Sunday, January 29, 2012

Linguine with Lemongrass Pesto, Prawns and Asparagus

The way I see it, Asian noodles and Italian pasta are like a pair of non-identical twins, separated at birth and sent to live on the opposite sides of the world. The classic Thai dish, pad thai for example, isn’t a million miles from a spicy seafood spaghetti dish you’d get served up in Italy. See what I mean:

Italian seafood pasta

Traditional pad thai

So I don’t feel at all bad mixing up the flavours. Why am I so defensive? Well every Italian I’ve known has had very strict views on which sauces and ingredients should be paired with which kinds of pasta, and they have a thing about keeping it simple. And I respect that, I do. So I’m trying my best to mix flavours within the parameters of what a pasta-loving Italian would find acceptable.

So I did some research - I asked my Italian friend Marianna who comes from a massive Italian family that cooks, eats and talks about pasta a lot. It seems that pesto is often served with spaghetti and seafood pasta with linguine or spaghetti. I was tempted to throw all sorts of vegetables into this dish, but my Italian said no. It would be fine if I didn’t have the pesto, but not with the pesto as well. And not with linguine. “Too much”, declared Marianna, “too much”. After careful negotiation, she allowed me some asparagus – "but not too much because you have to keep it simple." I picked asparagus because prawns are often stir-fried with asparagus in Thailand and it’s a lovely combination. So in this fusion of Thai and Italian cooking, I have kept the traditional pasta balance but combined it with fragrant Thai flavours.

The basil from the Italian pesto recipe is replaced with lemongrass and coriander. I have replaced pine nuts with cashews because they are the creamiest nut I can think of, and are easily found in Thailand. Incidentally Jamie Oliver, whom I trust on all matters pasta-related, says it’s important to only toast the nuts in pesto briefly because they should give a creamy rather than nutty flavour.

This is a simple but oh so tasty dish packed with clean and unusual flavours.

Time: 1 hour
Rating: Easy – just a little patience required for the pesto
Serves: 4 people


For the pesto:

4 lemongrass stalks (just the white part)
1 clove garlic
1 inch knob ginger
1 bunch coriander leaves and stalks (about 60g)
Juice of 2 limes
80g cashew nuts, very lightly toasted
4 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta:

400g dried linguine
250g raw large unpeeled prawns/about 200g peeled – about six per person
1 bunch asparagus
Sprig coriander to garnish
2 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
1 tsp dried chilli flakes


  1. First make your pesto. Start by finely chopping then grinding the lemongrass either in a food processor or a mortar and pestle. Make sure the lemongrass is very finely minced otherwise it will give your dish an unpleasant fibrous texture. Then add the garlic and ginger (peeled and chopped first) and continue pounding/grinding til smooth. Next in a food processor grind the cashews until they are a fine powder with no lumps. Remove from the food processor.
  2. Chop the coriander, stalks and all, and put in a food processor along with your ground lemongrass, garlic and ginger. Add the olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Blend until you have a smooth paste.
  3. Add the ground cashews to the mixture and blend again. You should now have a smooth pale green paste. If the pesto is too thick it will be hard to coat the pasta so thin out with a little water (2-3 tbsp) until you’re happy with the texture.
  4. Taste your pesto and adjust the flavour and texture according to your taste by adding more salt, pepper, oil, or lime juice.
  5. Next, prepare the remaining ingredients. Peel and de-vein the prawns. Very finely slice the garlic. Trim off the woody part of the asparagus – the bottom inch or so and chop the spears into pieces about an inch long.
  6. Next, cook you pasta according to packet instructions until al dente.
  7. When your pasta is a few minutes away from being done, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a pan on a medium heat, and add the garlic and chilli flakes and fry for a couple of minutes.
  8. Add the asparagus and stir for about two minutes until it softens. Then add the prawns and season generously with fresh black pepper and a salt. Allow to sizzle for a further 2 - 3 minutes, stirring frequently until the prawns are done. They should just turn pink and firm – don’t overcook as they’ll turn rubbery.
  9. Drain your pasta and transfer it to a large bowl. Quickly, while it is still hot add the pesto and stir well. It is up to you how much pesto you want to add – you’ll probably have some left over which you can freeze. Add the pesto gradually, evenly coating the pasta until you’re happy it’s the right amount. Then add the prawns and asparagus and stir again.
  10. Garnish with a sprig of coriander and serve.

Cooking ahead? The pesto will keep for a couple of days in the fridge in a sealed container. Pesto also freezes really well so make this in advance and pour into an ice tray, and once frozen transfer the ice-cubes into a plastic bag.


  1. Lemongrass pesto?

    I adore pesto. I adore the aroma of lemongrass. I never would have thought of putting the two together! Fantastic Post :)
    Liam @

    1. Thanks Liam! I confess I was nervous when I was putting it together but it totally works - a lot creamier than I expected. Hope you enjoy it if you give it a go x

  2. I love, love, love the idea you had for the pesto. I am always trying to recreate Pesto sauce. You are inspiring me to make it again!