Recipe: Roasted Asparagus with Arugula Pesto and Parmigiano
Easter for those, like me, who have emptied themselves of Catholicism, can be a nonevent of the highest order. And here in Manhattan the weather is predictably cold, often overcast, which never adds much to the pagan springtime renewal. My bonnet is usually a pilly black beret. And my progressively more irritated family (I’m talking mainly about my mother) no longer gives a damn about Easter or any of the traditional preparations for it that seemed so carefully planned when we were kids. Big deal. I don’t really care either. I do love some of the classic Southern Italian Easter dishes, especially the ricotta-based ones—pizza rustica on the savory side, pastiera on the sweet. Those are gorgeous dishes. You can find a recipe of mine for pizza rustica on page 285 of The Flavors of Southern Italy, and one for pastiera here.
From some reason this Easter I’m thinking bitter—not thoughts (well maybe a little) but flavors. I’ve wanted to create a new asparagus dish, something warm but biting, so I’ve married the elegant spring vegetable with a loose arugula pesto. I didn’t mix cheese into the pesto but instead just shaved it over the top. Cleaner. And I used lots of lemon. Astringent. Really nice with a traditional Easter leg of lamb, if you happen to be going in that direction.
I’m usually quite sad when I see my Italian traditions drift away, but in this case it seems there’s not much I can do about it, so I’m moving on, possibly skipping Easter dinner altogether—I might even go out (horrors)—and having this lovely asparagus dish on Palm Sunday instead.
To all my loyal readers who still go the entire nine yards, light a few candles for me this Easter Sunday.
Roasted Asparagus with Arugula Pesto and Parmigiano
2 bunches of arugula, stemmed
1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 bunches of asparagus, on the thin side, the ends well trimmed
Freshly ground black pepper
The juice from 1 small lemon
A small chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
A palmful of lightly toasted pine nuts
Blanch the arugula in a small pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Scoop it from the pot with a large strainer, and run cold water over it. Drain very well.
In a food processor, add the arugula, garlic, about 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a little salt. Pulse until you have a fairly smooth but loose paste.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the asparagus on a sheet pan. Toss it with olive oil, a little salt, and some black pepper, and then arrange it in one layer. Roast until it’s fragrant and browned at the edges, about 10 minutes (possibly longer, depending on the pieces’ thickness, so just keep an eye on it).
Transfer the asparagus to a warmed serving platter, and squeeze on a little lemon juice. Spoon the arugula sauce down the middle, and then shave some thin sheets of Parmigiano on top. Garnish with the pine nuts. Serve hot.