Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the mark bittman minimalist club: asparagus pesto; hmmm...

If not for the fact that I am its founding and only member, I might just quit the Mark Bittman Minimalist Club right about now. But not only am I the sole member, I am also the club's president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. So I will carry on—for the sake of the club, for Mark Bittman, for the children, for the "Clubs, Associations, and Secret Societies" section of my résumé, and, dear GFDers, for you.

Asparagus. So delicious. Why not turn it into pesto? I'll tell you why: Because the pesto will taste mostly like Parmesan cheese. Or mine did anyway. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not so good that it's worth buying a very expensive pound of local asparagus, hauling out the Cuisinart, and repeatedly pressing pulse.

Mark Bittman says the pesto should taste like "asparagus with additional punch." He also says that "pesto means paste." Mine tasted more like paste than extra punch. Perhaps I did something wrong?

In my role as the Mark Bittman Minimalist Club's senior recruitment officer, I would like to invite you to join this elite society. Here is your initiation rite: Make Mark Bittman's asparagus pesto, but don't follow the recipe exactly, and taste as you go along. Puree the asparagus, half the amount of called-for cheese, the oil, the pine nuts, the garlic, the s&p. Taste. Add more cheese, asparagus-cooking liquid, and s&p, as needed. Finish off with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. When you've completed this ritual, we'll meet in a firelit cave (I'll be the one with the paper bag over her head), you'll spread pesto in stripes across your cheeks and take a vow of lifetime loyalty to the club and its president, and then I will teach you the secret handshake. Good luck! And by the way, how'd that pesto turn out?

Asparagus Pesto
From the New York Times

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
1 clove garlic, or more to taste
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup olive oil, or more as desired
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the asparagus and cook until fully tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well, reserving some of the cooking liquid, and let the asparagus cool slightly.

2. Transfer the asparagus to a food processor and add the garlic, pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and gradually add the remaining oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste, pulse one last time, and serve over pasta, fish or chicken (or cover and refrigerate for up to a day).


  1. Hmmm. It's hard to see what you did incorrectly. Did Mark Bittman get it wrong; doubtful. Perhaps not everyone has a taste for asparagus pesto. It does sound like a great recipe, however. Even I am inspired to try it. BTW - great photos.

  2. Do I have to go to the cave to get asparagus pesto slathered on my face or can I just come to your house for that?

  3. Or, alternatively, just steam the asparagus and serve it on the side with the chicken? Then use the cheese and pine nuts with some basil, and see what you get.

    And hey, I'm a Bittman fan from way back....but some things just don't need to be mashed up into a paste...

  4. I hope you do try it, Dad, and then report back, after which I will make you vice president of the Mark Bittman Minimalist Club.

    LOL, Mojie. But seriously: the cave.

    Sounds brilliant, DED. Or very basic, actually, which is perhaps how asparagus should be eaten.

  5. I want to join the club! Will it count if I do it as a sort of deconstructed non-paste version? Maybe with some good Vermont Ayr or Does Leap Trappist?

  6. That sounds delicious, crankycheryl, and I think might be exactly what this pesto needs. Namely, to not be a pesto. And the nonpaste version probably won't be spreadable, which should make your club initiation much less messy.

  7. Okay - I've tried it and documented it over at my blog. If you get a moment, stop by and let me know whether it qualifies for admission to the MBMC.