Asparagus Pesto with Pasta

A while ago I got together with Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks to try out one of the recipes from her cookbook, Super Natural Cooking. The recipe we selected is perfect for spring, a pesto made with blanched asparagus, baby spinach, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and olive oil, tossed with a mix of egg and green spinach noodles. Heidi calls this recipe “Straw and Hay Fettuccini Tangle, with Spring Asparagus Purée” in her book, a nod to the mixing up of different colors of noodles. The asparagus pesto would work with any pasta or even as a sauce for pizza or potatoes.

Asparagus Pesto with Pasta Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

  • 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
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 8 ounces of dried pasta or 12 ounces fresh -linguini, fettuccini, spaghetti Mix spinach pasta with regular wheat pasta for a medley of colors.

Method

1 Bring 2 pots of water to a rolling boil, one large for the pasta and one medium sized for the asparagus.

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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 paste and 1/4 cup to mix in whole.

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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, and set aside, several of the asparagus (diagonal cut about an inch from the end) to use for garnish.

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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 and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.

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Here's a trick that Heidi taught me. When emptying the food processor bowl of its contents, hold the bottom of the bowl with one hand with a finger in the center hole, holding the blade in place and keeping it from falling out.

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This fresh pasta cooked up in no time at all.

5 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 cup toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of olive oil.

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45 Comments

  1. Ellie

    I actually made this last night and it is absolutely delicious! I served it with a couple of grilled garlic shrimp.

  2. Adina

    I made this last night, and we loved it! I’m not sure about it being 4-6 servings, though that might jsut be because my roommate is a pasta fiend.

  3. beth

    I tried this recipe tonight and it was great! I just made as much pasta as i thought my boyfriend and I would eat and am going to refrigerate the rest of the pesto. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Christian

    Woah, this is an excellent recipe! Especially as Pasta and Pesto (the basil variety) are my favourite food combinations, and I love asparagus so this will be absolutely awesome! Thanks a bunch! ^_^

  5. Jeff

    Wow! This was delicious … though the recipe for the pesto makes much, much more than is needed for 4 oz of pasta. I cooked up 8 oz (love those leftovers) and could have easily doubled the amount of pasta and had plenty of pesto for the dish.

    Of course, tasty as the pesto is, as my wife said, “CAN you have too much of this?”

  6. Andy

    Great tasting dish. I decided to halve the recipe because I didn’t have enough asparagus and I was only cooking for two. I used about 6oz of dried pasta and, based on the amount of leftover pesto, I’d say halving the recipe made enough for the 1 cup it calls for to toss with 8oz of noodles. It may even be enough pesto for 12oz of dried pasta. Thanks for this one.

  7. Kevin

    This is an amazing pesto!

  8. Meredith Kelly

    I loved this. I made it with some grilled shrimp. Yum. Thank you. Keep ‘em coming.

  9. mlmnttlkr

    How would you recommend making this if you don’t have a food processor?

  10. Elise

    You can make pesto with a mortar and pestle, it’s just a lot more work.

  11. srindar

    What a spectacular dish this was! I had baby arugula on hand so substituted it for the fresh spinach and otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. This was quick/easy enough for a weeknight but so lovely and delicious that I’d definitely serve it to company as well. This is a recipe I’ll definitely come back to; thanks so much for sharing it!

  12. Andrea

    This recipe tastes great with thin buckwheat noodles too.

  13. B. Swetnam

    I’m only writing this so other readers will not make the same mistake I did. Last minute guest for dinner, I decided on grilled steaks, first pretty day in months, I had made a batch of your Potato Gnocchi , they are in the freezer, I’m good to go. I decide to make this wonderful asparagus pesto, it takes no time at all to make. I toss the pesto over the gnocchi and bake the bread while the steaks are cooking.
    This is less than a 30 minute meal. They ate all the asparagus pesto and gnocchi (ask for more)and didn’t finish their steaks. Next time I’ll double the recipe and leave the steaks in the freezer. Thanks to you and Heidi.

  14. Jen

    This looks SO good. Do you think the pesto could be frozen without the parmesan cheese? And then when defrosted, cheese would be added? Thanks!

