Friday, June 18, 2010

Asparagus Pesto with Gnocchi

It's asparagus season I guess, and this year there seems to be a proliferation of asparagus pesto recipes. I saw them on Bittman's blog, in Epicurious and in Food & Wine, so I decided to give it a try. After a few miserable weeks last year having what I found out recently was Pine Mouth (more info for example here: I'm staying away from pine nuts as good as I can. Soooo.... What nuts to use in the asparagus pesto? Since the asparagus has a very delicate flavor I wanted a delicately flavored nut, so I settled on macadamia. A bit of garlic, the best olive oil that I own, macadamia, blanched asparagus, and Pecorino it was.

A quick whiz in the food processor until it all comes together, then some salt and pepper, but something was missing. Bittman mentions that he needed to add lemon, and since I had a beautiful lemon from a friend's backyard I added both lemon zest and lemon juice.

The result was great, while it missed the first bite flavor punch that your traditional pesto packs, it had a sublime quality, green and fresh and pretty wonderful.

Trying to keep the carbs down I made ricotta gnocchi, cute to look at but I think I had too little ricotta and too much flour for a pretty heavy dumpling. Not bad, just not something to write home about. And even less something to blog about.

Putting it all together: Finally, after spending my twenties making either really dry or really oily pasta with pesto, I cooked pesto with an Italian. You'll probably all shake your heads that I didn't know these tricks, but I'm a German, what do I know about pasta? The tricks I learned were:

  • Cut up a potato in 1/2" cubes, and cook it with the pasta.
  • Save some of your pasta water to thin down the pesto.
  • Heat the pesto in the pasta pot while the pasta is draining, and thin it to a nice saucy consistency with the saved pasta water.

In the US, it seems popular to thin the pesto down with cream, but imho there is enough fat in the pesto already, and the cream tends to hide flavors - not my favorite thing with pesto.

I mix the pasta with the pesto in the pot. If you used the potato, that goes in with it, it'll almost completely melt into the sauce and give it a very nice consistency and flavor. Try it one of these days. I know it sounds odd...

So here they are, a great little lunch! Some cut up arugula on top, then some more pecorino and ground black pepper - yum!


Really, no recipe. In my opinion, pesto is a great opportunity to play with tastes. Just take the basics: some herbs (or asparagus), nuts, hard, salty cheese, and really good EVOO. Put in the mortar (for traditionalists) or a little food processor and off you go. If it needs punch when you taste it just adjust with salt and pepper, and perhaps a little lemon juice.

I've made crazy pestos like cilantro hazelnut, I've added chiles, I've used pumpkin seed in lieu of nuts, it always comes out good!

My new favorite wine bar in town serves something really close in taste as a crostini: Take a slice of bread, toast it, put a slice of cheese on (manchego would work well, or ricotta salate), and then spread some of the pesto on it. Charge 2 bucks.

I should make hubby pay me for dinner tonight!


  1. Looks yummy Silke!
    Yes it's amazing sometimes what restaurant charges.

  2. It was good, it also did well as a sauce for the steak we made that night.

    I know the guys who run the Enoteca, and they are trying really hard to make money. It's a beautiful space, and their wine and food is outstanding. However, it's not just the rent, it's also the personnel, the inventory, it just adds up. They just opened up a few months ago and are usually busy, but they have a long way to go to have a successful business. Despite the $2 slices of bread....

  3. That's true about restaurants, we don't just pay for the food, but for ambiance, location, etc etc.
    We went to a Persian restaurant last week and ordered a glass of wine, that cost $8. Which is fine, except I suddenly got a reality check b/c I just went to the liquor store and got an $7 bottle of white wine. It put things in perspective :).

  4. Yep, though I think that $8 glass of wine should be about a $30 bottle, which should retail for about $15.

    Persian restaurant - yum!!! Our neighbors are Persion (or Iranian, depending on the current political situation), and I love it when they invite us over for dinner. Sooooo good!

  5. You're right about the wine price, though we are so not an expect that we can't tell whether we're drinking cheapo or fancy wines!

    I love middle eastern food too. Gyros, couscous, saffron rice. YUM!

    I've tried to make my own Gyros, sort of. It doesn't taste as good as the restaurant version but still yummy. I served it with saffron brown rice, and sauteed thinly sliced carrots, zucchini, bell peppers. Brought it to work and neighboring coworkers was asking what I ate because it smells so good, :).

  6. Wine - that's the one indulgence we have. The problem is that once you drink nice wine it's really difficult to go back to the cheap stuff again. There are some good finds in the $7-15 category, but they are becoming increasingly rare. I don't know whether it's because everything is getting more expensive, or because my taste is getting more expensive :-(

    Oh, the gyros makes my mouth water. I'll probably be going to Germany in July, and I will definitely have some gyros cut off a big hunk of sizzling meat. Saffron brown rice with veggies - hmmmm, even though I'm not a big rice eater I would like that. No wonder you got looks from your coworkers!

  7. I have your wine issue with baking. With all Rose's cakes, I hardly buy desserts anymore. They look good in the store but taste wise it's either too sweet or just not good. Same goes with cooking. Becoming picky :).

    Germany. How nice! Is it for work or vacation?
    It sounds funny that you'll have gyros in Germany. I would think that you'd have bratwurst, or wienershnitzel? (I might be totally off here since I've never been there and am pretty clueless about German food :).

  8. I never buy desserts. The cakes here are gross, just sugarcoated sugar. The only store bought dessert I ever had that was good was a hugely expensive chocolate souffle that some guests brought...

    German food :-)
    You're right, gyros isn't standard German food, but we had a huge influx of Greek and Turkish immigrants in the seventies, and now we have a lot of Greek and Turkish restaurants and fast food. I'd say that more people snack on gyros and its Turkish relative, Doener, than buy a bratwurst for a quick eat while in town.

  9. Love the tip about cooking the potatoes with the pasta! Pesto and potato gnocchi are a classic Italian combination, sounds great.