- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I’ll admit it. I used to be a pesto snob. Only the homemade stuff was good enough for my finicky palate. Then something changed, and it wasn’t my picky taste buds. It was the selection of store-bought pesto.

The quality improved. I particularly like the refrigerated basil pesto found in big plastic jars at the wholesale clubs. I also like the tiny jars of supermarket pesto such as the Alessi brand found on the pasta aisle.

Now I add a dollop of pesto to soups, spreads, salad dressings and especially pasta without blinking an eye. It doesn’t matter if it is January or June, for prepared pesto is always in season.

One of my favorite recipes using pesto follows, and it is unique because you fold crumbled blue cheese into an already prepared pesto, turning it into a blue-cheese pesto. With the addition of asparagus spears cooked in the same water as the pasta and with the addition of toasted walnuts, this is a flavor combination no pesto snob can resist.

Five time-shaving ways to use store-bought pesto:

As the weather warms and herb gardens begin producing plenty of basil and parsley, you’ll want to make your own pesto. Yet, a good store-bought pesto is a convenient ingredient to keep in the refrigerator.

• Stir a tablespoon into your favorite bean soup.

• Stir a tablespoon into your favorite pasta sauce.

• Fold in chopped black olives and dollop onto your favorite warm takeout or home-baked pizza.

• Spoon a teaspoon on top of each serving of grilled fish.

• Boil pasta, toss with olive oil, then spoon enough pesto into the pan with the pasta so that it coats the noodles. Shower with Parmesan cheese and enjoy.

Penne with blue cheese pesto, walnuts and asparagus

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the cooking time is 6 to 7 minutes.

Salt for cooking the pasta, optional

8 ounces penne

1 cup walnut pieces

1 3.5-ounce jar pesto (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup pre-crumbled blue cheese, or to taste

1/2 pound thin asparagus spears

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add salt, if using, and stir in the penne. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook penne, uncovered, until al dente, 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, place walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in preheated 350-degree oven until lightly toasted, 4 to 5 minutes.

Place pesto and blue cheese in a large serving bowl and, using a fork, mash the blue cheese into the pesto.

Rinse asparagus spears and snap off and discard their tough ends. Break spears into 11/2-inch-long pieces.

During the last 3 minutes of the penne cooking time, add asparagus to pot and cook until bright green and crisp-tender.

Drain penne and asparagus well in a colander, shaking it a few times to remove any water that might still cling to the pasta.

Add penne and asparagus to the bowl with the pesto and stir to coat them well. Top with toasted walnuts and serve at once. Makes 4 servings.


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