Asparagus with Walnut-Orange Pesto

walnut orange pesto

This dish shocked me. I’m preparing to go back to Idaho to help calve out the cows, and want to use up food lying around the kitchen before I leave. Random ingredients that whisper to me…please do not let me live a purposeless life...it gets me every time. Sometimes I’m creative and make stuff up, other days I skim through cookbooks finding recipes that didn’t jump out the first time, and perhaps never will – but I have the ingredients on hand. This is one such recipe.

Orange pesto does not sound good to me. It especially didn’t sound good after I read the recipe. It calls for chopping the entire orange – rind and all – and mixing it with traditional pesto ingredients such as garlic, nuts and romano cheese.   Yes, really – and  I was so wrong. This is a celebration in your mouth…without the hangover. It’s more like going to the circus when you’re five. The merging of these flavors resulted in a complex, surprisingly fresh, bouncy and bold flavored sauce. (Did I say bouncy?) Although it’s paired with asparagus in Mario Batali’s book, Simple Family Meals, I look forward to experimenting with what else it brings to life. Turkey perhaps? Or a cheese ravioli, with some adjustments? The ravioli idea brings  a creamsicle pasta to mind, with an Italian twist. I’ll report back if I discover something worth sharing. Do you think the orange rind cancels out the garlic on my breath like orange air freshener does in my house? I suppose that’s asking too much.

I cook in many strange places. Sometimes in cow camp with no electricity, on mountaintops with 1000 head of cattle around me, sometimes at the house of friends; anywhere there is food actually. I like the challenge. This time I had no food processor to blend the sauce. Don’t try this at home if you don’t have to. I used one of those small choppers that come with a Cuisinart immersion blender. It wants to be a food processor when it grows up, but sure isn’t one now. I processed in stages and then mixed it together by hand. If you use a food processor, I think you’ll get a smoother sauce. Let me know how it goes!

I’m not sure if this will make the short list for the cowboys. It might be too frilly for them, and too surprising. After all, fruit and garlic is a stretch. But they’ve surprised me before….if I don’t tell them what’s in it.  :)


Here’s how you make it:



2 pounds medium asparagus, thick bottom ends snapped off

2 oranges, preferably nice and juicy

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

3 garlic cloves

2 Tb sugar

1 cup plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup plus 2 Tb freshly grated Pecorino Romano



Bring 8 quarts of water to boil a large pasta pot. Set a large ice bath nearby.

When water comes to a boil, add 2 Tb salt. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until just softened, 1 minute.

Using tongs, transfer the asparagus to the ice bath. When it has cooled, drain and set aside. (This stops the cooking process and keeps them bright green)

Make the pesto:

Juice one of the oranges, removing any seeds, and set the juice aside for later. Chop what is left of the juiced orange — pith, rind interior fruit and all — along with the remaining orange, (again removing pits) and place the chopped orange in the bowl of a food processor.

Add the walnuts, garlic, sugar, 1 cup of the olive oil, and 1/4 cup of the romano to the processor, and blend until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a bowl, and season it with salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too thick, add up to 1/4 cup of the reserved juice to loosen it up. (This pesto will last up to one week in the fridge if you cover the surface with a layer of oil.)

To make the citronette, place the reserved orange juice and the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a small bowl, and whisk to form a thin emulsion.

Arrange the cooked asparagus on a serving platter, and spoon the walnut-orange pesto over the stems. Drizzle the orange citronette over all. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tb pecorino and serve. Thanks Mario! Enjoy!


LindaAsparagus with Walnut-Orange Pesto

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