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DigiBites: The Chef Goes Nuts With His Asparagus Pesto – It Must Be Spring!

The Epicurean Exchange

Happy Weekend, News24/680 Foodies!

Chef Charlie

Today, I’m offering a twofer: my Asparagus Pesto recipe, and the BEST method to prepare spring asparagus!

I served asparagus pesto this week via my meal services. It accompanied my hand-crafted gnocchi, and was a huge hit! My diners were intrigued by the use of asparagus in a pesto – traditionally an uncooked sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. But is not uncommon today to find pesto made from a myriad of ingredients from cilantro, arugula or mint to other green vegetables, such as this variation using fresh spring asparagus!

This mixture is great tossed with cold pasta, used as a crostini topping, or as a condiment with grilled fish (as pictured), and spring vegetables. Use care to not over-process this mixture. It should remain crumbly or coarsely chopped.

For the Roasted Asparagus, this is my preferred method to prepare it! Choose very fresh, medium-sized asparagus (not pencil or large), and look for tips that are tight and free from flowering (as discussed before). The key to this technique is to use just enough olive oil to coat the spears and watch them carefully as they cook – look for a bit of browning, but they can easily burn under the intense heat of the broiler.

Asparagus-Pistachio Nut Pesto

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup roasted pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
8 medium fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

•     To blanch the asparagus, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the asparagus pieces all at once, and cook until bright green and tender-crisp, approximately 2 minutes. Remove asparagus with a mesh strainer and place the pieces in the bowl of cold water. Rinse the asparagus pieces a couple of times with cold water to thoroughly cool. Once cool, drain well and dry on paper towels. Set aside.

•     Add the blanched asparagus pieces to a food processor, and pulse a few times until the pieces are just chunky, but not a paste. Remove asparagus from the processor to a bowl. Add the chopped pistachios, basil leaves and cheese and fold to combine. Using a microplane zester, zest the lemon directly into the bowl and fold in until just combined.  Add the olive oil and gently fold to combine. Lastly, season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Makes about 3 cups

© 2002, Epicurean Exchange. All rights reserved

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Zest
1 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon

•     Preheat broiler on high setting. Place top oven rack on the first level closest to the heat source.

•     Trim the asparagus, wash and dry well, and place on a sheet pan or cookie sheet.

•     Drizzle with the olive oil and toss until coated. Re-arrange the asparagus in a single layer and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

•     Place the asparagus under the broiler until lightly browned, about 3 – 4 minutes. Remove the pan, turn the asparagus and re-arrange again in a single layer. Cook the asparagus for another 2 minutes until the other side is lightly browned, and the asparagus is bright-green.

•     Remove the asparagus spears and place on a serving platter. Top with the zest of 1 lemon and serve immediately.

Serves 4

© 2000, Epicurean Exchange. All rights reserved


  1. Saw some very nice asparagus at Berkeley Bowl and considered picking some up but I didn’t have this recipe then. I neverr would have considered it as a pesto but think it would work very well. I’m saving the recipe and will try it out as soon as I stock up.

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