Pasta with Shrimp and Asian Pesto


Do you remember in elementary school when you were learning about Brazil and the Amazon Basin, and the most somber articles about them included a warning like “By the time you finish reading this paragraph, 100 acres of rainforest will have disappeared” ? Yeah, that was how I felt about spring this year. “By the time you finish reading this sentence, spring will have disappeared.” May was like an extra month of late winter, and June decided to make up for things by going Directly to Summer. Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200.


On the not-so-great side, it looks I’m just going to have to get over the fact that we hardly got any perfect patio days this year. Also, my peas matured at warp speed, and in between mutating from completely undeveloped pods to starchy balls of blandness, they had a ridiculously short window of being edible. On the plus side, the chilly rain at least made it more tolerable to sit inside and grade lots of final exams. Also, I didn’t have to water any of the spring vegetables, and the bok choi was beautiful for a good week or so before it bolted.


If you’re an amateur home gardener and want to avoid the same mistakes I made (until this year, when I finally got it right), here’s the best lesson I’ve taken away about spring vegetables: plant about a quarter of the lettuce you think you want, and fill up that space with greens that you can cook. Why? There’s not much you can do with a sh*t ton of lettuce besides eat a sh*t ton of salad. But an entire basket of (kale / spinach / Swiss chard / bok choi / insert heat-friendly greens here) will wilt down to nothing, and you’ll wish you had more. That $1, 1-lb. package of frozen spinach that I so casually toss into my shopping cart at the grocery store? That’s my whole row of spinach, at least.

So, what do you do with a wealth of greens? For bok choi, my hands-down favorite way to eat it is in this pasta. The Asian pesto recipe comes from Ming Tsai, who calls for serving it with grilled shrimp as an appetizer. I wanted to turn it into a main dish, so after many experiments with different types of vegetables, I found that sautéed bok choi, red onion, and bell pepper go best with it. Toss it with some pasta, and you don’t need any sides except a chilled glass of white wine.


Note: The Asian pesto is adapted, barely, from Ming Tsai’s recipe at Food Network.

Linguine with Shrimp and Asian Pesto

serves 4

  • 8 oz. dried linguine noodles
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. bok choy, leaves and stems separated
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup Asian pesto (recipe below)
  1. Get things going: Set a pot of generously salted water to boil. Heat the canola oil in a medium (10″) skillet over medium heat. Heat the olive oil in a large (12″) skillet over medium heat.
  2. Prep the veg: Coarsely chop the bok choy stems and leaves, still keeping them separated. Mince the garlic. Coarsely chop the onion and bell pepper.
  3. When the large skillet is warm, add the bok choy stems (not the leaves) and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Sauté until somewhat softened, about 5 minutes. While the bok choy stems are cooking, sauté the shrimp with some salt and pepper in the medium skillet until just barely cooked through; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Also, when the water starts boiling, add your linguine and set a timer.
  4. After the boy choy has softened a little, add the garlic and sauté until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the red onion and sauté for about 3 more minutes. Add the bell pepper and stir for another 2 minutes, until barely soft and still mostly crunchy. Add the boy choy leaves and cook until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. When the linguine is done, drain it and add it to the large skillet of vegetables. Also add the shrimp and pesto. Stir thoroughly, divide among 4 bowls, and serve.

Asian Pesto

  • 3/4 c. roasted, lightly salted peanuts
  • 2-4 serrano chiles
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. minced ginger
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1/2 c. peanut oil
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 c. moderately packed Thai basil
  • 1 c. moderately packed coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1 c. moderately packed mint leaves
  1. Start with 2 serranos and see how you feel. Combine the first 8 ingredients (peanuts through sugar) in a food processor. Add the herbs and process until smooth. Taste, and add salt or more chiles if desired.
  2. This stuff freezes great. I put it in old-school plastic ice cube trays, pop out the cubes after they’re solid, store them in a Ziploc, and enjoy it year-round.










