Asparagus Pesto

Asparagus Pesto

March 28, 2010 · 47 comments

It has come to my attention that many of you do not visit Local Lemons in search of an easy weeknight meal. Is it because I make things like this 5-hour lamb bolognese? Or maybe because my homemade chicken nuggets take over 2 hours? Okay. You have a point.

Today, I’m making a change. I’m going to show you how to make authentic pesto from scratch and have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Come on, if Rachael Ray can do it, why can’t I? (Geez, never thought the day would come when I mention Rachael Ray). Anyway. By authentic, I mean in technique. Obvious there is no basil in this pesto. And for a good reason – it’s March! If you’re making basil pesto right now, you better live in the tropics (or LA, or Miami). This pesto is authentic because it uses local ingredients that are all in season. Plus, it’s made with a mortar and pestle. This is the most important kitchen tool for making pesto. If you are using a food processor, you’re truly missing out. The food processor pulverizes and jumbles all the flavors, leaving you unable to distinguish the unique qualities of each ingredient. Don’t believe me? Do a side-by-side comparison. I guarantee you’ll never make pesto in a machine again (and you’ll probably never order it at a restaurant again either.)

I mashed together fresh spring asparagus, garlic, walnuts, chili peppers and sharp cheese into a thick, pungent paste softened by a light stream of high-quality olive oil. When the pasta was ready, I tossed in some spinach leaves, an egg and a heaping spoonful of the bright green pesto.

Wait, did I lose you at the egg? I love adding an egg or two to pasta dishes when I want a touch of creaminess without adding cream. I never add cream to pasta. Never. Bechamel, yes. Cream, no. All it does is dilute the vim of the rich sauce you lovingly prepared, while adding tasteless fat and heaviness. Eggs, on the other hand, enhance the flavors in your sauce. Especially if the eggs are farm-fresh, and the sauce is a pesto. The trick is to not let the eggs scramble. Crack an egg into a small bowl, add a teaspoon of the hot cooking liquid from the pasta, and lightly beat. After you drain the pasta, put it back into the pot and quickly stir in the eggs. Don’t hesitate or you’ll have chunks of egg instead of a light coating surrounding each noodle. Now add the pesto. And now enjoy a seasonal, from-scratch meal that took a total of 30 minutes. Take that Rachael Ray (Gr, there I go again!).

A note about cheese, because I just found my new favorite. It’s incredible. Sharp, nutty, crumbly, intense–and it’s local. Erin and I have been recipe-testing for Little Mac, and received a nice sampling of cheeses from Vella Cheese company. Their Oro Secco, a dry jack cheese that’s aged for 2 years, is amazing. I hate using such a generic word for such a special cheese, but amazing it is. The only problem is that it’s pricey, too much so for our mac and cheese. But perfect for this asparagus pesto. If you can’t find it, use regular dry jack in its place.

Asparagus Pesto with Pasta
4 servings / Cooking time: 30 minutes


About 10 stalks of asparagus, woody ends removed
2 -3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Handful of walnuts
1 egg
2 dried chili peppers (optional)
Handful of spinach, washed and torn into large pieces
Top-notch olive oil (I use California Olive Ranch Arbaquina. It’s affordable, bold and so tasty.)
1/2 cup Oro Secco cheese, finely grated (Or dry jack, or a hard, sharp cheese of your choice)
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound pasta (I used elbows, only because I had a ton on hand from mac and cheese testing. Linguine would work quite well.)

Set a large pot of water to boil and add asparagus. Cook for two minutes and lift asparagus out of the pot using tongs. Run under cold water to stop cooking, and chop into small pieces. Keep the water boiling for your pasta.

Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with a sprinkle of salt until it forms a paste. Add the walnuts and dried chili peppers and continue mashing. Next add the asparagus, and mash until they fall apart. Add the cheese and stop mashing. Add a thin stream of olive oil and stir until it forms a thick paste (about 1/3 – 1/2 of a cup). Taste for salt. Add freshly ground black pepper if needed.

Cook pasta in boiling water. When done, drain, reserving a 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot, and keep on a burner set to the lowest heat. Add half of the reserved water.

Crack the egg into a small bowl. Gently beat. Add 1 teaspoon of the hot cooking liquid and stir. Add the egg to the pasta, and stir quickly so the egg doesn’t set. Don’t let it scramble!

Add the spinach and stir until wilted. Finally, add the pesto and mix until fully combined. If pesto is too thick, add remaining pasta water.

Serve with grated cheese and top with a drizzle of olive oil.

