I head to the Portland Farmers Market almost every Saturday morning that I am in Portland. And I never miss a little sampling round at Pesto Outside the Box, which produces the most unusual and delectable pestos I’ve ever eaten.
This past Saturday was exceptionally inspiring though, because there in the midst of the six or so delicious pestos was a new gem: Roasted Asparagus & Hazelnut Pesto. Now, I have made dozens of different pestos over the years, but it never occurred to me to try one with roasted asparagus, or roasted anything for that matter.
The pesto was wonderful, but the earthy flavor of the asparagus was unfortunately overshadowed by the assertiveness of the basil. I bought some anyway, and as I was finishing the last delicious bite, the thought arose: Why don’t you create your own version and make sure the asparagus is the star?
Luckily, I had bought a few bunches of fresh field asparagus at the market, and they were waiting in the frig.
I roasted a pound of asparagus, along with a couple handfuls of Oregon hazelnuts. After these steps were complete, the pesto went together quickly, and for dinner, we noshed on pesto and Seeded Bread Crisps. Sublime.
The second night, however, with a sizable quantity of pesto remaining, I decided to try a different approach. So I hydrated and cooked; tossed them with green onions, capers, and pesto; slathered additional pesto on chewy, warmed flatbread; piled the beans on top; and finished with roasted asparagus, crumbled feta, and super-sweet tomatoes. After we devoured the first bites, I exclaimed (in the tradition of my grandmother Mary), “I’m a genius!.”
The third night, MauiJim PLEADED for a repeat of the second night. And on the fourth night, I pureed the remaining pesto-dressed beans and made a lovely, creamy soup.
My point is that there is no end to the dishes you can make with this lovely pesto. Try it as a sauce smeared under a grilled filet of salmon, toss it with strozzapreti, stuff an omelet with it, or slather it on grilled corn. It’s a great way to celebrate the fleeting local asparagus season.
Roasted Asparagus & Hazelnut Pesto
This earthy, roasted pesto is unusual and well worth the effort of roasting the asparagus and toasting the hazelnuts. The parsley adds vibrant color to the otherwise olive-hued asparagus. I prefer this pesto a bit on the chunky side, so that the asparagus is still visible, but you may go for silky smooth if you wish.
NOTE As explained in an earlier post, Spicy Sorrel Chive Pesto, extra-virgin olive oil contains bitter tasting polyphenols, which are coated with fatty acids. The fatty acids hold the polyphenols in check. Extreme agitation, as with a processor or blender, releases the polyphenols. Agitation is a problem when mixing a mayonnaise or vinaigrette, but with pesto, the other ingredients are thought to buffer the reaction. In my recent tests, however, the polyphenols wreaked havoc with the pesto, lending a sharply bitter aftertaste. To be on the safe side, I now use either a light olive oil or a flavorless vegetable oil for all pestos.
1 pound fresh asparagus, ends trimmed and thick stems peeled (about 9 thick stalks)
1 tablespoon light olive oil
4 ounces (1 cup) hazelnuts
1 ounce flat-leaved parsley leaves (from 2 ounces parsley with stems)
1/2 ounce (small handful) fresh basil leaves (from 1 ounce basil with stems)
finely grated zest of 1 large lime
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, ends trimmed
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or other dry grating cheese, such as pecorino romano, grana padano, dry asiago, or dry jack cheese (try a half-and-half combination of pecorino romano and grana padano)
½ cup light olive oil (not extra-virgin) (or rapeseed or canola oil)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
- To roast the asparagus, place the asparagus on an edged baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and toss to coat the asparagus evenly with oil and salt.
- Arrange the oil-coated asparagus in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Roast at 400° for about 25 minutes, until tender. Remove baking sheet from the oven and let asparagus cool to room temperature. Cut into 1-inch lengths. Discard any ends that are not tender.
- To toast the hazelnuts, arrange on an edged baking sheet without overcrowding.
- Bake at 300°F for 20-30 minutes, until the skins crack and the nuts smell fragrant. Remove from the oven and let cool somewhat.
- When cool enough to handle but still warm, rub nuts together with your hands or rub them against a rough cloth. The tough portion of the skins will easily come off. Don’t worry about what remains; there is always quite a bit of skin left on the nuts.
- To make the pesto, in a processor fitted with the steel knife, process asparagus, parsley, garlic, cheeses, and hazelnuts until desired consistency (chunky, smooth, or in-between).
- Add ½ cup of oil, crushed red pepper, and salt, and pulse briefly to distribute. Taste and adjust salt as necessary.
- Spoon the pesto into a container and cover with a tight fitting lid. Refrigerate until needed. Pesto will keep, covered and chilled, for about one week.
Makes about 2½ cups.
More from LunaCafe
- The Wonderful World of Fresh Pesto (Basic Pesto, Pesto Oil, Rosemary Hazelnut Pesto, Cilantro Ginger Pesto, Herb Garden Pesto, Basil Arugula Pesto, Basil Olive Pesto)
- Spicy Sorrel Chive Pesto
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Copyright 2012 Susan S. Bradley. All Rights Reserved.