Pesto is one of the classic pairings for pasta but you don't have to limit yourself to the basil type. Grab some tasty in-season asparagus spears and make asparagus pesto then add your favorite type of thin pasta such as angel hair for a delicious meal.
When to find great asparagus
In the United States, asparagus is available all year, but it's from March to May that it's at its peak. Early asparagus is generally pencil in size while later asparagus is more marker-sized.
However, girth is only a vague indication of flavor or softness. Only the amount of time it takes for your vegetables to reach you from the farm will determine how tough it becomes. So finding a supply of fresh asparagus always has the best results.
I used a conventional blanch & shock (asparagus cooked in salted boiling water for about 8 minutes then transferred to cold running water) method for this pesto. You could also try roasting it to see if that improves the flavor.
How to Clean Asparagus
To clean fruit asparagus, fill a sink with cold water and submerge the asparagus spears for a few minutes. Occasionally, really thick asparagus will have an inflexible outer peel. It may be removed (if desired) using a vegetable peeler.
Remove the bottom of the cutting by using your fingers, and the stem will naturally break where the hard woody part ends and the sensitive stem begins.
Toss the spears in a clean dish towel to dry. Your spears are now ready to use in a dish, either intact or chopped.
What you need to make asparagus pesto
- Fresh asparagus
- Pine nuts
- Garlic cloves
- Baby spinach leaves
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice ½ lemon
- Kosher salt
- Grated Parmesan
- Pasta, such as angel hair or thin spaghetti
- Freshly ground black pepper
How to make the recipe
Bring a large quantity of well-salted water to a boil in a big pot.
Add the asparagus and cook for about 7 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Using a large slotted spoon or a perforated ladle, scoop out the asparagus and transfer it to a colander. Rinse through running water.
Pat the asparagus dry and save a few tips for garnish. Return the water to a boil in the pot.
In a food processor, combine the asparagus, pine nuts, garlic, spinach, olive oil, and salt and process until finely chopped.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the Parmesan, stir well, and set to one side.
When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the boiling water; cook until al dente according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.
Use some of the pasta water to add to the pesto and get the right consistency that you like.
Add the pasta to the bowl with the pesto and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with asparagus tips that have been set aside.
Storing the recipe
Keep the pesto in the fridge, in an airtight container, and cover it with a thin layer of olive oil (to keep it from drying out). It will keep for up to 2-3 days.
Pesto may also be kept in the freezer. Freeze it in little freezer-safe jars and defrost it in the refrigerator before using.
You can use the same recipe to make a broccoli pesto by replacing the asparagus spears with chopped broccoli.
I like angel hair pasta best with this kind of recipe but anything like a thin spaghetti will work nicely. I'm not as keen on something like penne as it can get stuffed with pesto and be a little too strong.
Easy Asparagus Pesto
- 1 lb. fresh asparagus trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
- ¼ cup pine nuts toasted
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 2 to 3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ lemon juiced
- 1 tsp. kosher salt more to taste
- ½ cup grated Parmesan 2 oz.
- 12 oz. pasta such as angle hair or thin spaghetti
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
- Add the asparagus and cook until tender but not mushy, about 7 minutes. Scoop out the asparagus using a large slotted spoon or perforated ladle, transfer to a colander and rinse under cold running water. Pat the asparagus dry and reserve a few tips for garnish. Return the water in the pot to a boil.
- In a food processor, combine the asparagus, pine nuts, garlic, spinach, olive oil, and salt and process until very finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Set aside.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta.
- If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to the pesto, stirring to combine for desired consistency. Add the pasta to the bowl with the pesto and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garish with the reserved asparagus tips.