Summer Rucola Pesto

As the summer heat sets in and the van gets as hot as an oven, my desire to cook hot meals dwindles quickly and my craving for fresh vegetables and herbs takes over. One of my favorite goto dishes, which can be served hot or cold, is a rucola pesto pasta originally taught to me by Alessandro, The Tuscan Chef.

What makes this dish so special is the strong flavor of rucola in season and the many ways it can be adapted; it can be used in its purest form or as a base from which to make a wide range of vegetarian and fish based summer pastas.

INGREDIENTS (serves 4 | takes 25 minutes)

  • One large bunch of fresh Rucola
  • 40 grams of Pine Nuts
  • Two small cloves of Garlic
  • 10 ml of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • One teaspoon of Salt
  • Fennel Tops (if you have some)
  • 500 grams of Fusili Pasta

The freshness of the ingredients is what makes this dish special. Fresh Rucola is not large and beautiful, like the bags available in most grocery stores. It can be very stemmy and the leaves may look smaller or a bit wilted.

Whenever we go to buy vegetables, I always remember an Italian friend’s first experience in a U.S. supermarket.

After searching through the fresh lettuce for more than 30 minutes, he asked a stock boy why none of the produce had holes from where bugs had eaten them.

“Oh sir, I assure you that there are no bugs or worm holes in the lettuce,” the stock boy replied proudly. “No, none of our produce has bugs or worms.”

To which my friend replied, “If even slug or worm won’t eat the lettuce, why should I?” With this, my friend walked out of the supermarket shaking his head from side to side, muttering, “ma sono pazzi?”

At any good farmer’s market or vegetable stand, you should find good Rucola in summer, especially in Europe. For the above reason, always rinse your vegetables before working with them (not after!).

Fennel tops are the tiny shoots you find when you buy fresh fennel. Often they are cut off by the vendor, so just ask if they have any. You only need a pinch after dicing.

The amount of oil and salt are merely estimates. Every bunch of rucola is different in flavor and strength. To get the quantities right, I first put this basic recipe together, stir until well mixed, and then taste, taste, taste. You should be able to sense a slight aroma and taste from the olive oil. The salt should bring out all the other flavors without imposing its own.


  1. Cook the pasta
  2. While the pasta is cooking mince all other ingredients in a blender/food processor
  3. When the pasta is cooked, add the ‘pesto’ from the food processor on top of the pasta and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add salt or olive oil to taste.
  5. Optional: dice some small cherry tomatoes and mix into the pasta pesto for some added summer freshness.

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