    I don’t see why not. That’s how I usually freeze pesto. ~Elise

  15. Sara

    This sounds delicious!

    I already make pesto with peas that I love. I think the asparagus and baby spinach leaves would be fantastic.

  16. Trish in MO

    *Swoons* I adore asparagus; and Heidi just posted another asparagus recipe herself, too!

    Can this sauce be made ahead and stored in fridge in a glass jar (like you buy them pre-made),and if so how long? What is best way to do it? Thanks!

    I’m sure you can store it for a couple of days in the fridge. Make sure you cover it completely with plastic wrap, no exposure to air. ~Elise

  17. Debo Hobo

    Interesting, not a bit of basil…very creative. :)

    Yep, not all pesto is basil pesto. We also have a cilantro pesto and an arugula pesto on the site. Both are great. ~Elise

  18. avvikande

    If one truly detests pine nuts, do you think sliced almonds could be chucked on in there as a keen substitute? Kind of like a twist on green beans almondine?

    Sure, go for it. Let us know how it turns out if you do. ~Elise

  19. Sherry

    Did this with a few changes as my family cannot do cheese or dairy products. I omitted the cheese, added some lemon zest, cut back a bit on the lemon juice, added a splash of balsamic vinegar and chunked up a red apple with the peel left on. Lots of great color and a very happy tummy!!

  20. Angie

    Sheer serendipity! Read your blog post today after a long Friday at work… and I had (almost) all the ingredients to make this. Toasted up some raw cashews since I didn’t have pine nuts… worked fabulously!
    Thank you for a beautiful dinner. Way to kick off the weekend!

  21. Kiran

    Two things, I am always looking at ways of having pasta in different sauces to tomato and cheese sauce. So this is just perfect and a great recipe, and second I only ever use asparagus roasted and then having them as a side dish, and purée for when my son was weaning. So this is a great way of using asparagus, thanks for the burst of idea to use basic ingredients in a different way.

  22. Heidi

    Glad you like it! I know Elise mentions this up above, but if you have leftover asparagus pesto give it a go on thin-crust pizza or flat-bread (and finish with a bit of lemon zest). It’s really great. Happy spring Elise. :)

  23. Yana

    This was delicious! I used a full box of whole grain pasta (13.25oz) and thought there was just a bit much pesto (I used the full batch of pesto). I think if I had used a 1 lb box, it would’ve been perfect.

  24. Karina

    Elise, would Arugula work in lieu of baby spinach? or do you think it would overpower the asparagus? Thanks!

    I do think arugula would overpower the asparagus, and am not sure of the pairing of flavors. But if you try it, please let us know how it turns out. We have arugula growing by the boatload in the garden right now. ~Elise

  25. Greg

    How about a version of this recipe for the nut-allergic out there? Any ideas?

    Sure, leave out the nuts. It will still taste great. ~Elise

  26. Karina

    WOW! What a dish! I left the arugula for salad and got the baby spinach for the pesto. Amazing – light, refreshing. Everyone loved it, including the kids (5 and 3). Thanks Elise!

  27. susan g

    I made this tonight — sort of. I snuck in some broccoli stems (peeled, chopped, boiled soft), walnuts for pinenuts, and cheese on the side. Had it with the asparagus tips and a sweet potato half: wonderful! For the nut free, if you can have seeds, try sunflower or pumpkin. I can see this framework morphing frequently.

  28. Martini-Corona

    This came out great. I like my pesto fairly strongly flavored, so I used 1 extra clove of garlic and juice of a whole lemon (rather than half).

    To add additional protein to a pretty carby meal, I browned some crumbled spicy Italian sausage and added the asparagus tips and reserved toasted pine nuts to it — and then used that to top the pesto-y pasta. Awesome. (And we have lots of pesto left over.)

  29. VBP

    I made this last week along with your recipe for minestrone soup – what an excellent meal! All that asparagus did not have too strong a taste, and all the flavors came through! I subbed the 1 cup pine nuts with 1/2 cup pinenuts + 1/2 cup walnuts. Thank you!

  30. Zoe

    I made this and it was pretty yummy. My parmesean chese was a little too strong I think, and it kind of overwhelmed everything unfortunatley. With the leftovers I mixed in a creamy marinara sauce hoping to balance out the strong parm flavor, and it was delicious!! I will make this again but with less parm next time.

