Asparagus Pesto w/Heirloom Fingerlings & Orecchiette #SundaySupper

by Anne Papina on March 17, 2013

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

This week arrived with a welcome warmth in the air and daylight that seemingly stretched out for miles, or at least past seven… of course, the asparagus is in full bloom at my local market–all signs that it must be Spring. This week the #SundaySupper crew is embracing its arrival with dozens of Spring-inspired recipes. My contribution puts a seasonal spin on a Genoese classic–Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerling Potatoes and Orecchiette.

Now you may be thinking paste on paste, really? Well, yes, it’s an Italian thing. In fact, one of my favorite dishes is my grandfather’s “pasta e patate”–a dish comprised of little more than potatoes and pasta tossed with sautéed onions and garlic along with copious amounts of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. Oh, and a crank or two of the pepper mill. Simple, satisfying, comfort food. Of course, just about everything can be spiffed up with a dollop of pesto, so this recipe piqued my interest.

Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, this asparagus pesto is a refreshing change-up to the traditional dish–and typical of Chiarello’s signature style. Surely you know him from his TV shows, but around here, Chiarello has been a fixture on the Napa food scene for quite some time. In fact, he was my Aunt June’s long time neighbor. When I connected with him at his Bottega book signing, he shared stories of my late aunt, including times he would bring her fresh-baked biscotti and join her for afternoon tea. I adore that he remembered her so fondly.

Michael Chiarello
The pesto recipe is about double the amount you’ll need, but go ahead and make the full batch. It freezes well, so you can pack some up for later or enjoy it slathered on french bread or whatever you fancy. Who knows how much disappeared onto french bread during the making of this post. I also felt compelled to wipe the food processor bowl clean with more bread. It’s really an effective way to soak up every last bit! Is this TMI?

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

Add the asparagus, basil, pine nuts, and garlic to the food processor, and whirl until well blended.

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

With the processor on, drizzle in the olive oil until it looks like zees. Pulse in the Parmesan along with salt and pepper to taste. Note, don’t go too crazy with the salt as the cheese adds plenty. Refrigerate this until ready to use.

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

Meanwhile, get a  pot of salted water boiling and add these babies.  (You may need to halve some of the larger potatoes.) Cook ’em about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain.

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

Heat up the olive oil in a frying pan, and saute the cooked potatoes until browned and crispy all over.  While these are frying, cook the pasta and drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

Toss the pasta and potatoes with about half the pesto and more cheese.  Thin out with the reserved pasta water if necessary. Salt and pepper to taste. That’s it.

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

Feel free to hoard a big fat bowl for yourself.

Asparagus Pesto with Heirloom Fingerlings and Orecchiette

And save the rest of the sauce for later…. OR grab a loaf of crusty bread and dip away. It’s magical.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Asparagus Pesto w/Heirloom Fingerlings & Orecchiette
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A seasonal twist on a Genoese classic, this asparagus pesto is perfect when tossed with heirloom fingerlings and Orecchiette.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cooked
  • ½ cup chopped basil, packed
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
For the Pasta
  • ¾ lb heirloom fingerling potatoes, rinsed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • ¾ lb orecchiette
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese + some for garnish
  1. Cut the asparagus into thirds, and add to a food processor bowl along with the basil, pine nuts, and garlic. Whirl until well chopped/blended, then drizzle in the olive oil while the food processor is on the low setting.
  2. Blend in the Parmesan using the pulse setting. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Halve the larger potatoes, and add to a large pot of salted, boiling water. Cook for about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain.
  4. In a medium pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and add the potatoes, cooking until brown and crispy on all sides. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook for about 12 minutes or until done. Reserve about ½ cup of the water before draining.
  6. Add the drained pasta along with the crisped potatoes to a serving bowl and toss with about half the pesto and the remaining Parmesan cheese. Use the reserved pasta water to thin out the mixture if necessary. Garnish with additional cheese.
This recipe makes about twice as much pesto as you'll need. And it freezes well, so pack up other half for later use. Also, to save on water and time, the asparagus, potatoes and pasta can be cooked using the same pot of water!


OK enough about me. Let’s see what everyone else is cooking up today!


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