The Surprising Ingredient That Makes Pesto Sing

By Lynn Andriani

There's a reason most people make pesto from basil. Its bright, flowery flavor makes it a natural for everything from pasta to bruschetta to grilled chicken. Jekka McVicar, an English herb expert who travels the world to find new and exotic herbs, agrees: "Basil is such a king when it comes to pesto." Although McVicar hasn't had much success with other herb pestos (mint pesto "doesn't have the same oomph"; coriander pesto "was revolting; the coriander went all slimy on me"), she has found another green that rivals basil when it comes to pesto: arugula.

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It isn't an herb, technically, but no matter. "Arugula has oomph, because it has that wonderful meaty, peppery flavor. That, combined with nuts, is just superb," McVicar says. The essential ingredient in McVicar's arugula pesto is lemon-the combination of the juice and zest's zing with the almost spicy arugula "is just magic," McVicar says. She serves arugula pesto on pasta, as a dip with chips-or, even better, on a cold potato salad.

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And if you're just hooked on basil pesto, seek out Mrs. Burns' Lemon Basil, an heirloom variety that makes a very citrusy pesto.

Arugula Pesto

9 ounces arugula leaves
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

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Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth.

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