  31. Matt

    Made this for dinner, and served it with some fresh grilled sea scallops. It was very, very, very delicious.

    I cooked up a whole 500 gram bag of Gemelli shaped pasta, so I threw in 2 cups of the pesto. Finished it with some toasted pine nuts and asparagus tips. I’m a huge fan of basil pesto, but liked this a lot better. Really great flavor, and the asparagus really shines through.

    I think you also finally got me to go buy Heidi’s cookbook. I’ve had enough recipes from her website, and now this one, to convince me to get it.

  32. Leslie

    Made this tonight and it was wonderful! Did Heidi also show you the trick where once you have most of the pesto scraped out, put the bowl back on the base and pulse once to clean the blade? Then you can remove the blade and really scrape out every last delicious bit.

    Great trick! Didn’t know that, thanks for sharing. Will have to try next time. ~Elise

  33. maria

    Yum! I made this w/pine nuts and pistachios, used 1-1/2 lemons, and subbed half a lg. bunch of chives for 1/3 of the spinach. And then garnished with asparagus tips and quickly-blanched chive flowers.

  34. Amy

    I made this for dinner last night after coming home from the farmers market with a big bag of asparagus & a big bag of spinach. I served it with a lemon pepper pasta & it was delicious! I plan to make some more of this to put up in the freezer for the days when fresh green are a distant memory. :)

  35. Chris Chance

    Pine Nuts are much too expensive. Can Chick Peas, ground sunflower seeds, or any other beans replace Pine Nuts? I make a poor mans sort of pesto w/ OO, mashed Northern White Beans, Basil, fresh cheese.

  36. CareBearNJ

    This was delicious! I cut back the pine nuts to about 1 tbsp per serving and added some roman beans for extra protein. YUM

    If you’re looking to sub out pine nuts, try a different nut! I’ve made pesto with walnuts before and it’s still delicious.

  37. Ivy

    I made this for dinner tonight and it was so delicious!!! This is the first recipe that I make from Simply Recipes and I loved it! I look forward to making more recipes from Simply Recipes :) Thank you!!

  38. Jill

    This dish was excellent. I substituted pecans for pine nuts( we were out). great way for kids to eat spinach and asparagus without them knowing it! I did a quick nutrition figuring with pecans(not pinenuts) in case others were wondering. Mind you this is for 1 cup of pesto(this recipe made 2, i froze the other cup): calories:597, fat: 55.5 grams, carbs; 19 grams, fiber: 13 grams, protein: 18.5. divide by the # of servings you made with the pasta. we used whole wheat penne. It was delicious and added some cubed chicken breast also. For reference, I used the nutrition info on the packages of products or joy of cooking cookbook for the fresh ingredients. Thanks for a great recipe!

  39. June

    This was a great recipe! It was easy and a quick fix for a weeknight dinner. I tossed in some salmon for the protein. Thanks for the recipe!

  40. Melanie

    LOVE this recipe! I have enough pesto left for two more meals (family of 3). I like to cook some raw shrimp in olive oil and throw those in. The only thing that is bad about this recipe is buying pine nuts!

  41. Emily

    This was fantastic! I used almonds instead of pine nuts, and stirred in about 1/4 cup of ricotta when mixing it with the pasta. Love love love, and have sent this recipe along to many friends!

  42. Monica Elith

    This looks amazing! Asparagus is out of season and unavailable at the moment in our area of the world….what would happen if I used tinned asparagus?

    Not a good idea. Better to wait for spring. ~Elise

  43. Pam Forebaugh

    This recipe is so good and easy! I had lots of asparagus from the garden, no spinach, but plenty of mustard greens that worked perfectly! I have made this twice in the last 10 days because I am craving it!

  44. Pam Forebaugh

    This is my favorite asparagus recipe right now. I go out to the garden, pick the asparagus and a few handfuls of mustard greens, and follow the recipe from there. It is so easy and so good!

  45. Christina Stone

    Just made this and it was a big hit even with the kids who were so excited. My husband who always complains when i make asparagus, really liked it. I’m going to make this this New Year’s Eve with scallops and a nice side salad.

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