This old-school recipe redefines pesto you might be used to making or buying. Its liquid component is a quick broth instead of oil, which extracts maximum flavor from the shellfish and keeps the dish light-tasting.
It also affords a good opportunity to use up any leftover amounts of dried pasta shapes you have on hand – all that nubbiness works nicely with the shrimp.
The dish is a good one to make for folks in a household who eat at different times, because it tastes as great at room temperature as it does warm.
Serve with a green salad.
Pasta and Shrimp with Sicilian Pesto
Servings: 4 to 6
1 pound shell-on, U.S. wild-caught shrimp (26-30 count), defrosted if frozen
2 cups water
8 cherry tomatoes, plus 1 or 2 for garnish
12 to 16 ounces dried, short shaped pasta, such as elbow macaroni or fusilli
Leaves from 4 stems fresh mint
Leaves from 2 to 4 stems fresh basil, plus a few leaves for garnish
2 cloves garlic
12 whole (raw) almonds (may use blanched whole or slivered almonds)
2 tablespoons pine nuts, plus more for garnish
Peel and devein the shrimp, placing the shells and tails in a medium saucepan along with the tomatoes and water. Reserve the shrimp on a plate.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook the shell mixture for 20 minutes. The tomatoes should burst or at least deflate; if they don't, pop them yourself.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch or two of salt and the pasta; cook according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, and return the pasta to its pot.
Strain the shrimp-tomato broth, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the small saucepan. Increase the heat to high; boil for 3 minutes, so the broth has reduced to about 1 cup (and its flavor is concentrated). Keep 1/2 cup of it in the pan, then pour off the rest (save or discard). Turn off the heat.
Finely chop the mint, basil, garlic and almonds; add to the small saucepan, along with the pine nuts. Use an immersion (stick) blender to puree into a loose, frothy sauce, adding more of the reduced broth, as needed. Taste, and season lightly with salt.
Add the reserved shrimp to the pesto sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently and frequently, just until the shrimp is just opaque and pink.
Pour the sauce and shrimp into the pot with the drained pasta, along with 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir, adding more of the remaining pasta cooking water as needed to keep the pasta saucy. Cook over low heat, just until the pasta is warmed through.
Transfer to a large warmed serving bowl. Garnish with more pine nuts, and an extra tomato and fresh basil leaf or two.
Adapted from "Adventures From an Italian Food Lover," by Faith Willinger (Crown, 2007).
Nutrition per serving: 290 calories; 3 g total fat; 0 g saturated fat; 120 mg cholesterol; 280 mg sodium; 42 g carbohydrates; 2 g dietary fiber; 2 g sugars; 23 g protein.