Springtime Penne with Asparagus Stem Pesto

A low-waste, vegetarian dish that highlights seasonal Mediterranean ingredients.

A craving for pasta and a well-stocked pantry inspired this weeknight dinner of Springtime Penne with Asparagus Stem Pesto.

This recipe combines wholesome Mediterranean ingredients, like artichokes and olives, with durum wheat pasta and a vibrant pesto.

It’s nourishing comfort food with big, bright flavours and all comes together in under thirty minutes.

Asparagus Stem Pesto

The real flavour punch in this all-new recipe is a lemony asparagus stem pesto. This seasonal veggie is in its prime right now and I don’t want to waste any of it.

While the tender tips are cooked off with the pasta, the tougher stems are charred in a pan, and then chopped up to break the fibres. When blended with herbs, olive oil and lemon juice, they transform into a vibrant green pesto.

This asparagus stem pesto is delicious on many things – crostini, roast vegetables, savoury radish tartelettes – but for a quick weeknight dinner, I stir it into a big pot of pasta.

Zero Waste Recipe

Asparagus stem pesto isn’t the only zero waste trick in this bowl of comfort food.

I developed this recipe to also use up produce like broccoli stems or spinach, as well as any soft herbs that may be popping up in the garden or wilting in the crisper drawer.

Lean on your canned pantry staples to round out this dish: artichokes! olives! And toss a handful of toasted walnuts on top for a punch of protein.

This is how we’re cooking now, getting the most out of our ingredients, considering the planet, and serving up sustainable comfort food.

Now here’s a gorgeous dish that’s good for you AND good for the planet. Find the recipe below and plenty more pasta recipes at Barilla Canada.

Springtime Penne with Asparagus Stem Pesto

A low-waste, vegetarian dish that highlights Mediterranean ingredients. Adaptable to use pantry staples such as artichokes or olives and produce ends.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Vegetarian
Essential Ingredient: Asparagus
Prep Time: 18 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 488kcal


  • 1 bundle asparagus well washed, drained
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1 cup soft herb stems and leaves, packed basil, parsley, oregano, mint
  • 1 clove garlic peeled
  • 1 lemon zested and juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • 1 package Barilla Penne Rigate
  • 1 cup chopped artichoke hearts or other Mediterranean pantry ingredients such as olives, white beans, sun dried tomatoes etc
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  • Cut three, 1-inch pieces from the tops of the asparagus and reserve. Trim off an inch off the woody ends, leaving about 2 inches of stalk for pesto. If I have broccoli stems to use up, I peel and slice those now.
  • Heat a skillet over medium heat and add 2 tsp olive oil. Toss in the asparagus stalks and cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring often, until they are slightly charred and soft when poked with a fork. Remove and cool, Roughly chop the stems to break up the fibrous peels.
  • Toss the walnuts in the same pan and toast for about 3 minutes per side. Cool. Bring a large pot of salted water to a low boil while you prepare the pesto.
  • In a blender or food processor, combine the asparagus stems, herbs, walnuts and garlic. Pulse to finely chop everything, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed. Add 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, salt, cheese and remaining olive oil. Blend into a green pesto.
  • Cook penne for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Tip the asparagus tips (and broccoli stems, if using) into the boiling pasta and boil rapidly for 1 minute. *Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water* then drain the pasta and veg in a large colander.
  • In the same pot, combine about 2/3 cup pesto and the pasta water. Return the pasta and veg to the pot, along with the artichoke hearts and stir thoroughly to coat. Taste to season.
  • Heap in a serving bowl and top with a spoonful of pesto. Finish the dish with the lemon zest, black pepper and a drizzle of spicy olive oil. If desired, garnish with additional toasted walnuts, fresh herbs, or shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve promptly.


Zero waste tip: You can keep the woody asparagus ends for vegetable stock.


Calories: 488kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 658mg | Potassium: 301mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 914IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 136mg | Iron: 2mg

This post is sponsored by Barilla Canada.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. I think you’re my hero. Your creativity and resourcefulness is so…. just awesome. I will try this. I have 4 bunches of asparagus from the farmers market. Seriously woman, you’re up there on my list of super fabulous people.

  2. 5 stars
    YUM! I’m so happy I stumbled upon your website! This looks and sounds absolutely delicious, might have to cook it up this week. 🙂

  3. Wow! I loved this

  4. 5 stars
    This was delicious! Used a jar of marinated artichoke hearts that I rinsed lightly before mixing in. A keeper! Thank you!

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