Beyond Basil: Experimenting with Arugula and Garlic Scape Pesto

Reader Contribution by Carrie Williams Howe

While traditional basil pesto is always delicious, I was delighted years ago to sample an “everything but the kitchen sink” pesto at my local farmers’ market that opened my eyes to the possibilities for this condiment.  Virtually anything green and leafy can serve as a base for pesto – from kale to spinach and everything in between; and you’ll even find recipes for pesto made from peppers and other delicious garden treats.  Just start with a basic pesto recipe (like this one from Ball) to get your proportions and experiment from there!

This year I had a bumper crop of arugula right around the time that our garlic scapes were ready to be harvested, so I pulled together this pesto variation and was more than pleased with the results. 

Note: One trick I also picked up lately is blanching the greens before putting all of the ingredients into the food processor.  While the tip is usually given as a trick to keeping your pesto brighter in color, blanching basil can decrease the flavor a bit too much (see this discussion on Kitchen).  In this recipe, I like blanching the arugula because it can take a little bit of the bitterness out of the leaves, especially if they are overgrown (mellowing the flavor is a good thing in this case).  Thus, my compromise is blanching the arugula leaves, but not the basil.

Recipe: Arugula and Garlic Scape Pesto


4 cups packed arugula
4-5 garlic scapes, chopped
15-20 basil leaves
¼ c lemon juice
¾ c grated parmesan cheese
½ c toasted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Step 1: Blanch the arugula.  Bring 3-4 quarts water to a boil in a large stock pot.  Add the arugula leaves and immediately stir to immerse them all.  Leave in for about 15 seconds then remove them and transfer them immediately to a bowl of ice water.  Once they have cooled down (30 seconds or so) remove them from the bowl and squeeze out the water.  You’ll end up with about a ball of greens a little bigger than your fist.

Step 2: Process.  Put the arugula, chopped garlic scapes, basil leaves, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and toasted sunflower seeds in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until well blended/chopped.  Then, with the food processor still running, gradually add the oil through the access tube.  Finish off with a few pinches of salt and a dash of pepper.

Step 3: Use or Store.  Use immediately as a pasta sauce, pizza sauce, or sandwich spread.  Can be stored in the fridge for a few days, or frozen in ice cube trays or canning jars (be sure to leave space for expansion).

Carrie Williams Howeis the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor atParent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page.

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