Creamy Gnocchi with Braised Chicken and Winter Vegetables


After the holidays (or a vacation), do you ever eat so much heavy food (or junk) that you come home and just crave vegetables? I do. But come on, it’s so cold out there that I’m walking the dog in two pairs of pants, a scarf, and a knit hat on top of the hood of my hoodie, with my gloved hands shoved inside the fleeced-lined pockets of my down coat. I know that I can’t keep counting mashed potatoes and corn pudding as my only vegetables, but a cold romaine salad with mealy winter tomatoes and waxy cucumber slices isn’t going to cut it either.


No, when I crave vegetables in the winter, I want winter vegetables. I want something warm and hearty, not something that I feel like I should eat just because you’re supposed to eat vegetables. I can’t get excited about the same light and refreshing things that I would choose during the summer. And I want to look forward to my food, even if I am making a conscientious effort to include more veggies in it.


So, the pantry part of this dish came from some leftover butternut squash chunks and a bag of carrots, some frozen chicken thighs, an opened container of mascarpone that was mostly full, and some sage and parsley that had I picked before the frost finally killed it off. I rounded out the vegetables with mushrooms (because cooked mushrooms are delicious), parsnips (totally underrated and so good), and broccoli (mostly because I’m a big fan of broccoli but partly because I was motivated by a deeply-rooted and overwhelming conviction that Dinner Must Include Something Green (thanks, Mom)).


Sage in the garden on a foggy morning.

I used pre-packaged gnocchi since I’ve tried and failed several times before to make home-made gnocchi; the kind that comes in a vacuum-sealed package is way easier and quicker, and maybe I’m just not too picky about my gnocchi because I’m a sucker for anything that’s like a dumpling / pierogi / potsticker.  All of the vegetables are braised with the chicken thighs—it’s a bit of a pain with the timing because they cook at different rates, and you don’t want your broccoli to be mush while your carrots are raw, but hey!, at least it’s all cooked in one skillet—and tossed with the gnocchi in a lightly creamy pan sauce. It’s a one-dish meal that doesn’t need any sides, except maybe a glass of wine.


Note: You will need a 12″ skillet with a lid. This dish is best eaten the day it’s made; if you have leftovers, add an extra splash of chicken broth before you reheat them.  Also, my package of gnocchi claimed it was 3 servings, but with everything else that’s added in here, it easily serves 4.

Creamy Gnocchi with Braised Chicken and Winter Vegetables

serves 4

  • 8 oz. cremini / baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 generous cup of 1/2″- 3/4″ cubes of butternut squash (about 6 oz.)
  • 1 medium-large broccoli crown (about 6 oz.)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 smallish boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 lb.), trimmed of excess fat
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 c. chicken broth, divided
  • one 17.5-oz. package of gnocchi (I used De Cecco brand)
  • 1/4 c. half-and-half
  • 1/4 c. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • chopped fresh parsley for serving
  1. Prep all of the vegetables. You are going to add them to the pan at different times, so—except for the carrots and parsnips—keep them in separate bowls. Wash and stem the mushrooms, and pat them dry; quarter them if they are small and cut them into 6 or 8 pieces if they are large. Peel the carrots and parsnips and cut them on the diagonal into 1/3″ coins. Separate the broccoli crown into bite-site florets.
  2. Heat the butter and olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle it on both sides with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add the chicken and cook until browned on both sides, flipping once, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan, place on a plate, and tent with foil.
  3. Add chopped mushrooms to the pan and cook until they release their juices and the juices have mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes total.
  4. Add the garlic and sage and stir for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until fragrant, then pour in the wine and scrape up any brown bits. Boil for 1 minute.
  5. Return the chicken thighs and any accumulated juices to the pan, and also add the carrots, parsnips, and 1/4 cup of the chicken broth. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and braise for 5 minutes. After the carrots and parsnips have cooked for 5 minutes, add the butternut squash to the pan, stir, put the lid back on, and cook for 15 more minutes. Then add the broccoli, stir, put the lid back on, and cook for 5 additional minutes.
  6. While the  vegetables are braising, cook the gnocchi according to the package directions, drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, in a small measuring cup, combine the half-and-half with 3/4 cup of the chicken broth. In a different cup, whisk the flour into the remaining 1/2 cup of broth.
  7. After the broccoli has cooked for 5 minutes, remove the chicken, place it in your serving bowl, and shred it with 2 forks. Pour the half-and-half / broth mixture into the pan and also add the mascarpone cheese. Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir until smooth. When the liquid starts simmering, add the flour/broth mixture and stir until thickened. Add the whole thing to the serving bowl, dump in the gnocchi, and toss gently to coat everything evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately. Top each serving with a small handful of parsley.

Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Hot Peppers, Corn, and Queso Fresco over Creamy Polenta

You know when you have a recipe that calls for a whole pork tenderloin, and when you take it out of the package it has that one end that looks like it got attached the wrong way? I mean, how are you supposed to cook a whole pork tenderloin properly when it has that weird little chunk flapping off the end that’s going to cook way faster than everything else? Luckily, I find that most recipes call for a 1-pound tenderloin even though they almost always weigh more than that, so I usually chop off those little hammerhead ends and save them up until I have enough to make a meal.

As I was deciding what to do with my stash of pork scraps, I stumbled across some frozen corn that I had cut off the cob back in…August? September? It must have been before the Thai basil in the garden died because I had written “for salad” on the baggie, as in, I was intending to make this delicious summer corn and smoked trout salad with it and obviously never got around to that.

The corn was surprisingly un-freezer-burned and I figured that it was past time to use it, so I set out to make something adapted from Aria Kagan’s Chili-Lime Pork Tenderloin over Soft Polenta with Hungarian Wax Peppers and Corn. It calls for creamy polenta cooked with wax peppers, topped with a corn and wax pepper sauté and then sliced pork tenderloin. I omitted the peppers from the polenta and added a few more to the sautéed vegetables to make it spicier and prettier, but I otherwise left those parts largely unchanged.

Hungarian wax peppers, red jalepeños, and serrano.

I did the pork completely differently though: the original recipe calls for a whole tenderloin, marinated in lime juice and chilies; I’ve tried it before, but I wanted more heat and less sour. I ended using a dry rub on the pork pieces and then stir-frying them, which was easy and flavorful. It’s a spicy and satisfying one-dish meal for a cold night. 

Note: I really like spicy food. My Hungarian wax chilies were not super hot, so adding jalapeños and serranos to the mix gave it just enough heat for my taste. Adjust to your taste if your Hungarian wax peppers are plenty spicy or if you don’t like that much heat.

I have seen recipes that call for “queso fresco or feta” but this is not one of them! Feta tastes completely different from queso fresco and it doesn’t get melty like queso fresco. Go find yourself some queso fresco. 

Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Corn and Hot Peppers Over Creamy Polenta

serves 4

For the pork:

  • 1 Tbsp. regular chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • pinch of ground cayenne
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 T. olive oil
  1. Combine all of the spices.
  2. Pat the pork dry, and coat it all over with the spice mixture.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  4. Sauté the pork until cooked through. I chopped my pork pretty small and it only took about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and tent with foil while you prep the veggies and polenta.

For the corn and hot peppers:

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 Hungarian wax peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 red jalapeños, finely chopped
  • 1 serrano, finely chopped
  • kernels from 4 ears of fresh corn (or 3 c. of frozen kernels, thawed—but I’ve tried both and fresh is better)
  • 1/2 c. (2 oz.) queso fresco
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and all of the peppers; sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. (If you’re up for multi-tasking, now is a good time to start the polenta.)
  4. Add the corn and cook for another 3 minutes.
  5. Crumble the queso fresco over everything and cook for another minute.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the polenta and to finish:

  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 3 c. chicken broth (I used water and a couple of bouillon cubes and it was fine)
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cornmeal and broth.
  2. Turn the heat on medium and start whisking occasionally.
  3. When it starts bubbling, whisk constantly until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat and whisk in sour cream, butter, and salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, divide the polenta onto plates or bowls. Top with the corn and pepper mixture, and then the sautéd pork plus any accumulated juices.