Wednesday, May 8, 2013

(Vegetarian) Cooking at Home: Pesto Linguine with Asparagus

This is the third part of the vegetarian cooking series that I did for a local magazine a few months ago. One thing I learned during the process is now I know a bit more about what's actually vegetarian and what's not. For example, I always think cheese, which was made of milk, is vegetarian (even though it's non-vegan). But little did I realize most cheeses use animal rennet - an enzyme extracted from cow or sheep stomach and essential for cheese production - that makes them non-vegetarian. Then there were also the issues with eggs, garlic and onions - especially to those who practice vegetarian for religious reasons.

A couple weeks ago they printed the first and second recipes - a salad with balsamic gastrique, and the main course of cauliflower au gratin, both of which I shared in my blog. For pasta course I decided to do a pesto linguine with asparagus. In this version I intentionally skipped parmesan cheese - its use of cow rennet in manufacturing makes it not suitable for a vegetarian dish. Unable to find a close substitute and unwilling to compromise using a totally different kind of cheese with different taste just for the sake of it, I used bread crumbs to add to the texture and more toasted pine nuts to add to the taste (and aromas). I also skipped garlic and relied on the strong flavor of basil to carry the dish through. It's a somewhat different pesto sauce but hopefully still taste good.

In the recipe I also used baby asparagus but you can always substitute that with the large ones. This is a simple recipe - pesto sauce can be made in advance and keep in the refrigerator for weeks.

Vegetarian Pesto Linguine with Asparagus

Pesto sauce:
1 cup of fresh basil
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of pine nuts
2 tablespoon of bread crumbs
lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste

250g of baby asparagus
150g of linguine (or other pasta of your choice)
2 tablespoon of olive oil

1. Toast pine nuts either on pan or in an oven preheated to 190C until slightly browned.

2. Roughly chop basil leaves. Put basil leaves, olive oil, bread crumbs and toasted pine nuts (save some for garnishing later) in a grinder and grind into thick puree. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour finished pesto sauce into a small bowl and set aside.

3. Boil water in a deep pot. Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove asparagus and cool on ice water. Dry asparagus, save the asparagus head with around 3cm of stalk, and finely dice the rest of the stalks.

4. Cook linguine according to the packaging instruction. Drain the pasta.

5. Pour olive oil into frying pan. Quickly stir-fry the asparagus head; remove from the pan and set aside. Then put the asparagus dices, pasta and pesto sauce in the order, then stir and mix.

6. Put the pasta on the plate, and garnish with the asparagus head and toasted pine nuts on top.

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