Food & Drink

Frances Mayes’s Arugula and Toasted Pine Nut Pesto

“There’s nothing handier than a pesto in the fridge,” writes the bestselling author in her new cookbook

Photo: Steven Rothfeld

Though Frances Mayes calls Italy home, her roots stretch to Southern soil. Born in Georgia, the globetrotting, multi-genre author studied in Virginia and Florida and now divides her time between her North Carolina home and her famed Under the Tuscan Sun villa in Cortona, Italy, where she and her husband produce Bramasole Olive Oil. “Excellent olive oil will transform your kitchen. I’ve learned to use it liberally and to count on its health properties as a bonus to Italian cooking,” Mayes writes in her new cookbook, Pasta Veloce, a dedication to the beloved carb and its versatility. 

For this pesto recipe, you can substitute slivered almonds for the pine nuts, but don’t skip out on good extra-virgin olive oil. “This amount of pesto will sauce eight ounces of pasta, enough for four as a first course or two as a vegetarian main dish,” she writes. Mayes also reminds us that pesto’s possibilities transcend pasta: “Dab a little on pizza or baked tomatoes stuffed with rice, on grilled chicken, in vegetable soups, or spread it on bruschetta.”

After whipping up this pesto, check out Mayes’s BLT Spaghetti and Farfalle with Roasted Asparagus, Lemon Cream, and Chives. For more from the queen of wanderlust, read her love letter to the magnolia and G&G’s recent interview with her about her book A Place in the World, in which she invites you into her Southern and Italian estates. And of course, order her new cookbook, Pasta Veloce, here.

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  • Arugula and Toasted Pine Nut Pesto (Yield: about 1 cup)

    • 5 oz. baby arugula

    • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

    • ½ cup pine nuts

    • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press

    • ½ tsp. crushed hot red pepper

    • ½ cup grated pecorino Romano

    • ⅔ cup pasta water, or more if needed

    • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Put the arugula in a blender or food processor. In a small heavy saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the nuts, reduce the heat to low, and toast until they are very light brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the nuts and hot oil over the arugula.

  2. Add the garlic and hot pepper. Pulse to a coarse puree. Mix in the cheese. Add the pasta water and puree to a saucy consistency. Season with salt and black pepper.

Reprinted from the new book Pasta Veloce: Irresistibly Fast Recipes from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes and Susan Wyler. Copyright © 2023 by Frances Mayes and Susan Wyler. Photographs © 2023 by Steven Rothfield. Published by Abrams.