We’re inching towards spring. I find if I keep telling myself this, I’m less likely to cry into my pillow nightly, waiting for the day I wake up to find small birds singing, rather than sleet falling outside my window. I’m like a depressed Cinderella. Where are my birds?
Basil Pesto is one of those dishes that just sings summer to me. There’s nothing else like that herby, garlicky paste wrapped around al dente pasta. I go nuts for it. It does, however, like many things in life including bangs and themed birthday parties, have its drawbacks. Unless you have a basil greenhouse you’re unlikely to enjoy it during anytime of year save a few months in the summer. And unless you are a millionaire you’re unlikely to be able to afford the amount of pine nuts required to make traditional pesto. I’ve got you covered on both counts.
This springy pesto uses asparagus rather than basil and sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts. It is straight up economical. The sunflower seeds cost me $1.50. It is also straight up delicious.
Disclaimer regarding the gnocchi: I am not Italian. Like, at all. My Ancestry DNA results confirmed this, as well as the fact that despite my great grandmother’s insistence, I’m not 1/16th Cherokee either. I’m pretty Anglican which explains 1) my adoration for Her Majesty The Queen and 2) my incessant consumption of tea. I can make mean mashed potatoes but gnocchi? That’s a whole other thing. I don’t wish to offend any Italian grandmother’s out there. I did my best. They were delicious, though maybe not entirely authentic. Don’t yell at me.
If you’re not up for making the gnocchi (it’s not that hard but I would recommend tricking someone into helping you do the rolling/shaping as it’s a little time-consuming) the pesto would be just as good tossed in pasta or used as a condiment. I ate this for a light dinner with a fried egg which I highly recommend. The combination of the herby gnocchi coated in warm yolk was exquisite, if I do say so myself.
Asparagus Pesto Gnocchi
For the Pesto
Equipment: Food Processor
- 1 bunch roasted asparagus
- 1/2 c. sunflower seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 c. olive oil
- 1/2 c. grated parmesan
Trim asparagus spears to get rid of the woody part on bottom (with a hand on either end, bend the spear and it’ll snap where it wants). Place on baking sheet and drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. I squeezed a few lemon slices over the asparagus also and roasted them as well. I’m not sure it made that big of a difference as you’re not actually adding the lemon slices to the pesto. If I did it again I would probably forgo the lemon slices but they looked pretty. Roast the asparagus in a 350° oven for about 35 minutes. Once asparagus are out of the oven and cooled, roughly chop them and place them in the food processor. Add sunflower seeds, garlic, salt and pepper, and parmesan. Drizzle olive oil through the feed tube until the mixture forms a paste (I used about a 1/2 cup).
For the Gnocchi (This makes a lot. For a smaller crowd, half the recipe.)
- 4 russet potatoes
- 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 c. flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 2 eggs
Pierce washed potatoes with fork and place on rack of 350° oven for 1 1/2 hours. Once potatoes have cooled (no longer volcanic), cut open and flake out interior into a large bowl using a fork. Try and get any lumps out of the potatoes. Use a ricer or food mill if you have one (I don’t). Sift the flour over the top of the potatoes. Add salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Make a well in the middle and add eggs and ricotta. Mix together with clean hands until a soft dough is formed. Cut dough into smaller sections for easy handling. Roll out dough into a long rope and cut sections every inch or so (see picture). Roll cut pieces against the back of a fork to imprint lines on the gnocchi. Working in batches, drop the gnocchi into a pot of boiling water seasoned with salt. Once they float to the top (it takes no time at all), remove and let drain on a piece of wax paper.
Heat a knob of butter in a sauté pan. Once butter is nice and hot, drop in boiled gnocchi. Don’t be tempted to keep moving them around the pan. Let them cook for a couple minutes and then flip to the other side so you get an even, slightly crispy browning. Add a few tablespoons of the pesto and let the heat melt the pesto so it coats gnocchi evenly. Top with fried egg and freshly grated parmesan, if desired.
Note: If you have leftover gnocchi and/or pesto, this is definitely a good thing to freeze for a quick dinner later on. Place gnocchi on a sheet pan and place in freezer for an hour, then transfer into a plastic bag for the freezer. Place leftover pesto in an ice cube tray in freezer. Once the pesto is frozen, pop them out of the ice cube tray and store in plastic bag in freezer.