My neighbor Beppi’s garden is exploding with basil this time of year, and his pesto is legendary. His late wife was from Genoa, the birthplace of the “original” pesto alla Genovese, and he has been kind enough to share his pesto recipe with me. The recipe that follows is my rough approximation of it. It should be noted that Beppi is allergic to garlic, an irony that’s not lost on him as a native Italian and former restaurateur–so garlic is conspicuously omitted from the recipe. I find that I don’t miss it in my pesto either.
I’ve tried all kinds of protein additions to basic pasta with pesto (chicken breasts, thighs, sausage, etc.), but I find that the only one that actually enhances the pesto is shrimp. You might not expect shrimp to go well with pesto, but in fact, it’s a brilliant combination. The brininess of the shrimp and the salty, green bite of the pesto are perfect together. Also, this dish could singlehandedly revolutionize the whole aversion that most Italians profess toward combining seafood and cheese!
Pasta with Shrimp and Pesto
1 lb dried fettucine
1 lb fresh shrimp, cleaned, deveined and cut into bite-size pieces
1/3 c pesto (see recipe below)
salt to taste
grated parmiggiano for sprinkling at the table
In a pot of cold salted water large enough to eventually hold the pasta, place the shrimp. Turn the heat to high and remove shrimp just before water comes to a boil. They will be tender and barely cooked through–they’ll continue cooking as they rest. Set aside and let rest while you boil the pasta.
Boil pasta the recommended cooking time (usually 8-10 minutes for fettucine). In a large mixing bowl, stir together the pesto and 2 tablespoons pasta cooking water.
Toss in the pasta with the water that clings to it–the pesto needs a good deal of pasta water added to stay nice and loose–the pasta will absorb the water as it sits on the table. Add the shrimp and mix all together. Serve immediately with additional grated parmiggiano on the side.
2 c basil leaves, tightly packed
1/4 c pine nuts
1/4 c. grated parmiggiano
1/4 c. grated pecorino
1/2 c + 2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
Place all ingredients except oil in food processor and process until a coarse paste forms. Add oil gradually until the sauce becomes a bright green puree. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Store covered with a film of oil.