The secret to a greener pesto

Seattle was beautiful. It was refreshing. It was sunny the entire 5 days I was visiting – a miracle, considering it rains roughly 80% of the time out there. I did get back to Annapolis about two weeks ago, but less than 24 hours after my plane landed, I was back at the airport to pick up my parents. My mom had been here before, but this was my dad’s first time at my new place. That means I put everything aside, my blog included, and showed them a good time.

my friends and me in Seattle

(left to right: Me, Charles, Paul, Andy and Nick)

I was in Seattle for the 2009 Web Design World Conference. If you’re into web design and development and ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. The speakers were all leaders in their respective fields and gave engaging presentations; these were a few of my favorites: Jared Spool (UI mastermind), Shawn Henry (Queen of Accessibility), Dan Rubin (CSS ninja) and Cameron Moll (design guru).

if only I had a kitchen in my hotel room

Pike Place Market was probably my favorite place to walk around in Seattle. It somehow manages to embody the small town feel of a local market, but on a large scale. The vendors, although swarming with clients, had conversations with you, jugglers and singers entertained small crowds, and best of all, the quality and selection of local produce was unbelievable – it was a fun place to be.

rockin’ local veggies

The market stands were filled with beautiful local vegetables, and the competing venders kept prices pretty low – always a plus.

my lunchtime view of the bay

Most of the lunch venues at the Market have a gorgeous panoramic view of the bay. It was the perfect sight to stare into while I enjoyed my grilled halibut sandwich.

I miss Seattle

The trip back to the east coast was ambivalent. Although I wanted to stay in Seattle forever, and visit Pike Place Market everyday, it was time to go back. I stayed staring out the airplane window for most of the flight back, thinking about what I can blog about once I get home. This pesto, for sure, was at the top of my list.

mise en place

I’ve always been a fan of the arugula-lemon combination. It’s one of those things in cooking that just works – like figs and blue cheese or chocolate and mint. Pesto, however, starts to get dark shortly after it comes together. This can be a problem if you’re dinner party starts in a couple hours or if you’re banking on some leftover sauce to give as gift or enjoy the next day. My good friend Michelle, who is quite the amazing cook, shared with me the secret to keep the vibrant green color in pesto, even days after it is made.

herein lies the secret – blanch your greens

The secret to keeping the gorgeous green color on the leaves is by blanching them in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. This process actually enhances the color of the chlorophyll, but since it is done quickly, it does not break down the greens either.

shock in ice bath

In order to preserve the bright green color the leaves turn, you need to immediately stop the cooking process after 10-15 seconds by plunging the greens into a bowl of ice-cold water. Make sure you drain and dry the greens before adding them to the pesto so as to not water down the sauce.

lemon zest for zing

Lemon zest, similar to salt, heightens the flavors of a dish without adding too much acidity.

extra virgin olive oil to combine

Once you have all the ingredients ready, you’ll want to bring them all together in the food processor with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

some acidity to make the flavors pop

Adding lemon juice is a matter of personal preference. I do it because I like how that little touch of acidity cuts the fat from the oil and cheese in the pesto. You can play around with different amounts and textures, but in the end you want the lemon flavor to be a subtle note in the background and not overpower the sauce.

Lemon infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

Lemon Infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

yields approx 1.5 cups


  • 4 oz basil leaves, (approx 3 cups, lightly packed)
  • 2 oz arugula leaves, (approx 1 cup, lightly packed)
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Boil water in a large pot and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl.
  2. Salt the boiling water. Add the basil and arugula leaves for 10-15 seconds and immediately plunge in ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color in the leaves.
  3. Strain the leaves and pat dry using a clean towel. Combine all the ingredients in the food processor (or blender) and blend until well combined.
  4. Taste for seasoning. Enjoy with pasta or refrigerate with a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface to preserve the green color for up to a week.


a peak of what’s coming up next!

24 thoughts on “The secret to a greener pesto

  1. I’ve wanted to go to Seattle for ages now…looks like you had a great time. And thank you for sharing that tip for making a “greener” pesto…very handy to know!

  2. I really love the Pike Place Market, so many things going on! And FOOD! I’ve really found a love of the city, it took a while after LOVING Portland, OR. But I’m here and now it is home!

  3. sensational photos tony. thanks for taking us with you to through these photos to Seattle! as for the pesto that is one green looking pesto!

  4. Wow, the blanching of the greens! That’s genius! Thanks for the tip. I love your blog and found you through Steamy Kitchen. I’ll definitely be back!

  5. I knew about the blanching tip having read in a cooking magazine, but I have never tried the arugula, lemon combo. You make it look so good! It is a pleasure to read your posts!

  6. Tony
    I can’t believe I’ve missed your EXCELLENT blog for so long. I’m really impressed by the overall quality: design, editorials, recipes and photography.
    I will keep coming for sure. Thank you for commenting on my blog thus giving me this great opportunity to find yours.

  7. Yes, thank you for sharing this tip! I can’t believe that more people don’t blanch their basil, and then complain when their pesto starts turning grey.

  8. Thanks for sharing that great tip there! I will keep them in mind. If arugula leaves are sold at an exorbitant price here where I am, what should I substitute it with?

    Is it because I have not been here for too long or it is that the photos are brighter and cleaner than before?

  9. hi Mrs. Ergül – you can use any greens you like, really. Since basil is traditional, I like to sneak some basil in each variation I make –but that’s a matter of preference. One of my favorite “pesto’s” that I came up with in college (and still make today) uses baby spinach. I hope you enjoy!
    ps. I moved a couple months ago and my new kitchen has more light 😀

  10. What a great pesto! In all honesty I have never been to Seattle, and I really want to go…

    Also, I love how you photograph your mis en place!

    Great photos!

  11. What a great pesto recipe! And what a fantastic tip to make the green greener and more vibrant! Must try it for sure, especially because of that lemon touch, nice and zingy!
    I lived in the west coast of Canada for a while, always meant to go down to Seattle and never did… now it’s so far away 🙁

  12. Hi, Tony, working on an article right now on basil. 2 tbs. has 27% of your vitamin K dv, making it a mild anti-inflammatory, plus antioxidants and all other goodies…with a calorie LOAD of 1 calorie. Of course we make up with cups of olive oil. So I’ll be trying your blanching technique on the next batch! xo, e

  13. That’s a really beautiful pesto. BTW, your blog rocks. You’ll never know, you could actually achieve one of your lifetime goals. Mine is the violin.

  14. Food processor? Come on, Tony, I expected you to be a mortar-and-pestle kind of guy. But thanks for the blanching tip. I’ll try it next time I make pesto. You ever try a cilantro pesto with lime and cayenne?

  15. Pingback: Pesto and beans «

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