I am happy to report that the four basil plants that almost snuffed it before reaching their adolescence due to the horribly wet weather we had in the Spring, have recently turned into the most prolific producers in our garden. Twice over the past few weeks I have had to seriously prune them back before they collapsed under their own weight. Hallelujah!
While there are many creative ways to use basil in the kitchen, whether it be to brighten a sumptuous panzanella salad of freshly diced tomatoes, toasted cubes of peasant bread, and a drizzle of EVOO and balsamico, or a quick puree with cannelini beans and a little lemon juice for a crostini topping or crudite dip, there is no finer use for basil, in my humble opinion, than to use it in a homemade pesto. To me, pesto is a nearly perfect food. The sharpness of the raw garlic, the earthy warmth of the toasted pine nuts, the vibrant color and herbal aroma of the basil itself, and the salty chew of the fresh parmesan…..I could eat it by the bucket-full. Don’t laugh….I really could.
And so it was with great joy upon returning home from our Summer ending camping trip to Maine, I was able to harvest what felt like a rather large shrubbery of basil for a big batch of pesto. This pesto recipe will make about twice what you’ll need for the pasta dish that follows, so you’ll have plenty left over to freeze, or put to some other, more immediate use.
Boris, our resident weapons expert got the call to assist due to his incessant desire to play with sharp objects, like our CUISINART Food Processor. After a quick harvest and washing, he placed the basil into the food processor along with the garlic, a liberal pinch of kosher salt, and the pine nuts, and readied his finger on the start button as though he we were buried 20 stories beneath a silo installation, waiting for the big man to call on the hot-line with the launch codes. 3-2-1- PUSH, and in the blink of an eye, the pesto was in progress, and Boris was beside himself with glee as the whirring blade annihilated the basil in mere seconds. If you have a food processor, and access to fresh basil, I highly recommend you make your own pesto. I promise that if you do, you’ll never buy store bought again, it is that simple to make, and full of so much more flavor than anything you can get pre-made.
Once the ingredients were finely minced, and with the blade still running, Boris drizzled the EVOO through the feed tube of the processor and continued to pulverize the pesto for a few more seconds, until the oil was fully incorporated. He then poured it out into a bowl, added about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (in order to help preserve the color of the basil which will otherwise start to oxidize almost immediately), and stirred in the parmesan he had freshly grated. A quick taste before adjusting the seasoning with a little salt and pepper, and we were ready to move onto phase two of our dish.
While I shelled and de-veined the shrimp for our pasta dish, Boris measured out 1 cup of the pesto, and transferred the rest to a zip-lok bag for freezing. He then grated some more cheese, and put the cream in a large saute pan over medium heat so that it could reduce by about a third. While the pasta was cooking, we very gently cooked the shrimp, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, in a touch of olive oil and butter, over a low-medium heat so that the flesh stayed tender, and didn’t seize up as it will if you cook it over a high flame.
When the pasta was done, we tossed it into the pan with the cream, the pesto, the shrimp, and the cheese and let it cook for about another 2-3 minutes, a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and our work was finished. Bon Appetito!
- 4 cups fresh basil (packed)
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan over low-medium heat until lightly golden
- 3/4 cup EVOO
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Creamy Pesto Pasta with Shrimp
- 1 pound dried (bite sized) pasta such as penne or farfalle (we used cavatappi)
- 2 cups cream
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan (or pecorino romano, or some combination of the two)
- 1 cup freshly made pesto
- 35-40 medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place washed and dried basil in the bowl of a food processor with a liberal pinch of salt, the pine nuts and the garlic. Run processor until the basil if finely minced, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed. Once the ingredients are uniformly chopped, and the pesto looks homogenous, add the oil through the feed tube with the machine still running.
- Pour the pesto into a bowl, and finish by stirring in the grated cheese, lemon juice (if used), and finally check for seasoning.
Creamy Pesto Pasta with Shrimp
- Place cream in a saute pan large enough to hold the pasta once it is cooked, and set it over medium heat to reduce by about 1/3, to about 1 1/3 cups.
- Grate 1 cup of parmesan cheese and reserve.
- Measure out 1 cup of the fresh pesto and set aside.
- Cook pasta as recommended by the maker. When it is almost finished cooking, scoop out about a cup of the cooking liquid and reserve in case you need it to lighten your final cream sauce.
- When cooked, drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the cream, add in the pesto, the shrimp, and cheese and stir well to combine.
- Cook gently over a low-medium heat while tasting for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- If the sauce thickens too much for your liking, add a bit of the reserved cooking liquid to hydrate it a bit.
- Finish with a squeeze of half a lemon, and spoon into a large pre-warmed bowl for family style serving.
- Top with some small fresh basil leaves for garnish.