Spring is in the air which means your local grocers will have their produce aisles stocked with plenty of colorful seasonal veggies. One of the most accessible vegetables during this time of the year is asparagus. This green, stalk-like vegetable (that’s infamous for making your pee smell funny) is fantastic because it’s so very versatile — you can boil, blanch, broil, grill, steam, saute, and even roast it.
But lately, I had become bored with asparagus because I’ve used it in almost every way possible, and in just about everything. (Except in my cereal. That would be gross.) Luckily, while perusing a recent issue of Food and Wine magazine, I stumbled upon a recipe that used asparagus as a base for pesto. Huzzah! I had to try it, but of course, put my own spin on it as well.
The original version is very similar to traditional Italian pesto, containing basil, olive oil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I decided to use mint in place of basil as it adds a cooling note to the dish. My adaptation of the pesto will also put a spring in your step as it is lighter in calories than most other recipes. I didn’t use much oil in it (water is great for thinning it out without adding calories) and I omitted the Parmesan cheese that’s traditionally used in most pestos — therefore it’s also vegan. But I promise this recipe doesn’t sacrifice any of the flavor (but it’ll still probably make your pee smell funny).
Asparagus-Hazelnut Pesto with Mint
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from the April 2013 issue of Food and Wine magazine
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts (substitute pine nuts, walnuts or pistachios)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
7 fresh mint leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 lemon, juiced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional: 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Trim the tough ends off asparagus (the bottom inch) and cut into smaller pieces. Steam asparagus for 3-4 minutes in a steamer until bright green. Immediately rinse under cold water to stop it from cooking further. Alternately, bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch asparagus for about 30 seconds, or until bright green, then immerse it in ice water or run under cold water.
Put the nuts, garlic and red pepper flakes in a food processor or blender and process until it’s chopped into small pieces. Add the asparagus, mint and lemon juice. Turn on the machine and, with the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil and then the water. If using Parmesan, add it at this point. Blend for about a minute or so, until the mixture becomes creamy and homogenous.
Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and throw in a pinch of salt and pepper. Blend again, adding more oil or water to smooth the mixture if needed. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
To use on pasta, cook any type of pasta noodle you’d like to use according to the package instructions. When it is cooked, drain it in a colander (don’t rinse) and put it in a large bowl or pan. Put a few dollops of the asparagus pesto on top and mix together using tongs. Add more pesto as needed and serve immediately.