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.










Shrimp and Kale Over Kabocha Squash Purée

IMG_4733This post is long overdue. I made dish, took the photos, and polished it off for lunch, ohhhh, about month and a half ago. I wasn’t planning on procrastinating about posting it, but spring happened. You know, those glorious few weeks in between nasty late-winter bleakness and disgusting East Coast summer humidity, when it’s actually nice to do things outdoors? When that sort of weather finally rolls around, everything else takes a back seat to being outside and working in the garden. TV doesn’t get watched. Papers don’t get graded. Blogs don’t get updated. Also, it got so warm that I almost didn’t post this dish because it seemed too unseasonal, but the relentless chilly drizzle this week has taken care of that.

So, this was a creation thrown together out of laziness. It was a Sunday night, and I didn’t have anything to take for lunch on Monday. Being a teacher, this meant that I needed to pack my lunch. Because no, I just can’t bring myself to go purchase a school cafeteria meal. I kind of like having to bring a lunch to work every day since it does make it easier to be healthy, but it kind of blows when you really just wish you could go out somewhere and buy something if you don’t feel like cooking.

So, back to that Sunday night. I needed to make my lunch and I really didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. I found some raw shrimp in the freezer, had a whole kabocha squash hanging out in the pantry, and lucky me, there was a bunch of kale in the garden that I had accidentally over-wintered, and it was just waiting to be picked because it was going to seed. It was actually the same stuff I made the frittata with back in December; I never got around to pulling it out of the ground, and it just starting growing again earlier this spring.

I decided to make a one-dish meal and start with a purée from the kabocha, keep the kale pretty simple with onion and garlic, and go spicy with the shrimp to balance out sweetness from the squash. For a weekday lunch, this is ideal for me. I’m pretty happy if I can make something that will last for a few days, can hang out in the fridge without getting soggy or wilty, and won’t require any more prep / chopping / assembly in the morning or during my precious 30 minutes of lunch. And I maybe get a little OCD about putting individual servings in tupperwares. And using matching tupperwares.

Shrimp and Kale Over Kabocha Squash Purée

makes 3 servings

For the kabocha purée:

  • 1/2 medium kabocha squash (about 1 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. half-and-half
  • 2 Tbsp. chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • kosher salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Scoop the seeds out of the kabocha, cut into pieces, brush with the melted butter, and sprinkle with kosher salt.
  3. Bake until tender, 25-30 minutes. It’s done when you can pierce it easily with a fork.
  4. Let it rest until it’s cool enough to handle, and then scoop the flesh from the shell and purée it in a food processor with the half-and-half, broth, and smoked paprika until smooth. Season to taste.

For the kale:

  • 8 cups (about 8 oz.) kale—I used Red Russian
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced crosswise
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat,
  2. Add the onion and sauté 6-7 minutes, or until starting to brown.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté for another 6-7 minutes, until completely soft.
  4. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, another minute or so.
  5. Add the kale in handfuls, stirring between each one. Keep adding kale and stirring until it’s all wilted. Season to taste.

For the shrimp:

  • 12 oz. medium shrimp, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. chipotle chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  1. Pat the shrimp dry. Combine the salt and all of the spices, and rub it evenly over the shrimp.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the shrimp and sauté until just barely cooked through.
  3. Serve the shrimp over top of the kale and the squash purée. It tastes best all mixed together.