Arugula, Sunflower Seed, and Ricotta Salata Pesto

Go beyond basil with this arugula pesto!

Staring baby arugula, sunflower seeds, and ricotta salata cheese, this pesto is properly addicting. The baby arugula adds a nice peppery note, the sunflower seeds are toasty and bold, and the ricotta salata is slightly sharp and deliciously salty. Then comes the classic lemon juice to bring acidity, garlic cloves to add savory, pungent flavors, and extra virgin olive oil to round out the pesto and add some floral notes.

I would be lying if I said I did not eat a few spoonfuls straight from the container 😜.

Arugula, Sunflower Seed, and Ricotta Salata Pesto

Servings: makes 2 cups

Time: less than 10 minutes


  • 5 ounce container of baby arugula (3 packed cups)
  • 1/3 cup of sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 3 ounces of ricotta salata cheese, grated (roughly 1/2 cup packed)*
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil (or until desired thickness and texture is reached)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/3 tsp. of salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes


  1. The key to pesto is properly emulsifying it. This means the olive oil is incorporated and not separated. To do this:
  2. Pulse arugula in a food processor until roughly chopped. 
  3. Add remaining ingredients except EVOO. Pulse again until evenly chopped. Pieces should be small but not quite as small as you want in the final product. 
  4. Working quickly, turn the processor on and drizzle in the olive oil while the processor is running. Shut off the processor as soon as you are done pouring in the olive oil to prevent the ingredients from becoming too pureed. You want little ‘chunks’ of the ingredients to remain and not a totally smooth sauce-like consistency (see picture above).  
  5. If you want a more runny/loose pesto, add olive oil a table spoon at a time using the pulse function on your processor, until the desired consistency is reached. 

Notes: Ricotta salata is a pressed and aged ricotta cheese that is hard enough it can be grated. The flavor is like a concentrated and more tangy version of ricotta. Substitute any cheese you like, but manchengo, pecorino, and aged cotija, and are probably the closest in flavor. 

Suggested uses: grilled cheese, pasta salad, pasta with chicken, add to caesar salad dressing, on top of hummus, mixed with warm white beans on toast or blended into a cold white bean dip, as a melt with tomato and cheese on a slice of toast.

I made pasta salad with balsamic roasted zucchini, bell pepper, and onion as work lunch the first time I made this pesto. The second round I could not stop making tomato, pesto, and cheddar melts. Simply add 1 and 1/2 tbsp. of pesto to a piece of bread, add sliced tomato, and a scant ounce of cheese. Cook in the oven at 425 for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and just turning golden brown, and the toast is crunchy.

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