Fresh peas and asparagus pasta salad with a nutty and aromatic pecan pesto is a fantastic combination to whip up for a quick, tasty vegetarian side dish.
Why I Love Asparagus Pasta Salad with Pecan Pesto
The combination of fresh asparagus and peas with the buttery and aromatic pecan pesto made a delicious and easy asparagus pasta salad.
A great side dish but also delicious as workday lunch. You can prepare in advance and enjoy the next day.
I used pecans as a substitute for pine nuts in this pesto recipe. When eating raw pecans fresh from its shell, I felt there was an underlying umami flavour.
I thought it would be delicious in a pesto as it would add depth and warmth.
As it is a larger nut, the pecan pesto dressing was slightly coarser and delivered extra texture to the pasta salad. Overall a great substitute for pine nuts.
Pecans are fantastic to have in the pantry as a healthy snack. It has the highest monounsaturated fats (the healthy stuff) amongst all the nuts and delivers a good source of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Pecans are fantastic on their own or can add to our delicious salads like our Pear and Rocket Salad with Provoleta Blue Cheese.
What is Orecchiette?
Orecchiette’s direct translation from Italian means “little ears” referring to the shape of the pasta. It is like a small dome with a thinner centre and slightly thicker edge.
This characteristic gives the pasta an interesting variable texture with a softer middle and chewier on the edges. The concave shape makes it perfect for cradling delicious sauces.
Made with durum wheat and water, orecchiette originates from Puglia, Southern Italy. It has been handmade for hundreds of years.
It is typically served with a simple tomato sauce but also works well with a chunky vegetable sauce. A popular dish is orecchiette with broccoli, pecorino and loads of extra virgin olive oil.
Pesto is an excellent match with orecchiette as well because of its bowl-like shape. The pesto dressing will be able to cling on and nestle in the asparagus pasta salad creating a delicious dish.
What Is A Good Substitute For Orecchiette?
If you can’t find dried orecchiette in your local supermarket or grocery store, you can substitute orecchiette for shorter shaped pasta in this recipe.
Conchiglie would be the most obvious choice as the small seashell-like shaped pasta is similar to orecchiette. Penne, fusilli, casareccia or farfalle because they have nooks and crannies to hold the dressing and ingredients.
However, I still prefer the unique, slightly chewy texture of orecchiette in a pasta salad.
How to Make Asparagus Pasta Salad with Pecan Pesto
How To Cook Orecchiette Pasta
Best to check the packaging for cooking instructions as it may vary.
In a medium saucepan, fill ¾ with water. Add a good pinch of salt to the water. Seasoning is important in pasta salads as flavours can be muted when cold.
Bring the pot to boil and place 2 cups of pasta into rolling water. Cook pasta as per packaging until al dente.
I prefer my pasta to have a bit of a bite, especially in salads as I don’t want mushy pasta after dressing it.
Therefore I tend to cook my pasta al dente. If you prefer it to be softer, adjust your cooking time for the pasta.
How To Prepare The Asparagus Pasta Salad
To prepare asparagus, snap off the woody ends and give a little rinse under water. Cut them into smaller pieces on a diagonal.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil.
Add asparagus and frozen peas to rapid boiling water and blanch for 3 minutes depending on the size of your asparagus.
Drain asparagus and peas with a colander and run under cold water for 30 seconds or so to stop them for further cooking. You can also plunge them into a bowl of icy cold water.
How to Make Pecan Pesto Dressing
Remove basil from the stem to yield 2 cups.
Add basil, pecans, grated parmesan cheese and garlic into a food processor or hand blender. Pulse several times.
Scrape down the sides and continue to blend for approximately 1 minute.
While the food processor is running, slowly add the extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream.
Blend until a smooth mixture. By gradually adding the oil, you create an emulsion with the ingredients and less likely to separate later.
Remove the lid and add lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Pulse a couple more times.
Taste and adjust the flavours of the pecan pesto dressing as required. I added lemon juice and zest in this recipe as I prefer the citrus flavours. It helps cut through the richness of pecan pesto dressing.
However, you can adjust to less if you prefer less lemon. Add some more extra virgin olive oil if the pesto dressing is feeling gluggy.
Any leftover pecan pesto dressing can be kept in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It’s great on warm sourdough toast!
How To Assemble Salad
Not much to do other than toss everything together. Place pasta, asparagus and peas together in a large bowl. Add pecan pesto dressing and coat pasta well.
To serve, grate a little more lemon zest on top and drizzle extra virgin olive oil.
This is a deliciously nutty and aromatic pasta salad with fresh spring vegetables of asparagus and peas.
You can serve as a great side dish with steak or lamb chops or a light lunch on its own. Asparagus pasta salad with pecan pesto is an easy peasy dish to whip up any time of the day.
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Asparagus Pasta Salad with Pecan Pesto
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- Fill a medium saucepan with water and add a good pinch of salt. Bring the water to boil and place 2 cups of pasta into rolling water. Cook pasta as per packaging until al dente.
- Wash and cut asparagus into smaller pieces on a diagonal.
- Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil.
- Add asparagus and frozen peas to rapid boiling water and blanch for 2-3 minutes.Drain asparagus and peas with a colander and run under cold water for 30 seconds or so to stop them for further cooking. You can also plunge them into a bowl of icy cold water.
- Add basil, pecans, grated parmesan cheese and garlic into a food processor or hand blender. Pulse several times.
- Scrape down the sides and continue to blend for approximately 1 minute.
- While the food processor is running, slowly add the extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream. Blend until a smooth mixture.
- Remove the lid and add lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Pulse a couple more times.
- Taste and adjust flavours as required.
- Place pasta, asparagus and peas together in a large bowl.
- Add pecan pesto dressing and coat pasta well.
- Grate lemon zest on top and drizzle extra virgin olive oil.
- You can substitute orecchiette for shorter shaped pasta in this recipe. Conchiglie, penne, fusilli, casareccia or farfalle would be good options.
- Pecan pesto can be adjusted according to your tastes. You can adjust the lemon juice to be less if you prefer less citrus flavours. Add some more extra virgin olive oil if the pesto dressing is feeling gluggy.
- Any leftover pecan pesto can be stored in an airtight jar for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
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