Despite the chilly weather and continuous drizzle (interrupted by occasional bursts of hail) it must be spring. How do I know? There is locally grown asparagus at the farmer’s market.
I am a big fan of this vegetable, especially when I know it’s been grown locally and when the spears are crisp and sweet almost all the way to the base of the stalk. I have prepared asparagus lots of ways; grilled, roasted and poached and sauced with everything from a simple drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice to a more complex mustardy, balsamic vinaigrette.
My affection for asparagus is probably why Mark Bittman’s column about Asparagus Pesto caught my eye. I clearly had to make this.
I followed MB’s recipe, substituting hazelnuts (I live in Oregon, after all) for the pine nuts and quadrupling the amount of garlic in the original recipe. The resulting puree was lovely — bright springy green in color
and bursting with flavor.
I quickly boiled up some fresh rigatoni (also from the Portland Farmer’s Market) tossed the noodles with the pesto, topped it all with some lightly steamed fresh peas in the pod, and sat down to a plate of spring perfection.
Why not give it a try at your house?
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as desired
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and shock with ice water to stop the cooking. Reserve some of the cooking liquid.
Transfer the cooled asparagus pieces to a food processor and add the garlic, hazelnuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid.
Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and gradually add the remaining oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste, pulse one last time to finish mixing.
Serve over pasta, fish or chicken. Top with chopped hazelnuts and additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto. Keeps, covered and refrigerated for a day or two.