Asparagus salad with pesto and Parmesan


Isn’t it funny how some words are more fun to say out loud than others?  Bibulous.  Molybdenum. Flibbertigibbet. Asparagus.  Assssparrrrragus! Say it out loud!  And clearly TS Eliot agreed with me – he named one of the feline characters in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats Asparagus:

Gus is the cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before,
Is really Asparagus. That’s such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.

Cats and asparagus seem to be linked in my life (despite what I said about fluffy kittens at Food Blogger Connect ’10!).  When I was about ten, we got a Persian cat – a silver tabby of impeccable pedigree called Ali Pasha’s Silver Smoke on his birth certificate.  We called him Smokey but all his life he lived up to his far grander official name.  His coat was never matted, he walked with the air of a cat accustomed to the good things in life, and he ate his food delicately (unlike our other younger cat Caesar, who was the messiest of eaters!).  But if you really wanted to see Smokey lose the plot and all sense of feline dignity, all you had to do was open a tin of… white asparagus.  Yes, you read that correctly – not tuna, not chicken, but asparagus.  He would come bounding in from anywhere in the garden with the first turn of the can opener, and once he caught a whiff of the asparagus there was no stopping him.  He would try to jump onto the kitchen counter or claw his way up the kitchen cupboards, all while emitting the most astonishing volley of desperate meows, until my mom tossed him a spear.  Maybe we should have called him Gus instead of Smokey :)

Since we never really had asparagus in any other form but tinned white when I was growing up, I have no idea what Smokey might have made of fresh green asparagus – but I can tell you that since I discovered them, there has been no turning back.  I love their delicate taste, their crunchy texture and their sculptural shape.  And although I love them chopped up in pasta, liquidised into soup, or wrapped in bacon and pan-fried, I mostly like to eat them as simply as possible – barely steamed and still crunchy – in salads.


One of the things we got in our Food Blogger Connect ’10 goodie bags was a little pot of Purely Pesto basil pesto.  Truth be told, I managed to get my mitts on quite a few pots as my fellow Spice Girls did not want to pack a potentially leaky pot of pesto into their luggage!  I must admit that my first thought was pesto schmesto – can’t possibly be exciting.  But that was before I opened my first little pot.  This is proper hand-made pesto, more like what you would make yourself at home than the over-processed pastes that you buy in the supermarket.  There are visible chunks of cheese and bits of pine-nut and it actually has a texture!  Who knew.  It seemed a waste to use this in anything but its most unadulterated form, and spooned over the asparagus, it made for a summery little plate of heaven. Purely Pesto also make other pestos, hummus, mayonnaise and soups – and I’m keen to try them all!

I would suggest that you use the slimmest, youngest asparagus spears that you can find for this – the thicker the spears, the more prep you will have to do.  I use a vegetable peeler to remove the woody bits from the stems, but with these slimline spears, that’s not necessary.

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ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH PESTO AND PARMESAN (serves 2-3) Click here for printable recipe


1 bunch of green asparagus (as slim as you can find) – about 450g
a few tablespoons of really good pesto
Parmesan shavings
freshly ground black pepper


If necessary, trim the woody ends of the asparagus and wash thoroughly.

Steam the asparagus – an asparagus steamer is ideal as it cooks the thicker stems more thoroughly than the delicate tips, but failing that, any steamer that fits over a pot or pan of boiling water will do.  Bring the water to the boil, then place the asparagus over it and steam for 4-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems, until they are tender and bright green.

Remove from the heat and arrange on a serving plate.  Spoon over the pesto and top with shavings of Parmesan and black pepper. Serve with crusty bread to mop up the pesto.

If you liked this recipe, you might also like my char-grilled courgette, asparagus and halloumi salad.

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  1. says

    Mmmmm…I love asparagus! I like to very lightly steam it, adding a bit of lemon juice and a hefty amount of the “Mural of Flavor” salt-free seasoning blend from Penzeys Spices. Heavenly! Your story about Smokey reminds me of the little ginger kitty I used to have who would come FLYING across the house anytime a bag of Strawberry Newtons were opened. If you didn’t toss a piece for him (away from the bag), he would dive headlong into it! (Not sure if SA has Newtons–the original was fig–fruit spread inside a small cakey exterior.)

  2. says

    Our kittie loved cheese so we would have the same reaction as Smokey. A much more masculine name for a male than Peaches. I have been called the queen of pesto, only because I love it in almost everything.

  3. says

    I love pesto and asparagus, so this is great combination meal to make. I have never tried both together, but looks amazing and yummy enough to eat.
    We have basil plant so I make lot of pesto at home. I might to try out purely pesto product sometimes though.

  4. says

    HAHA! Yeah I think I was one of those who did not want to take the pesto jars!! LOL! I regret it now of course. I love this simple but full of flavor dish!

  5. says

    it is funny, i never thought about eating asparagus with pesto before, which is silly as it sounds like they would go really well together. thanks

  6. says

    The tinned white asparagus is no match for the fresh tender green stems. I like eating them raw too – what a treat.
    Your cat story made me laugh. Had a similar crazy cat experience the other day when I opened up a bag of goji berries. Our kitten went ape-shit and devoured almost 1/4 of the bag. Why would she like goji berries??