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Where I Shopped:
Asparagus, walnuts, spinach, eggs: Full Belly Farms, Berkeley Farmers’ Market
Oro Secco cheese: Vella Cheese Company
Dried chili peppers: Rancho Gordo, San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market
Garlic: Pinnacle Farms, Berkeley Farmers’ Market

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather(eatwelleatgreen) March 29, 2010 at 12:08 am

Or Australia. You have some readers down under who are still swimming in basil you know. But this looks gorgeous, definitely one to bookmark for another day, or perhaps swap for broccoli, which is in season here. Beautiful photos, thanks for sharing.


Deepa (lazygiraffe) March 29, 2010 at 1:41 am

I buy my asparagus from a tiny local producer who sells it from his little greenhouse behind his house. It is so much better when it is fresh! The egg tip is great, I do like a little bit of a sauce with my pasta but nothing heavy.


Robyn March 29, 2010 at 1:58 am

God, I just love, love, love your blog. SUCH beautiful images. And that pasta dish – it represents everything I love to eat. (And I’m going to pretend I never read the words ‘Rachel Ray’ here today…)


Jessica @ How Sweet It Is March 29, 2010 at 3:38 am

Love the sound of this. And beautiful photos, too!


Ash March 29, 2010 at 6:55 am

Oh yum!! This looks and sounds amazing!! Your photo’s are stunning!!
I must try this!!


heather @ chiknpastry March 29, 2010 at 7:33 am

looks gorgeous – can’t wait to be able to pick up some fresh local asparagus at our markets!


Madalene March 29, 2010 at 8:08 am

YUM!!!! Looks amazing!! I could easily eat the whole pot of asparagus pesto just like that….mmm


Megan Gordon March 29, 2010 at 8:38 am

I’ve never tried adding egg into pasta in this way before, Allison. Sounds great…and what an awesome idea for pesto. Have been buying a ton of asparagus lately and preparing it simply, but this will be a nice change. Look what happens when you stick around Allison–you try anchovies and tripe (I wasn’t sold on that one, by the way) and discover asparagus pesto.

Have a great week!


Kate @ Savour Fare March 29, 2010 at 9:34 am

Ha! I just bought this year’s basil plant and it’s currently basking in the sunshine. I also have three bunches of asparagus in the fridge, so this is right up my alley.


Crepes of Wrath March 29, 2010 at 9:39 am

I have a bundle of asparagus in my fridge that is just dying to be made into this!


Maria March 29, 2010 at 10:02 am

I am a huge asparagus fan. One of the best things about spring. Great recipe here!


justine March 29, 2010 at 10:36 am

What beautiful pictures! And the recipe sounds wonderful for Spring (or anytime!), too.


The Food Hunter March 29, 2010 at 11:20 am

OH!! asparagus pesto..that sounds awesome. I’ve got to try this!


Nicole March 29, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Mmmm….that dish sounds divine and reminds me that I need to get some more CA Olive Ranch Olive Oil. Your blog introduced me and now I’m hooked. I used it the other day to make pasta with chili garlic oil and added roasted asparagus, yummm. I sadly do not own a mortar and pestle. Any recommendations on where to get a good one?


Allison Arevalo March 30, 2010 at 11:59 am

Hi there! You can get a good mortar and pestle at any kitchen store, but I am a huge fan of buying kitchen supplies at thrift shops or garage sales. I have two mortars and pestles – one is large (3 cups) and made of stone. I use this one for pesto and other sauces. The other one is small (1 cup) and made of wood. I use that one primarily for grinding spices. If you are only going to get one, I would definitely recommend the larger one.


Janet March 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Wow, I can’t wait to make this!


Dana March 29, 2010 at 1:59 pm

OMG, it looks so good, I just want to cry. I only have a small mortar and pestle but obviously, I need to get a larger one. And I had never heard that tip about putting eggs in pasta. I will totally trust you on this one and try it with this recipe.


Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction March 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Oh my goodness… This looks absolutely incredible! Asparagus is one of my favorite foods, and using it to make a pesto for pasta sounds divine. I am definitely going to give this a try!


Nancy March 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Looks delicious! Can’t wait to try out the recipe..Thanks!


Jacqui March 29, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Oh this looks so good! I wait all year for the asparagus to come and our local farmers market has slowly been adding them to the weekly mix! I’m growing some of my own basil this year and the little seeds just peeked through the soil a couple days ago, so this dish will have to be made while I’ve got asparagus!


sippitysup March 29, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I agree about a hand made pesto… it’s something magical, or at least one of those “the sum is greater than the parts” things. GREG


allison from "a for aubergine" March 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

i never thought of using asparagus to make pesto. what an innovative idea; i love out-of-the-box recipes like this. thanks for posting this! i will need to try this soon.


