If you're looking for a fresh, healthy pasta dish with just the right amount of spice, this is going to become your new jam. Pesto sauces are absolutely delicious, but they often contain tons of oil. This asparagus pesto pasta contains just enough extra-virgin olive oil for lubrication, but it's nowhere near as oily as some other versions.
The base of the pesto is cooked asparagus, which, when mixed with Greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, and just a bit of olive oil, makes a sauce that's just creamy enough. You can add pine nuts if you like, but the sauce doesn't need them.
To top off the pasta, some easy Cajun shrimp are absolutely perfect. Up the spice factor if you like; a touch more cayenne pepper never hurt anyone. Just be sure you opt for sustainably raised shrimp; keep an eye on Seafood Watch to choose something delicious and eco-conscious.
Asparagus Pesto Pasta with Cajun Shrimp Recipe
for the pasta:
7 ounces whole wheat or gluten-free penne
1 bunch asparagus
1 bunch basil
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper
for the shrimp:
10 jumbo shrimp
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, prepare the asparagus pesto. Trim the woody ends from the asparagus, and remove the tips. Set the tips aside, and chop the rest of the asparagus.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and add the asparagus. Blanch for 5 minutes, then drain and shock in ice water. Blanch the asparagus tips for 3 minutes, shock in cold water, and set aside.
Place the asparagus, yogurt, lemon juice, cheese, and garlic in a food processor. Process until very smooth. Leave the sauce in the food processor while you prepare the rest of the dish.
While the pasta is cooling, combine all of the spices for the shrimp. Heat a drizzle of cooking oil over very high heat. Dredge the shrimp in the spices, and add them to the skillet. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side, until lightly browned.
Add the basil to the food processor, and process with the rest of the pesto sauce until just combined -- it is important not to over-process the basil, or you risk oxidizing it. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with the sauce, and thin it out as needed with the cooking water. Top with the shrimp and the reserved asparagus tips, and serve.
Images: Emily Monaco