Chef Ronnie Collins’s Arugula Pesto

Ronnie Collins is the executive chef of The Montford Rooftop Bar and Lounge in Asheville.

I think we’ve all been guilty of buying some beautiful arugula or other leafy green and watching as it turns to mush in our refrigerator before we ever get a chance to use it. Arugula pesto is a great answer to this problem and is such an easy-to-prepare crowd-pleaser that it frequently pops up in my kitchen both at work and home. The versatility of the sauce can’t be overlooked. I’ve used it in everything from a flavoring for house-baked breads, to mixing it with ricotta for a tasty ravioli filling. Alta Vista Farm grows some of the most flavorful arugula I’ve had since my time working in California years ago. You may notice there are some unique ingredients in this pesto. I’m a big fan of using good dry to semi-dry gruyere in pesto (if it is too “semi-soft,” it can throw off the consistency of the finished product). The nuttiness goes great with a robust, spicy arugula like Alta Vista’s. Marcona almonds add to that same profile in a really nice way. 

We are blessed to have many great local farms in the surrounding areas. It is something special to be able to tell guests that their food was grown just 10 miles away. It’s important to utilize and support farms like Alta Vista.  On a macro level it is hugely important that as a society we continue to increase the demand for nutritious, organically grown food. On the micro, day-to-day level, it is important that consumers help support family farms as the backbone of American food and agriculture and keep these families not just in business, but thriving. 

I’ve always had an affinity for cooking in the cooler months. There is something about fall and winter that speak to me quite a bit. It could be my childhood growing up in the cold fall and winter months in Central Michigan. I grew up on one-pot meals, braised meats, vegetables pickled in the summer and enjoyed in the colder months, as well as soups and stews. Preparing these types of heartier dishes has always sparked a sense of nostalgia as a chef and as a lover of food.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups packed fresh arugula
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Marcona almonds
  • 4-6 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Place arugula, garlic, almonds, and cheese into a food processor and pulse until almost blended to a thick paste.
  2. Place food processor on medium and drizzle in olive and vegetable oil until the desired consistency is achieved. (For flatbreads and other baked applications I like to leave the pesto a little thicker. For pasta, I usually thin it out a little more by adding a touch more olive oil.)
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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