  7. says

    Drool…I now know what I am making for lunch as a side dish tomorrow! Perfect way to use up the tib that is sitting in the door of my fridge looking sadly at me each time I reach past it!

  8. says

    This looks like a delicious combination. Always happy to have new asparagus recipes – it is such a divine vegetable!
    All I do to get rid of any woody bits is to bend each asparagus stalk slightly – it will break on its own accord at the point between the succulent part and the woody stem. Steam and enjoy, right? Yes, simple for this veggie is best, but I admit the basil and parm sound great.

  9. says

    Smokey..Smokey losing the plot. what a posh cat! I had pets called Orca ( the killer whale – it was a killer dog poor thing!), Hercules…what a name for a rotweiller..none of them liked things like asssparaguss…Going back to the recipe, what a great usage to the pesto. I have never had pesto com asssparaguss.

  10. says

    I’m feeling quite disgusted with myself that I’ve not eaten any UK asparagus this year. This pesto from the FBC goodie bags was good stuff though, it’s fed my son a few last minute dinners over the last couple of weeks as he is pasta crazy. Not sure what he’d make of asparagus though!!

  11. says

    Oh my gosh Jeanne – so much to say about this post! Here goes:
    1. Molybdenum is one of my favourite words! As is Plumbum =)
    2. After all that awful talk of what you wanted to do to fluffy kittens, I knew you secretly where a cat person
    3. My cat also loved eating the most bizarre things: one of them was honeydew melon rind (yes, rind, and yes, he was VERY specific – honedew melon or nothing)
    4. The way you wrote Assssparrrrragus made me laugh so much because it made me think of that episode of SATC: ‘More Assssparrrrraguuuus Mr. Harveeey?’ – hilarious!
    5. Never even thought of combining asparagus with pesto – love it!
    Great post! x

  12. says

    that pesto looks glorious! i usually make my own, but if i was ever pressed to buy, i would go for this one… so nice and chunky! have you seen it in the shops?

  13. says

    @Dinner Table Conversation – and I thought MY cat was weird!! Strawberry Newtons indeed… And agree – the less you do to asparagus the better they are!
    @Kalyn – oh, this is pesto as pesto is meant to be. A truly transcendental experience!
    @Val – a boy cat called Peaches? Poor thing 😉 But Queen of Pesto – now there’s a name to be proud of :)
    @Sommer – I love the flavours & can really recommend it. And say asparagus out loud, often, to ensure a happy day 😉
    @Zengirl – I think this is as close to home-made pesto you will get in a store… You could probably approximate it at home by using a coarse grater for the cheese and keeping the pine nuts roughly chopped. The texture adds a whole other dimension!
    @Meeta – the dsh is simple perfection, and yes, THANK YOU for leaving me all that pesto, hahaha!
    @Sunita – it really is summer on a plate, especially in this hot spell we are having (yay!)
    @Alison – I know: who knew?? Definitely a lighter option than hollandaise sauce, but as tasty!
    @Nina – oh I was! It’s fabulous with fresh pasta too…
    @Marisa – hahahah, you have a new-age hippie kitten! Next she will be demanding wheat-grass smoothies 😉 And as far as I am concerned, fresh green and tinned whie asparagus are 2 totally different foods, each with its place in the firmament…
    @Maunika – oooh, that would be lovely with cherry tomatoes & pasta! I think I might try that…
    @Elisa – and we are SO having the weather for light, cool, summery salads like this! Enjoy it while it lasts!
    @Margo – I agree, simple is best and usually it’s just butter and parmesan, but the pesto did make a nice change. I use a vegetable peeler to peel the woody ends slightly – it gives them a gorgeous pale green colour too, to contrast with the darker green tips :)
    @Valentina – Orca and Hercules are the most classic names I hae ever heard for Rottweilers!! Bet you have NO problems with burglars 😉
    @GourmetChick – highly recommended as a flavour combo – and it has given me a whole new perspective on making my own pesto, i.e. keep it full of textures!
    @Tandy – how come everything always tastes better in italy? 😉 Asparagus and Parma ham are a fantabulous combo!
    @Pille – rock on, sister!! The simpler the better :)
    @Jane – thanks, I’ll have a look.
    @Sarah – Ted has good taste in pesto :) And I loved asparagus as a kid – something I was allowed to eat with my fingers – hurrah!
    @Johanna – it must be torture seeing the fresh stuff when it’s out of season for you – sorry :( But summer will return soon!
    @Mowie – Molybbbbbdenummmmmm…! Damn I feel good! And I make no secret of being a cat person – I just don’t want to blog about them 😉 Correction – I am a cat obsessive!! Still go to visit our old neighbour, because we miss her cats (and her!). Honeydew melon rind?? okeydokey!! And yaaaay, I referenced SACT in a post without evenknowing it 😉
    @Kevin – highly recommended! It’s such a simple and delicious dish.
    @Johanna – it’s the closest to home-made I’ve had! As far as I know in London it’s only available at Budgens in Crouch End & Belsize Park; and Fortnums. Or the Farmers City Market in Hampton Hill out near(ish!) you