This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs sees the introduction of a new event - our monthly "featured chef" event, where each month we will be given the opportunity to celebrate the recipes of one of our previous IHCC celebrity chefs. In keeping with this being the inaugural celebration, our featured chef this month is Nigella Lawson who was our very first IHCC chef.
Unfortunately, I didn't know about the group way back when they were cooking with Nigella until it was almost too late - I actually discovered the group just as they were saying farewell on their last week of their culinary journey with Nigella. I came to the party with these Chocolate Caramel Crispy Cakes, which is still one of my go-to treats when I need a crowd or kiddy pleaser, and which actually consistently ranks in the top 10 of my most viewed posts of all time.
Looking for inspiration for this week's dish, I decided to break my copy of Nigellissima down from the bookshelf. I have to admit that although I've had this one in my collection for quite a while, I actually haven't used it very much - no particular reason (it's actually a great book), but there just seems to often be other books I turned to first.
I found my inspiration in Nigella's Green Beans with Pistachio Pesto. It's asparagus season here right now, and I just can't get enough of it, so I knew I was going to sub asparagus in for the beans. I made a couple of other changes too, replacing basil in the pesto with some watercress and spinach (because that's what I had on hand, and because basil is not really readily available here yet), and adding pasta to turn this into a main meal instead of a side dish.
If I'm honest, much as I love the flavour of basil, I often find that as a flavour base for pesto it can seem a little overpowering. Here I loved the more delicate flavour of the cress and spinach in this pesto, which really enabled the flavour of the pistachios to shine through. This pesto is beautiful for dressing any green vegetable or pasta, would be a great addition to an antipasto platter, or delicious condiment in sandwiches or wraps. I think this is bound to become a real summer staple in my house.
Note: This will actually make more pesto than is required for the quantity of pasta and asparagus given, but some leftover pesto ready to dollop on some eggs, alongside some fish, or spread in a sandwich can never be a bad thing. Pesto also freezes really well so you can enjoy it all year round - it's great to freeze in ice cube trays or small zip lock bag portions - great for using in soups and casseroles.
Pasta with Asparagus & Pistachio Pesto
Inspired by recipe from Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson
250g penne pasta
8-10 fresh asparagus spears
for the pesto
large bunch watercress
2x large handfuls baby spinach leaves
1x clove garlic, roughly chopped
generous pinch flaky sea salt
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup parmesan, freshly grated
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Begin by making the pesto. Put watercress, spinach leaves, garlic and sea salt into a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped. Add pistachios and parmesan, and pulse again until the nuts have been roughly chopped. Now with the motor running, add olive oil one tablespoon at a time until everything is chopped to a fine paste and fully amalgamated. Remove from food processor and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt the water liberally, and add pasta to the boiling water. Remove the woody ends from the asparagus, and cut asparagus into pieces about the same length as the pasta. Once the pasta is halfway through the recommended cooking time, remove and retain one cup of the pasta water, and add asparagus pieces to the boiling water. Continue cooking until the pasta is cooked but still al dente.
Remove from heat, drain, and immediately return the pasta and asparagus to the pan. Add a couple of generous dollops of the pesto, and stir through enough of the reserved pasta water to loosen the pesto and make a sauce. Keep stirring until everything is well coated with the pesto, then serve immediately. Finish with freshly ground black pepper to your liking and a sprinkling of extra grated parmesan.
If you would like to get to know Nigella Lawson a little better, and to see all the wonderful dishes my friends have come up with, then do go visit I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links.
I'm also sharing this post at Cook Your Books, hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours.