This easy asparagus lemon pesto pasta recipe is a great one-pot meal that welcomes any fresh herbs you have, and is a nice change from tomato sauce. Using the asparagus tips and stems cuts down on food waste. Plus, the leftovers are exactly what you want to eat for lunch on a summer day.
This one-pot dish is inspired by a long-lost recipe torn from a magazine a decade ago and committed to my admittedly problematic memory. Through the years, I have increased the original amount of lemon, adding both zest and juice, and since my garden is always full of bright, abundant basil, it found its way into the asparagus pesto as well. Feel free to improvise with additional mint, dill, fennel, or other fresh herbs taking over your summer planters.
Related Reading: The Best Way to Ensure Your Basil Keeps Growing
Since the ingredient list is rather short, I’d urge you to use a good quality extra-virgin olive oil in this recipe if possible, and only add it at the end of making the pesto. Blending high-quality olive oil for too long can result in a bitter taste, so it just needs a quick pulse or two to incorporate it.
I found this incredible Agrumato lemon olive oil which really pumps up the citrus, but you can skip it, or simply squeeze a little extra lemon juice over the finished pasta before serving, with a bit more grated cheese, of course.
Agrumato Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $26.98 from Amazon
Note: This serves 2-4 for dinner, or 2 for dinner with enough for leftovers for lunch. Leftovers are delicious as a cold pasta salad, with the addition of a little mayonnaise, halved cherry tomatoes, and cooked, cooled shrimp, salmon, or chicken. One-pot plus fresh ingredients that yield at least two meals equals a recipe for summer cooking success!
It can be easily doubled to feed a crowd too.
Tools: You’ll need a large pot for cooking the pasta and the sauce, a food processor or blender to make the pesto, a colander to drain the pasta, and a Microplane for zesting lemon and grating cheese (or a cheese grater).
One-Pot Lemon Asparagus Pesto Pasta
- 1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends peeled trimmed
- 1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest (from 1-2 medium lemons), or more if desired
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1-2 medium lemons), plus more for serving if desired
- 1 cup fresh basil, loosely packed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound penne or pasta of choice
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for serving
- Kosher salt
- Lemon oil (optional)
- Rinse asparagus thoroughly and peel or trim off tough ends. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces, reserving the tips separately. Cook stems in 5 to 6 quarts boiling water with 2 tablespoons salt until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a colander, rinse with cold water and drain well. Reserve cooking water in the pot. Transfer cooled stems to a food processor or blender.
- Cook asparagus tips in the same boiling water until barely tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon, rinse under cold water and drain well. Reserve the water in the pot and bring back to a boil.
- Cook pasta in the same water that you boiled the asparagus, following package directions, but don’t overcook. When pasta is done, reserve 2 cups of cooking water and drain well, rinsing to cool pasta and stop the cooking.
- Purée asparagus stems with zest, 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, basil, garlic, and 1/2 cup asparagus/pasta cooking water. Add olive oil and briefly pulse to incorporate it. Transfer pesto to the now-empty pasta pot and warm over medium heat until bubbling.
- Add pasta to pesto sauce and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until pasta is almost al dente and sauce coats pasta. Add additional cooking water, 1/4 cup at a time, until sauce coats pasta but is a little loose (cheese will slightly thicken it as it cooks).
- Add asparagus tips, grated Parmigiano cheese, salt, and pepper to taste and stir until cheese is incorporated and tips are warmed through.
- Drizzle with lemon olive oil (if desired), or lemon juice, and a little extra grated Parmigiano cheese and serve immediately.
Header image by Chowhound