Summer on the east coast is beautiful (minus the pesky mosquitoes) and FULL of bright produce so desperately missed during the winter. It’s nearly impossible to pass up a fresh bundle of herbs or an overflowing pint of berries at the farmer’s market. Last summer, I spent many a long, warm summer night lingering over delicious food with good friends. At one such gathering, I had the most incredible non-traditional pesto—I spent a majority of the evening spreading it on any and everything before just surrendering and eating it with a spoon. The ingredients (brazil nuts, mint, and basil) were perfect farmer’s market purchases thrown together with summer’s inspiration.
When I visited my family back in California, I was inspired to recreate this pesto for them, hoping to share a small piece of my magical night. Cue the disaster…… I obviously took several missteps in my recreation. Perhaps I missed a key ingredient, as I was relying solely on my palate’s memory. Regardless, immediately after adding my vibrant pesto to a big bowl of pasta, it underwent a color change. What was once my beautifully dazzeling pesto now resembled a muddy green mess. I somehow managed to convince my family that although it looked like moldy pasta, they were about to have their minds blown. Sadly, the pasta did indeed taste as strange as it looked. No idea what happened there, but you win some, you lose some. That’s the fun in cooking! Hopefully, my dear family has forgotten said incident and will continue to try my new creations. (Though, I will never forget my brother’s face as he skeptically took a bite).
Fresh authentic pesto is unbeatable in flavor and certainly needs no improvements. But as with most traditional recipes, pesto presents a wide range of opportunities to mix it up. This particular pesto recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis. I actually had flipped on the television one day to see her crafting the most interesting pesto, and immediately had to try it. I’m fairly certain it was meant to be—as a rare daytime TV watcher, this was the universe repaying me for my embarrassing pesto stunt. It is tangy, spicy, bright, and elicits that mind blowing experience! Trading the basil for arugula and spinach bumps up the nutrition immensely, always a plus in our book!
I am also glad to report that after many batches, this beautiful pesto has never failed to deliver……no moldy pasta dish results, so fear not! While pesto and pasta are always delicious, we also discovered, this pesto pairs beautifully with shrimp. Shrimp and pesto, jammed in a pita with the addition of fresh arugula and avocado to cool down the heat creates the most delicious creation I could literally eat every day for the rest of my life.
For the pesto:
We followed the original recipe with a reduction in the amount of salt and cheese added to allow the greens and heat to shine through more. Here is our slightly varied version:
Pesto Ingredients: (4-6 servings)
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 (2-inch long) red or green jalapeno pepper, stemmed and coarsely chopped* (remove all of the seeds or seeds from half to control the heat)
3/4 cups grated Asiago cheese
3/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces baby spinach
3 ounces arugula
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a food processor, combine the walnuts, garlic, jalapeno, cheese, salt and pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add the spinach and arugula and process until blended. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil.
Spicy Pita Pocket:
1 large whole-wheat pita cut in half
Raw deveined shelled shrimp, tails removed, enough for two servings (depends on size of shrimp)
1 Tbsp lemon-infused olive oil (or regular olive oil + lemon zest)
½ avocado, sliced or mashed
1 cup fresh arugula
2-3 Tbsp spicy pesto
Organize pita ingredients for quick assembly
Saute the shrimp in lemon infused olive oil over medium heat until pink and cooked through (about 3-6 minutes each side)
Build the pita by smearing the pesto inside the pita, adding shrimp, avocado, and arugula