Pesto is a wonderfully fresh, bright sauce that is easy to make and stores well for future use.
It qualifies as a “Saucy Two-Step” recipe because I make it in large batches during a weekend cooking project and freeze dinner-sized portions for busy nights. Then it’s a matter of simply tossing it with pasta or fanci-fying it with veggies or meats, as with pesto-shrimp cavatappi.
On the other hand, you can also use a dollop of pesto as a condiment for meat or fish, or as a salad dressing.
Phil and I planted our first garden this year. We really didn’t know what we were doing, but we planted lots of cool stuff in it and waited to see what happened.
Among the vegetables, flowers, and herbs, was a large amount of sweet basil, which exploded into a gargantuan hedge. I finally cut down most of the hulking basil monster last weekend, which triggered the beginning of a pesto-making extravaganza.
And here we are.
Although I used basil to make pesto-shrimp cavatappi in this instance, you can make your pesto with parsley, spinach, arugula, or even cilantro. The basic recipe involves the herb or green of your choice, garlic, toasted nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cheese. You can jazz it up with pepper flakes if that floats your boat, or add fresh tomatoes—almost anything goes.
From this particular adventure, I ended up with a LOT of pesto. So my family and I enjoyed it in pesto-shrimp cavatappi for dinner, and then I portioned the remainder out into small freezer bags and popped the lot into the freezer.
When I am suffering from (self-diagnosed) seasonal affective disorder in the dead of winter, being able to pull some of this vibrant sauce out of the freezer is a breath of fresh air, and a reminder that winter isn’t forever.
Pesto thaws very quickly (all you have to do is run warm water over the bottom part of the freezer bag for a few minutes), so a quick dinner can just be a matter of boiling pasta and tossing it with the sauce.
Without further ado, here’s one of my favorite pesto recipes, along with my family’s favorite riff, Pesto-Shrimp Cavatappi.
- For the pesto
- 4 cups fresh basil or parsley - or a mixture!, packed
- 3 cloves garlic - peeled and smashed
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 pinch pepper flakes - optional
- 1 cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil
- plus 1/4 cup more - keep divided
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
- salt and pepper
- For the Shrimp and Cavatappi
- 1 lb. tube pasta such as cavatappi - penne, ziti, etc.
- 3/4 cups of pesto
- 1 lb. medium shrimp - peeled, deveined, and cleaned
- 1 tbsp. butter
- pinch pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- salt and pepper
- grated parmesan cheese - for serving
- For the Pesto;
- Place the basil and/or parsley, garlic, pine nuts, and pepper flakes (if using) in a food processor; pulse a few times to chop. Process the mixture while drizzling in the cup of olive oil; continue processing until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- FOR FREEZING: divide the pesto into dinner-sized portions, place in freezer bags, and top with olive oil to cover. Roll the bags carefully to squeeze out as much air as possible. I like to put the small freezer bags into a large, labeled freezer bag. When you thaw out a portion (running hot water over the bottom of the bag is enough!), mix the contents of the bag and stir in some grated pecorino.
- FOR IMMEDIATE USE: add in the remaining oil and stir in the cheese. Toss with your favorite pasta.
- For the Pesto-Shrimp Cavatappi
- Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, dry the shrimp well with paper towels. Season both sides with the paprika, 1/4 tsp. of salt and 1/8 tsp. of pepper (or to taste). Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted and begins to foam add the shrimp, spacing them evenly in the pan. Watch for the shrimp to begin curling up, about 1 minute. Flip the shrimp and turn off the burner, allowing the shrimp to finish cooking in the residual heat. The tails should be pink and the flesh opaque and slightly white (bright white is overcooked!). If you grab a fully cooked shrimp by the tail, dangle it downward, and push down on the curled-up head-end of the shrimp, it should spring right back into its curly shape.
- Drain the pasta well and toss it with the pesto. Serve topped with the shrimp and grated Parmesan cheese.