Linguini With Asparagus Pesto

Ah, asparagus….a beautiful harbinger of spring for sure.  Although we get asparagus year round these days, when great piles of it start appearing at the farmers market and produce stands, you know spring can’t be far off.  And when those first sweet stalks of asparagus show up, I can't get enough of 'em.

One of my favorite applications of this lovely veg is this asparagus pesto.  This is special stuff, folks.  I can say with certainty that if you like asparagus, you will love this.  If you don’t like asparagus, you may like this anyway.  It goes down smooth.  Silky, actually.  Smooth and silky and luscious.  Unlike traditional pesto sauces, this one has a faint sweetness to it which is hard to describe.  Perhaps it’s the ricotta cheese, but boy howdy, I absolutely love this.

I got the recipe from Simply Recipes last year and have made it quite a few times.  I’ve pretty much followed the recipe as is, but this time I added ricotta cheese, which honestly, just hit it out of the ballpark.

I have to say that this is one of those recipes that can be dressed up for a fancy dinner party, but just as easily would work as a quick weeknight meal for your lucky family.  The pesto can be made ahead and in the time it takes to boil some pasta you have one amazing dinner to serve the fam.  The kids will never know they’re eating asparagus (unless, of course, they’re smart enough to like asparagus, in which case this is a slam dunk).

Linguini with Asparagus Pesto

For a Printable Recipe, click here

Adapted 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 lemon

½ cup ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

1 lb linguini (fresh or dried)

1 Bring 2 pots of water to a rolling boil, one large one 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 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 several of the asparagus spears (diagonal cut a couple of inches from the end) and set aside,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, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice, ricotta cheese and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.

5 Salt the pasta water well and cook the pasta until just tender. Reserve a cup or so of the pasta water and then drain and toss the pasta immediately with enough of the pesto to coat the pasta well.  Add a little of the pasta water, if needed to loosen the sauce.

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.