I know I’ve lamented only too often what a long winter we had here on the East End of Long Island, and how spring hasn’t been much better: the leaves and flowers are late coming out, ferocious wind and rain storms have knocked down trees, and long dreary overcast days have seemed endless. Finally, we’ve had a spate of fine weather, and with bated breath we waited for a warm afternoon to have our first outdoor meal. Rosaria and I emerged out of our kitchen onto the deck like two recently revived bears from a long winter’s hibernation, our eyes blinking in the bright May sunshine, and our bellies crying out for some pasta and asparagus pesto.
I was in a hurry, least the clouds start gathering for another rain storm, so I opened a bag of Setaro “nodi marini” pasta, and brought a large salted stock pot of water to a boil. Taking inspiration from Mark Bittman’s NY Times piece about asparagus pesto, I steamed a large bunch of asparagus in a tall steamer for 4 minutes, removed them and refreshed them in a bowl of iced water. (Note: Julia Child taught me to always, always, peel the skin off of asparagus before cooking, and I almost always have done so; Marc Bittman cautioned to leave the skin on to give the pesto more texture, and accordingly I did so. I haven’t tried this pesto without the skins yet.) While my asparagus were chillin’, I toasted a half of a cup of walnuts and a half cup of pine nuts in the toaster oven on my kitchen counter (no need to fire up an oven, although this can also be done in a non-stick pan over a burner).
In the food processor, I finely minced half a head of garlic, removed it, and then processed ¼ pound of parmesan cheese chunks, rendering it to a fine dust, and removed it. Next I took the toasted nuts and processed them until they were finely chopped. I drained the asparagus and patted them dry before putting them in the work bowl of my food processor. I processed the asparagus until it was a purée, about a minute, then I added the ground nuts, parmesan cheese, minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of salt, a generous grinding of black peppercorns, and flicked the on/off switch a couple of times to mix everything well. Finally, I added ½ cup of olive oil through the food chute at the top of the food processor with the motor running. After all the olive oil was incorporated, I thought the pesto was a little thick so I added a couple of tablespoons of water at a time until I was satisfied with the consistency.
In the meantime, I put my pasta in the salted boiling water until it was cooked al dente, about eight minutes in this case. I drained the pasta and tossed it in the pot with some of the pesto, adding a splash of pasta water. Then I divided it into two dishes, gave it an additional grind of pepper, sea salt, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, and some chopped parsley. Anticipating being in the warm sun, I quickly grabbed a couple of forks and spoons, the two bowls of pasta and I nudged Rosaria, already wearing her sunglasses, out on to the deck and to our table, for our first outdoor meal of 2010.