I’m avoiding thinking about the noticeable chill in the air around Chicago lately (it was barely above 60 this morning, and yes, that’s chilly), so instead I’m focusing on making the most out of the remaining long days of summer. I’ve already mentioned tomatoes, corn, and some other favorites this time of year, but one thing I’ve actually just embraced is one of the popular variations on pesto with arugula and walnuts.
I know arugula can be divisive–as divisive as a lettuce can be, I suppose–but I love its bitterness and bite. Paired with walnuts (my favorite) and a good amount of cheese and olive oil, I’ve been adding this creamy deliciousness to just about everything this week–eggs, chicken, tomatoes, and best of all, grilled pizza. Holy crap.
There are a ton of recipes for arugula walnut pesto out there, but I just played it by ear and adjusted it to my tastes. If you try it, no need to follow the recipe exactly, just add, taste, add, taste until you like it. I preferred the addition of a little basil as it cut some of the bitterness of the arugula, and I found that I preferred pecorino romano cheese to parmigiano; the lemon brightened everything a bit. But again, make it to suite your tastes.
Also, since this post is about pesto, I have to mention basil at some point and it’s to say this: for the longest time I couldn’t keep fresh basil for more than a day without it wilting or turning black. I tried treating it like fresh cut flowers in a little glass of water or wrapping it in damp paper towels and a plastic bag in the fridge, and neither really worked for me. I don’t have enough sun to grow my own, so that was out too. What I FINALLY figured out was a combination of methods: little glass of water on the counter with a loose plastic or ziploc bag over the basil. As long as I trim the stems and change the water every few days, I can keep basil for at least a whole week, sometimes closer to two.
Arugula Walnut Pesto
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 cups loosely packed arugula
4-5 basil leaves
1 1/2 cups walnut halves
1-2 garlic cloves
1/3-1/2 cup high quality olive oil
3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Finely ground sea salt, to taste
In a food processor, combine the arugula, basil, walnuts, and garlic. Blend until the mixture is a coarse paste, then slowly add in about half the olive oil as the machine is running. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the cheese, lemon juice, and zest, and continue blending, adding the remaining oil until the pesto reaches your preferred consistency–I like it nicely spreadable and creamy. Depending on how salty your cheese is (and, honestly, how finely or coarsely it’s grated), you may need to add a pinch or two of salt at the end. Or more cheese. Everything is better with more cheese.