Charles G Thompson March 29, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Very nice post! Pesto without the basil — and why not?! Love that you pushed the idea of using a mortar and pestle – it does make a big difference. Oh and the egg. I’ve done that before and it really is quite nice.


Lauren March 30, 2010 at 6:48 am

Love this! I was just pondering what else I could do with the massive amounts of asparagus in my refrigerator and this popped up on my screen.

As an aside–THANK YOU!–for your wonderful blog. I am a San Francisco transplant living in Boston for two years for school. As wonderful as city this is, it doesn’t come close to home, especially when talking about food. I shed a tear of longing whenever I read your ingredient sources.


Stephanie (Fresh Tart) March 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm

As usual, GORGEOUS photos, love reading your blog! The recipe looks fabulous, can’t wait to make it!


Janet March 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Oh, I’m so excited! I was just at the store, picking up some groceries, and pulled out my phone to check the ingredients for this recipe, particularly the brand of olive oil you recommended. Lo and behold, it’s right there in front of me! The best part – I had a $10 reward credit at Real Food Co, and the olive oil was just over $11. Score! Can’t wait to make this – I’m going to pick up some fresh asparagus & spinach at the Crocker Farmers Market on Thurs! And I just found my mortar and pestle!


El March 31, 2010 at 10:50 am

This is a beautiful post. The pictures are great. I always make pesto in the food processor because I’m usually making huge batches to freeze. After reading this post, however, I’m inspired. Now I just need to find a huge mortar and pestle!


INNAjam March 31, 2010 at 12:31 pm

an egg in the pasta! brilliant! a great tip, thank you. This recipe looks divine, will definitely put it to use before the asparagus season is over. beautiful photos!


Diana March 31, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Your photos are so lovely! They’re so… rich… if I can lean in close enough I just might be able to smell it all!


bianca March 31, 2010 at 11:15 pm

this looks delicious! I have never thought to make asparagus pesto…definitely gonna try this one!


baahar April 2, 2010 at 11:57 am

I was looking for recipes with asparagus. Thanks a lot for this one .. and the photos are great !!


Couscous & Consciousness April 3, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I love making my own pesto, and yes I was some months ago converted to making it in a mortar and pestle – could not believe the difference and now I can’t ever go back or buy a ready-made pesto from the supermarket again. Here in New Zealand I’m still enjoying plentiful herbs for pesto (favourite combo at the moment is rocket and macadamia nuts), but I will be saving this recipe for asparagus season (which I adore incidentally). Never would have thought of adding the egg – great tip – thanks.


Angela@spinachtiger April 4, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Everything about this is gorgeous, mortar pestle, asparagus, the cheese, the walnuts. All not a typical pesto as we know it, but made the same way. Oh and the addition of adding spinach to pasta..of course, something I do often. I am making this this week and I might even blog it. It looks that worthy to me.


Kate April 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Can wait to try this, though I can’t use walnuts. Allergic! Might use pine nuts or just leave them out and call it something else. ;)


Kevin (Closet Cooking) April 8, 2010 at 6:41 pm

What a great spring pasta dish!


Talia April 9, 2010 at 6:39 am

What a great pesto idea: and so beautifully photographed. We are starting a new post featuring seasonal veg and recipes and the first pick is asparagus: would love to include your photo/link/recipe if you are interested: see what you think at -


Mart May 16, 2010 at 12:20 am

Ciao. I landed here via the artichoke blog. Complimenti, really nice pictures and recipes. I guess you have seen Bittman lended your pesto idea ;-) I have been making artichoke ‘pastes’ for I don’t know how long, can’t really call them pesto I guess as there most of the time is no cheese in there. I use the wild asparagus which are very strong and most of the time mix the paste in a risotto type of thingy. As you guessed I live in Umbria nice place but food wise not as advanced as you are so I subscribed to keep up with the new developments. :-)


Judy September 23, 2010 at 11:48 pm

you’ve got a point about blitzing pesto. i’ve always made it that way because i make in large batches for freezing, and i’ve never been able to stand patiently, kneading and coaxing pesto out with a pestle and mortar. i’d probably never stop making pesto in a food processor, but i’m definitely going to try making it at least once in a while the traditional way. same goes with gremolata, which i think is a lot easier and faster so that i can probably do all the time with a mortar!


ThermomixBlogger Helene May 20, 2011 at 9:51 am

I love the egg idea — sounds like a great way to have the best of both worlds: the creaminess of a rich sauce, plus the soft crunch that comes from the fresh asparagus pesto. I too have a recipe for asparagus pesto, but I may just need to modify it, based on what I’ve seen here. Lovely photos of course, I’m glad I found your blog (via Southside CSA) and I’m now going to explore more tantalizing pages. Cheers!


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