I think I it is safe to say that I wasn’t the only one who got completely drenched this bank holiday weekend in an attempt to fulfil a trip to the coast. As my boyfriend and I waded up the Suffolk coast while being alternately rained on then warmed by the sun and at one particularly strange point, hailed on, we decided that only a delicious supper and some rather lovely booze would sate our holiday appetites.
Asparagus has just come in to season and the Norfolk and Suffolk lanes are littered with the freshly picked first crop, they are a rather deep green in colour, with intense purple tips and gorgeously subtle in flavour. The asparagus season is cruelly short and since asparagus really needs to be eaten within a few days of its picking I highly recommend you buy some from your local market, farm shop or roadside grower. When freshly picked, asparagus needs little messing with. It is utterly delicious when steamed, and then drizzled with good quality olive oil and a grinding of fresh black pepper. Equally I love to eat it griddled - so that a smoky quality imbues its tender stalks – and then served alongside a board of finely sliced antipasti meats and some fragrantly ripe tomatoes.
I have long thought that asparagus and lemon go gloriously well together. I love that despite the subtlety of the asparagus’ taste, it can really hold its own amongst flavours as strong as lemon and garlic. There is a distinctive savoury and clean taste to it (otherwise known as umami) that allows it to stand alone and blend in with the crowd. This spaghetti dish is really just an extension of my love for making homemade pesto: whether you use basil and pine nuts, walnuts and parsley or even wild garlic, a jar of pesto is a delight to have in the fridge. This particular pesto has the addition of a little lemon zest to really bring out the spring time flavours of the dish and to lend a freshness to the creamy texture of the spaghetti and is a must cook spring time supper.
Normally I would say that, if kept in a sealed jar, your pesto can be kept for up to 4 days in the fridge. But since we are working with fresh asparagus I would recommend using it all on the day of its making – hardly difficult when it tastes so delicious!
ASPARAGUS AND LEMON PESTO SPAGHETTI
400g/12oz gluten free spaghetti (I recommend the brands Doves Farm, Rizopia or Sainsburys Free From)
For the pesto
200g/8oz asparagus (weight once trimmed)
100g/4oz pine nuts
5 tbsp good quality olive oil & a little extra for drizzling
A small clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
The zest of ½ a lemon
Preheat the oven to 200c (180c Fan). Spread the pine nuts on to a baking tray and toast in the oven until golden. (It may seem wasteful to use the oven to toast the pine nuts rather than in a pan on the stove top but it is the only true way of getting the even, golden roast that gives them a creamy, almost caramel taste that we need for the pesto.) Remove from the oven and set aside to cool down.
Next, prepare the asparagus taking each individual stem and hold it at its tip and its base. Gently bend the asparagus stalk between your fingers – the asparagus will start to give dramatically in one particular spot close to the base – go with the asparagus and continue to bend it until the stalk snaps. The asparagus will snap at exactly the point in which that particular stem in becoming woody, by prepping them in this way you ensure that you get only the freshest, most tender parts of the asparagus. Discard the base and set aside the length of the tip for cooking. Continue with the remaining asparagus stems.
Steam the trimmed asparagus until tender to a knife point – approximately 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Meanwhile, bring a large vat of water to the boil; add the spaghetti to the water and cook at a constant simmer for 8 -10 minutes or until the spaghetti is al dente. While the spaghetti is cooking place the toasted pine nuts in to a food processor and blitz until finely ground. Add the asparagus, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil to the pine nuts, throw in a large pinch of sea salt flakes and some freshly ground black pepper and continue to blitz until you have a slightly rough, pesto paste. Season again to taste and set aside.
Once the spaghetti is cooked, drain and then return it to its pan. Tip in the fresh pesto and stir it through the hot spaghetti until fully coated. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve.