded cupboards, or because the bagger at the grocery store called me “ma’am,” but I must not have been thinking clearly. Our pestle is not big. It looks big because it’s thick, but it probably holds less than a cup.

When life gives you a small pestle…

Retouched pesto

I modified the pestle

Without thinking too far ahead, I prepped the ingredients and set them up ready to roll. First in: garlic, pine nuts and salt. No problem. Next up: the cheese and olive oil. Wait. What? How is all of this, not to mention the arugula, going to fit? I considered pulling out the food processor but I was adamant about using this thing — or at least part of it.

So it was into a mixing bowl with the ingredients. I figured I’d just use the pestle and mash and grind everything in the mixing bowl. Good thing I started my Jillian Michaels workouts because the effort it took to make this simple dish was serious work (well worth the effort)! I mashed and I ground and I pounded. When I realized the ingredients weren’t going to get any more mashed together or smooth, I stopped.

The chunky-ish pesto tasted great served over pasta! My spin: Easy Arugula Pesto with Pasta has a rustic charm and authentic preparation, just the way my Roman forefathers made it. Next thing you know, my husband will want a bigger mortar and pestle.

Recipe for Easy Arugula Pesto with Pasta:

Makes one super-large cup of pesto


  • 2 cups packed arugula with stems removed
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil to start (you may want to add a bit more oil if the mixture seems dry)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste


  1. Add the toasted pine nuts, salt and garlic to the pestle. Mash together until smooth.
  2. Add the Parmesan cheese and oil to the mixture. Mash together until all ingredients are combined and smooth.
  3. Add the arugula to the pestle. Mash together until smooth, using a spatula to pull the ingredients together.  Mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Serve over whole-wheat penne pasta.
Makes one super-large cup of pesto



  1. says

    Perfect timing! I just bought a bunch of baby arugula and I love pesto! Thanks for sharing this one with Presto Pasta Nights. Hope to see you back soon.

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