My cousin Nikita emailed me this recipe a few weeks ago and said that we had to make it together. Embedded in the email was a mouth-watering picture that drew me in: two asparagus tips neatly garnished a tangle of green pasta, dotted with pine nuts and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. How could I say no? For the entire week I looked forward to this meal. I love that our family is so food oriented. We can plan an entire evening around the food, whether it’s a holiday, or a weeknight meal like this one. And while we’re eating one meal we’re already talking about the next one! Anyway, asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable. I thought I’d had it prepared every way until I saw this recipe. What a great idea – blanching asparagus and turning it into a pesto with baby spinach, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil! It tastes so fresh and surprisingly the asparagus flavor was not as strong as we thought it would be. But it’s just subtle enough to remind you of its presence. Leaving some whole pine nuts to toss in at the end adds the perfect crunch to this beautifully verdant pasta dish.
Asparagus Pesto Pasta
(From Simply Recipes)
1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed of tough ends and halved crosswise
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
Juice of 1/2 a lemon*
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
8 ounces of dried pasta or 12 ounces fresh -linguini, fettuccini, or spaghetti**
*we used a lime from our tree instead
**the original recipe suggests mixing regular pasta with spinach pasta for a medley of colors
- Bring two pots of water to a bowl – one large one for the pasta and one medium sized one for the asparagus.
- While the water is heating, put the pine nuts in a single layer in a large skillet. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pine nuts from pan and set aside. (You will use 3/4 cup of the pine nuts for the pesto and 1/4 cup to mix in whole).
- Salt the asparagus water and drop the spears into the pan. Cook for only 2 or 3 minutes, until the spears are bright green and barely tender. Drain under cool water to stop the cooking. Cut the tips off, and set aside, several of the asparagus (diagonal cut about an inch from the end) to use for garnish.
- Add the asparagus, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts to a food processor. Process until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until a paste forms. If too thick, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.
- Salt the pasta water well and cook the pasta until just tender. Drain and toss immediately with 1 cup of the asparagus pesto.
- Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4 to 6.