Asparagus and Tomato Pesto Pasta

april 22, 2016

asparagus and tomato pesto pasta

Know why pasta dinners are so popular? Boil water, add pasta, open jar of sauce and that’s that. Wouldn’t it be great if you had easy-to-defrost homemade sauce in the freezer, like kale apricot pesto or herbed roasted tomatoes? Now add sun-dried tomato pesto to that list.

I love a good tomato sauce on pasta, with lots of cheese for creaminess, but bottled pasta sauces are too sweet for my taste. When I’ve used the last of the summer’s herbed roasted tomatoes stored in the freezer, I want a sauce that says tomato. So I make a nice sun-dried tomato pesto which freezes nicely and, if needed, may be refrozen many times over without loss of flavor or creamy texture. Walnuts and aged parmesan cheese give the creaminess I crave, but the real secret to making a quality pasta sauce with pesto, nearly any pesto, is to save some of the pasta water and use it  when tossing freshly cooked pasta with the pesto sauce. My pesto is nice and chunky, ideal for diluting in this manner, and not diluted already with too much oil, which I get with some jarred pestos.

asparagus and tomato pesto pasta

When spring arrives, asparagus goes into everything but dessert and its addition to this easy pasta dish adds crunch, color and that unmistakeable flavor of in-season produce. Instead of adding to the pasta, you can serve on the side with a nice vinaigrette or two. Pesto is so very easy to make with a food processor. This recipe makes enough for two pounds of pasta; refrigerate the other half for up to one week or freeze (it will keep for months) for those times when you simply must have the true taste of tomato on your pasta. This sauce is also great on crostini, dabbed on pizza or scrambled eggs and mixed with cream cheese for a pretty, and pretty tasty, spread for crackers and vegetable sticks.

Asparagus and  Tomato Pesto Pasta                           asparagus and tomato pesto pasta

recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company

makes about two cups pesto, or enough for two pounds pasta; use half for this recipe to make four servings with one pound pasta


6 ounces oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, about ¾ cup, drained
1 cup grated aged parmesan cheese
1 cup raw walnuts
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped finely
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
kosher salt for pasta water
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound penne pasta ( I like Tinkyada brown rice pasta)
3 cups asparagus cut in diagonal slices (1 large bunch)
optional garnish : parmesan shavings


  1. Add tomatoes, grated parmesan, walnuts, garlic and sea salt to bowl of large food processor and process until all is ground but still chunky.
  2. With machine running, add olive oil in a thin stream and process until it is a smooth but still slightly chunky paste, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
  3. Use half this pesto for the pasta and refrigerate/freeze the remainder.
  4. In large stockpot, bring 3 or 4 quarts of water to boil with about 1 tablespoon kosher salt.
  5. Add pasta and cook according to directions until al dente texture; before that point , when water turns cloudy, take out 2 large ladles full of the pasta water and set aside in a small saucepan, keeping warm over low heat.
  6. Just as pasta is cooked to your liking, add asparagus to the pasta in the pot, wait 30 seconds for medium to medium large spears and just a few seconds for very thin spears.
  7. Drain pasta and asparagus well.
  8. In large bowl, toss pasta and asparagus with the tomato pesto (half the recipe, or about one cup), and add just enough of the warmed reserved pasta water until the pesto becomes smoother and sauce consistency.
  9. If you have added too much water, you can always add more pesto.
  10. Adjust seasoning with more fine salt (trust me – pasta is bland and this dish will revive nicely with a little extra salt).
  11. Serve immediately and garnish if desired with parmesan shavings.


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