The words pesto and pestle (as in mortar & pestle) are relatives. Pesto originates from the Genoa region of Italy and was traditionally made by crushing garlic, basil, olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, pine nuts, and sheep’s milk cheese. Pesta is to pound, in reference to the grinding of these ingredients in the old marble mortar and pestle. Pesta, Pestle, Pesto. Besides the traditional list of ingredients there is an entire slew of other worthy additions you can use to make this classic more interesting and personalized. It’s basic method of preparation lends well to pretty much any herbs and oils, and you’ll find such variations as arugula, dandelion, pumpkin seed, spinach, pea, almond, mint, and sage, all over the internet. When we think of the term pesto we think generally of basil pesto, but in the context of it’s original terminology pesta/to-pound-with-pestle: it is correct to call these other ground concoctions pestos as well.

I’ve been doing some thinking this week about all of the dinners we’ve prepared at home over the past year or so. In doing this I’ve realized how much I’ve missed out on for the blog, as there’s never any leftovers for photos the next day and I don’t have a proper lamp for indoor nighttime photography. We generally like to prepare different ethnic foods from around the globe, as we get bored with the same ‘ol. Some of the dishes I’ve had success with over recents months include:


Fish cakes with dill + lemon

Slow cooked lamb stew

Braised beef shank with vegetables + prunes

BBQ pulled pork buns with quick pickled carrots + slaw

Beef burgers from scratch with my homemade burger buns

Burmese noodles in a spicy coconut + turmeric broth

Chinese fried rice with pork loin

Sesame buckwheat soba noodles with chicken, scallions + spinach

Seared scallops with lemon over Udon noodles

Assorted ramen noodle bowls

Korean bibimbap-style udon noodles with vegetables + egg yolk

Fusilli Rigati pasta with pancetta, tomatoes + caramelized onion

Roasted vegetable couscous with spicy sausages + grainy mustard

Indian curry in a homemade bread bowl (bunny chow)

Curries in general, both Indian and Thai


Among many other dishes… but it’s time I start keeping some sharing with you all here. Baking is what I post here, but I assure you many more creations pour from this kitchen daily. I don’t enjoy making the same things each week. Always looking for something new.

So on that note, here was last nights toss-together: African blue basil + arugula pesto. The basil plant I purchased in May has grown from a 99 cent sprig into a full blown tree! I took an entire handful from it for this pesto last night, and it made no dent at all. Now, this is poor man’s pesto as well, as I usually can’t bring myself to drop the cash on pine nuts. This is a nut free version. Food processors work particularly well for thick pastes such as pesto, but all I have is a blender and it worked fine. Just be sure to stop the blades every few seconds and gently push down the leaves to help everything meld and to ensure you don’t burn out your motor! If the mass refuses to come together: slowly drizzle in a little extra oil and/or water to loosen it up a smidge. Also keep in mind that arugula is incredibly peppery and lends a bitter spicy tang to this pesto. If you don’t like that kind of edge than just stick to basil. You can have your pasta cooked al dente, drained, and resting on the side before you blend up the pesto. Keep some pasta water aside to thin your sauce.




African Blue Basil + Arugula Pesto: feeds 4-6 


1 cup                     loosely packed basil

1 cup                     loosely packed arugula

1/4 to 1/2 cup        extra virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 cup        leftover water from pasta boiling

2                            cloves garlic

pinch                     chili flakes

pinch (or 2)            salt

pinch (or 2)            black pepper

pinch (or 2)            sugar

2 wedges               lemon or lime, just the juice


-Place all ingredients in the blender or food processor and blend until smooth, stopping the blender every few seconds to push the leaves down with a wooden spoon to help incorporate.

-Toss with fresh cooked pasta and top with arugula and grated parmigiano reggiano.






Ciao for now!








Posted by:Ashley

16 replies on “African Blue Basil + Arugula Pesto

  1. Very nice. I love African Blue Basil. I was in Genoa last summer and had lots of pesto! 🙂 I know what you mean about not always having the chance to post what you cook, but wanting to share. Sometimes, it’s just too challenging to get dinner ready and on time, food style, and take photos while and where the lighting is right. Looking forward to seeing more of your creations.

    1. Thanks Martine! I agree. Sometimes it’s a challenge just simply getting dinner made, eaten, and cleaned up before it seems to be already midnight! Time flies!

      I find the African blue basil to be so hearty and sturdy, it lasts through the wind and rain up here on the 18th floor balcony! I’ll take a sturdy, edible, and high yielding plant any day! It’s a winner!

      Genoa sounds wonderful!

      1. Genoa was wonderful. So beautiful. I did a whole series on the blog about that area (Liguria).

        I like the sturdiness of your basil plant. I recently tried to grow a simple basil plant on my 9th floor balcony and I’m afraid I killed it when I went on vacation. Will try again although my thumb is unfortunately not green!

        As for photos, I totally understand and know the midnight cleanup. I’ve been there many times! I find that for me, it’s better if I cook and take photos for the blog when I’m not preparing food that dish for friends or family. So sometimes I end up making things several times. Test the first time, get feedback and improve it then make it again (another day or week) for a photo shoot. It’s just too challenging when working on several time clocks–natural light and hungry mouths, especially my toddler’s little mouth which has timely demands! 🙂

      2. I’m sure feeding little mouths makes for even shorter moments for the blogging! Good for you, you’re a champion!

        It’s true, I agree- trial running is always the best to get your recipes perfected before posting. I usually spend one of my days off each week (if I can) preparing the food specifically for the post, and not trying to set up a shot and waiting to eat that particular item for my meal! Too much pressure!

        I’ll have to go back and check out your posts about Genoa!

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