Power pesto from Danielle’s book Happily Hungry, available at Amazon. Substituting part or all of the spinach with basil, arugula, mint, chives or a combination adds a bright, spring-time flavor to the delicate asparagus base of this terrific pesto.
1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed of tough ends and halved crosswise
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 C grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 C pine nuts, divided
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
Juice of ½ lemon
½ t fine-grain sea salt
pinch red pepper or to taste
8 oz dried pasta or 12 oz fresh – linguini, fettuccini
Bring 2 pots of water to a rolling boil, one large for the pasta and one medium sized for the asparagus. 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 C of the pine nuts for the pesto paste and 1/4 C to mix in whole. 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. Add the asparagus, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and 3/4 C pine nuts to a food processor. Purée and, with the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 C of olive oil until a paste forms. If too thick, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.
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 C toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of olive oil.
Serves 4 to 6.