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Penne with Asparagus Pesto & White Beans by Alice Hart fromThe New Vegetarian (Square Peg / Penguin

Replace half the basil used in this recipe with mint leaves, if you like; this is a summery affair, intended to coincide with the latter part of asparagus season when the spears are plentiful & cheap.  Use any almonds you have in the pesto: flaked, blanched, chopped or whole with skins all work well.  Never drain the pasta too thoroughly, as the starch cooking water helps to form a sauce.

Serves 4       

Prep time: 10 mins            

Cooking time: 20 mins


300g (1 large bunch) asparagus

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

350g wholemeal dried penne, or other short pasta shape

Olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

25g almonds

2 small bunches of basil

Finely grated zest & juice of 1 unwaxed lemon

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

50g vegetarian pasta cheese, finely grated, plus more to serve

400g can of butter or cannellini beans, drained & rinsed


Trim the very ends from each asparagus spear, only removing more if they are woody.  Cut off the tips with about a thumb’s length of stalk.  Set aside.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, add the trimmed asparagus stalks (not the tips) with a good seasoning of salt & boil for 5 mins, or until tender.  Scoop the stalks out & into a colander with a slotted spoon, leaving the water behind in the pan.   Give the stalks a brief rinse under cool water, just to take their temperature down a little, & tip into the bowl of a food processor.

Return the pan of asparagus water to the heat, topping it up of needed.  Bring to the boil & add the pasta, cooking according to the packet instructions, or until al dente.

Set a griddle pan over a high heat until smoking, toss the asparagus tips with a little regular olive oil to coat lightly & griddle for 4 mins, turning now & then, until coloured & soft. Set aside in the pan.

Put the garlic, almonds, almost all the basil (reserving a few leaves to serve), a squeeze of lemon juice & the extra virgin olive oil into the food processor with the asparagus stalks & blitz to a rough purée, stopping to scrape down the sides a couple of times.  Stir in the lemon zest & cheese.  Taste & season, stirring in more lemon juice, if you like.

Drain the pasta – not too well - & return to the hot pan with the beans & asparagus pesto.  Warm through very gently, then divide between warmed bowls or plates with the griddled asparagus tips, the reserved basil leaves & more cheese.

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