Rigatoni with Asparagus Pesto and Ricotta Salata
This innovative variation on classic pesto calls for fresh asparagus and walnuts, making it a perfect dish to welcome in springtime. The addition of spinach gives the pesto its bright green color. Like other pesto-based pasta dishes, this one tastes great served warm or cold, making it a good choice for a picnic or buffet. For a more colorful dish, add some yellow and red cherry tomatoes just before serving.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 lb. (500 g) asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) spinach leaves, tough stems removed
- 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) walnuts, toasted
- 1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) olive oil
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 lb. (250 g) rigatoni
- 1/4 lb. (125 g) ricotta salata cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Bring a large pot two-thirds full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook just until fork-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to a colander and rinse under cold water. Reserve the pot with the water.
Set about one-fourth of the asparagus aside and add the remainder to a food processor. Add the garlic, spinach, walnuts and Parmesan and process until finely chopped. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil and process until well combined. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Bring the large pot of water you used to cook the asparagus back to a boil over high heat. 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. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Pasta Night, by Kate McMillan (Weldon Owen, 2014)