Sunday, March 10, 2013

Penne Rigate with Asparagus-Pistachio Pesto

One of the most interesting chefs and television personalities is Andrew Zimmern.  I am a big fan of his television shows, especially Bizarre Foods.  Andrew has a very interesting and inspiring personal history.  He moved to Minnesota in the 1990s to receive treatment for chemical dependency and alcoholism.  After he finished the treatment program, he found a job at a French restaurant called Café Un Deux Trois.  Although Andrew washed dishes and bussed tables, he closely watched the chef, who had spent a few years learning under Chef Bouley in New York City.  Andrew watched the chef closely, and, when a line cook called in sick, Andrew took the job as a line cook.  After a few weeks, Andrew climbed the ranks and took over the kitchen.

I have been wanting to make some of Andrew's recipes for quite a while.  Recently, I came across a recipe for Rigatoni with Asparagus-Pistachio Pesto.  This recipe dates back to Café Un Deux Trois.  Andrew recalls that the the old chef at the restaurant claimed to have gotten the recipe from Chef Bouley.  Whether or not that is true, Andrew notes that the recipe is delicious.

And, Andrew is right.  This recipe is very delicious.  I made two changes to his recipe.  First, I substituted rigatoni with penne rigate.  Really, this dish could be prepared with any pasta, although I think rigatoni and penne rigate, as well as fusilli or orcchiette, would be the best pasta for this dish. Second, I used regular Parmesan cheese rather than Parmigiano Reggiano because I was making this dish for my beautiful wife, Clare.  Given she is pregnant, unpasteurized cheeses -- like Parmigiano Reggiano -- are off the table.  However, regular Parmesan is pasteurized and it works as a good substitute. 

Adapted from recipe by Andrew Zimmern and available at Food & Wine
Serves 4-6

1/4 cup of pine nuts
1 1/2 pounds of asparagus, cut into 1 inch lengths
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of honey
2 teaspoons of thyme, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest, finely grated
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound of Penne Rigate
1 cup of vegetable broth
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsalted roasted pistachios, very finely chopped
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

1.  Toast the pine nuts.  Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and toast for about 3 minutes, until golden brown.

2.  Begin preparing the pesto.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine the asparagus with the carrots and shallot and process until finely chopped. Scrape the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Stir in the basil, garlic, honey, thyme, lemon zest, cumin and the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until the vegetables are soft and just starting to brown. Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Cook the pasta.  Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a baking sheet and toss with olive oil.

4.  Finish the pesto and the dish.   In a very large skillet, combine the cooked vegetables with the chicken stock and butter and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 4 minutes. Add the pasta, pine nuts, pistachios and the reserved 1/2 cup of pasta water and cook, tossing, until the sauce is thick and the pasta is coated. Stir in the parsley and chopped bacon and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to bowls and serve, passing the grated cheese at the table. 


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