By Leslie Budewitz
When you hear pesto, you think of a dense, bright green sauce with the pungent taste and smell of basil, olive oil, and Parmesan, don’t you? And maybe a hint of pine nuts or walnuts.
Friends, the world of tasty pesto is so much bigger. Now, I adore the stuff. There’s a recipe for it in my first Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, Death al Dente, and one for Erin’s Two-Bean Salad with Basil Pesto in the second book in the series, Crime Rib. In our home garden, we plant way more basil than we can eat so we can chop it up at the end of the season with oil and Parmesan and freeze it in ice cube trays for winter fun. We put it on pasta, of course, but also on chicken and in puff pastry and in salad dressings and just about anything else we can think of. (I had chocolate cake with basil creme anglaise in Paris. Still drooling over that one.)
But: Artichoke pesto. Cilantro and pumpkin seed pesto, perfect on salmon. Parsley pesto. And this, based on a recipe I spotted on the Williams-Sonoma blog. Both Mr. Right and I adore asparagus, so what’s not to love?
Penne Rigate with Spinach-Asparagus Pesto1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove
1 cup spinach leaves, tough stems removed
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
8 ounces penne rigate or rigatoni
4 ounces ricotta salata cheese or Asiago, shaved with a vegetable peeler
salt and fresh ground pepper
Fill a large pot with water; add salt and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until fork-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to a colander and rinse under cold water. Don’t empty out the water pot!
Set a quarter of the asparagus aside, including spears. Put the rest of the asparagus in a food processor. Add the garlic, spinach, walnuts, and Parmesan and process until finely chopped. Add the olive oil (some machines will let you drizzle it in while the blade is spinning) until well combined. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, return the pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl.
Stir in the asparagus pesto and the reserved asparagus pieces. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the ricotta salata shavings. Serve immediately.
Leslie Budewitz is the only author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction—the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, for Death al Dente (Berkley Prime Crime), first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, and the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books). She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher.
Coming in July 2015: BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries!
Connect with her on her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.