Those who know me in real life, will recognize this recipe and this story. Green asparagus are my favorite vegetable in the spring. I serve them raw, shaved through salads, in risotto or marinated in a lovely handmade basil pesto. All three recipes are well received at almost any shared table and yet my favorite method has to be the marinated version. Why? Well because making pesto by hand is like meditating. It requires some focus and patience. The asparagus, hot out of the oven, soak up the incredible medley of olive oil, fresh herbs, nuts and Parmesan. What is there not to love right?
I made this particular dish for the first time while thinking of the simple beauty of baby leeks marinated in vinaigrette that I absolutely adored when living in Paris. This just might be the subject of my next blog post. For now, I will limit this short story to the oh so green and earthy asparagus.
- one to two bunches of fresh green asparagus
- sea salt
- 25 ml olive oil
- For the Genova style basil pesto
- . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
- 2 bunches of fresh basil . or approximately 50 grams of basil leaves
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 50 grams of pine nuts
- 100 grams Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 75 grams Fior di Sardo . or Pecorino cheese
- 100-125 ml extra virgin olive oil
Making pesto is all about the order in which the ingredients are mixed together. Prepare all the necessary ingredients first and then proceed with the making of the pesto. A pestle and mortar gives truly different results than a food processor, I promise!
Pick the leaves of fresh basil and set aside. Measure the olive oil into a canister. Grate the cheeses and set them in aside in a mixing bowl. Peel the garlic and place it in the pestle and mortar with a pinch of sea salt. Rub the garlic into a paste. Add the pine nuts to the pestle and mortar and integrate them into an aromatic paste. Add half the basil. Rotate the pestle gently in a circular fashion until the basil leaves soften and start flatten. Add the cheeses and continue mixing, utilizing slight pressure on the pestle while stirring, as this helps integrate the separate ingredients. Stir in the second half of the basil; then add half the olive oil. Continue mixing and stirring, adding a bit of olive oil at a time until a smooth bright green paste forms. The pesto should be as thick and smooth as nut butter!
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Wash the asparagus. Cut off the two inches from the root. Peel the asparagus with a vegetable peeler to half the stalk. Layer a oven platter with parchment paper. Sprinkle the asparagus with a pinch of fleur de sel. Roast the asparagus 10 minutes in the oven and remove to cool. Toss the asparagus with the Genova-inspired basil pesto. Allow the asparagus to marinate 30 minutes if you can stand to wait, and serve them as they are with a simple green salad.
When available, I grill fresh spring onions, baby leeks or even the first garlic scapes and serve them with the grilled asparagus. This dish will complement risotto, grilled fish or even a new potato salad.
Along the coasts of Liguria, they are quite serious about the method necessary to make a good pesto. I like to follow the traditional method, but have increased the quantity of pine nuts in cheeses in ratio to the basil. I am faithful however to the traditional method I have learned from reading recipes from the city of Genova, where pesto has gotten its name.