This recipe is a bit of a late spring, early summer, love story. It’s the time of year when you get to fall in love with your ingredients again, and find new ways to make them shine. This year, I became acutely aware of the spring fling many foodies, farmers, and chefs have when asparagus is at its peak. Their shared obsession with the fleshy and flavorful spears is a borderline infatuation – with nearly every recipe or menu boasting a new method for preparing this springtime fantasy.
As soon as Deb’s recipe for pasta salad with roasted carrots and sunflower seed dressing popped up on my Instagram feed, my heart fluttered and I knew I had to court it in my kitchen immediately. I could already taste the sweetness of the oven-roasted carrots melting in my mouth against the slight crunch of the sunflower seed dressing, effectively masquerading pasta as a healthy lunch.
I fell in love with this recipe even more in practice because it tricks you into thinking it’s going to be labor intensive with the roasting, boiling, blending, and saucing involved. But each piece comes together smoothly while the other piece is cooking along, making it a well-orchestrated dish for an early summer weeknight meal. While the foundation of the recipe below sticks closely to Deb’s recipe genius, I opted to add some vegetable diversity and pay homage to our springtime debutante, asparagus. I swapped the carrot tops out for parsley for a brighter and less bitter taste.
Spring Vegetable & Sunflower Pesto Pasta
Total time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4-5 people
Source: Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta Salad with Roasted Carrots and Sunflower Seed Dressing
One bunch asparagus (thick stalks work well here)
Preheat the oven to 500° F and fill a large pasta pot with water, salted and put over high heat to come to boil. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
While the oven is preheating, peel the carrots and the bottom half of the asparagus stems, snapping the stems where they are naturally pliable. Lay the carrots and asparagus out on the baking sheet with room to wiggle. Douse the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Pop the baking sheet into the preheated oven and set a timer for 15 minutes, tossing the vegetables halfway through. After 15 minutes, remove the asparagus from the baking sheet and place on a cutting board. Pop the carrots back in for another 5 to 7 minute depending on their girth. Alternatively, you can leave the asparagus in the full time if you like them rich and melt-in-your-mouth like I do.
Once the water in the pot comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside. You can let the pasta cool completely as Deb suggests, but I found I prefer this pasta salad slightly warmed by the residual heat of the pasta and vegetables.
Blitz together in a food processor the sunflower seeds, parsley, Parmesan, lemon zest, salt, garlic powder, red pepper and ground black pepper. The consistency should be finely crumbled, but not so far that it turns into a paste. Add the crumbles to a large mixing bowl and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice.
Now you are ready to put it all together. Slice the asparagus and carrots into 1.5” pieces, cutting any thick segment in half or in quarters. Toss the pasta and sliced vegetables in the large mixing boil with the sunflower pesto.
Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.