Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Asparagus Pesto + Toronto Picnickers

asparagus pesto

When my awesome friend Anna (whom I've mentioned several times) asked me if I would be interested in doing a blogger picnic series with her, I couldn't say no. And so, Toronto Picnickers was born.

Throughout the summer, Anna and I will be hosting picnics in parks all over Toronto to celebrate friends, food, and summer in the city. Our adventures will be featured on the lovely site Swallow, where you can read all about it. We're both stoked for a summer of good food, good stories, and good times.

So the other weekend, Anna and I invited a bunch of friends to join us in High Park for a picnic. However, due to an unfortunate weather forecast, we sent everyone indoors to avoid sad scenes of shivering people eating food with chilled fingers on damp blankets. Anna and I still ventured forth to take photos of the prettiness that is High Park prior to our indoor smorgasbord, because even though we didn't host our picnic outside, we wanted to pay some tribute to one of Toronto's loveliest green spaces.

a tangle of trees High Park in May
High Park, looking pretty in pink
spring blossoms dangling blossoms

And all that now brings me to the part you're probably much more interested in: pesto (which I've talked about before, and for good reason, because, let's face it, pesto is fantastic). I once had reservations about the murky green substance I kept seeing in jars at the supermarket - for the majority of my life, my only experience with pesto was with the weird-smelling stuff from the jar, so we didn't start out on the best of terms.

Thankfully, however, at one point I realized that pesto combines all things that are awesome: basil, cheese, garlic, nuts. Why wasn't I eating this? And constantly? It has the ability to make just about everything better: bread, eggs, pizza, pasta, crackers, sandwiches, a spoon - the list goes on.

Once I started making my own pesto, I realized quickly how easy it would be to play around with it. Pine nuts are not essential for a good pesto; I often use toasted almonds because I like their nutty, slightly smoky flavour, and I can see myself using walnuts too. I also got on the bandwagon of Adding Vegetables to Pesto, if only because I'm always trying to find more ways to make myself eat greens (because clearly I am still a five-year-old at heart). But hey, turns out adding lightly steamed greens to pesto yields an incredibly creamy and delicious spread.

It seemed to only make sense, then, to make pesto with asparagus, which is always the first thing in the markets and, at least to me, signals the beginning of summer - of warmer weather, cute sundresses, drinks on the patio, and pleasant late night walks. It seemed particularly appropriate to bring along to a picnic; it's easily transportable, can be eaten cold, and tastes great with other easily transported things, like crackers and baguettes.

And while our first picnic was held indoors (due to a damp and slightly chilly day), it was still a great success. You can check it out on Swallow here, and find Anna's post with her recipe for Cocoa Nachos with Berry Salsa here. (They were amazing, so you'll really want to.)

colours of spring Anna and her camera a screen of trees
asparagus the season of asparagus

Asparagus Pesto
Incredibly creamy and flavourful, this pesto tastes great spread on crackers, baguette, mixed in with pasta, or as a pizza topping.

2 cups chopped asparagus
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup packed basil
2 garlic cloves
1/3 - 1/2 cup grated parmesan

roasty toasty pine nuts cheese, for pesto garlic, lots of it
chopped asparagus fresh basil
asparagus for pesto creamy asparagus pesto

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast pine nuts for 5 - 8 minutes, until fragrant and slightly darker in colour. Set aside and let cool.

2. Chop off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Roughly chop the rest of the asparagus, then steam until bright green and a little soft (but not mushy), about 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. Peel and mince your garlic cloves, then add them to a food processor with the basil, pine nuts, grated parmesan, and asparagus. Note: I recommend starting with the smaller amount of cheese - you can always add more later if you find the pesto isn't as cheesy or salty as you want it. Puree everything in the food processor until it reaches your desired consistency.

4. Store in an airtight glass jar in the fridge, or use immediately. It tastes great with pasta, or even just spread on a slice of baguette or some crackers.

asparagus time