• Penne with Asparagus-Pistachio Pesto


A Tried-and-True Recipe

This pasta dish with asparagus-pistachio pesto is from my days as a chef at Café Un Deux Trois in the 1990s. I’ve made this recipe for hungry crowds ever since with amazing results. The smoky bacon and rich, salty pistachios are perfectly balanced by the fresh veggies and fragrant herbs. This ‘sauce’ can be used with any type of noodle, but I recommend penne, macaroni or rigatoni.

Penne with Asparagus-Pistachio Pesto


  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1  1/2 pounds asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
  • 1  1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1/4 pound sliced bacon
  • 1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup unsalted roasted pistachios, very finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving


Active: 45 min
Total Time: 1 hr 15 min
Servings: 6 to 8

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

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.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, 12 to 14 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a baking sheet and toss with olive oil.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels and finely chop it.

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.

Photograph by Madeleine Hill. 

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