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.