I recently got together with Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks to try out one of the recipes from her new cookbook, Super Natural Cooking. The recipe we selected is perfect for spring, a pesto made with blanched asparagus, baby spinach, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and olive oil, tossed with a mix of egg and green spinach noodles. Heidi calls this recipe "Straw and Hay Fettuccini Tangle, with Spring Asparagus Purée" in her book, a nod to the mixing up of different colors of noodles. The asparagus pesto would work with any pasta or even as a sauce for pizza or potatoes.
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 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
4 ounces of dried pasta or 6 ounces fresh -linguini, fettuccini, spaghetti
Mix spinach pasta with regular wheat pasta for a medley of colors.
1 Bring 2 pots of water to a rolling boil, one large for the pasta and one medium sized for the asparagus.
2 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 paste and 1/4 cup to mix in whole.
3 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.
4 Add the asparagus, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts to a food processor. Purée and, with the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until a paste forms. If too thick, thicken it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.
Here's a trick that Heidi taught me. When emptying the food processor bowl of its contents, hold the bottom of the bowl with one hand with a finger in the center hole, holding the blade in place and keeping it from falling out.
This fresh pasta cooked up in no time at all.
5 Salt the pasta water well and cook the pasta until just tender. Check the directions on the pasta package. You'll need more time for dried pasta and less for fresh. 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.