My daughter and her family come to stay with us here in Umbria for three weeks every summer and I love sharing our Italian experience with my grandkids, and know that my daughter who spent her high school years here, also wants her children to know and embrace their Italian heritage. This year during their stay, we made a pilgrimage down to Calabria to San Giovanni in Fiore where my Father-In-Law was born, then headed to the beaches of Calabria to relax along the shore and enjoy the seafood.
My grandkids, compared to most American children, would probably be considered as fairly adventurous eaters, and I love seeing them experience and fall in love with new foods. My youngest grandson could even be described as a little reckless with his dining choices as I remember a recent trip to Venice when he ate all of my discarded shrimp tails (shells only) and rubbery sea snails, then tried to order them the next day for lunch.
He was quite surprised that they didn’t offer shrimp tails on the menu, and in fact you had to order the entire shrimp (which he didn’t want)! This same child, who is now just five years old, couldn’t get enough mussels on our trip to Calabbria, cleaned and ate a whole grilled fish like his Nonno, and had us running from restaurant to restaurant looking at menus because he was craving octopus.
My granddaughter, our only girl, and the sweetest, nicest girl ever, has always had an adventurous palete, and from the time she was a little girl was willing to try anything. She loves to take hummus to school for lunch, begged me to make her fried zucchini flowers (then ate at least a dozen), and her favorite pizza is a meat lovers pizza topped with lots of anchovies. That alone should tell you something about her tastes!
My eldest grandson though is more like his father, and moves more slowly when trying new foods. This year he did fall in love with Italian tomatoes, and when we were in Calabria he embraced our love of seafood with a vengeance, ordering it every meal he could.
I am not sure he loved every dish he ordered, but one dish he truly did fall in love with at a small trattoria in Tropea was a pasta dish made with pesto and fresh shrimp. When he asked if I could make this dish for him when we returned to Umbria, I was very happy to do so.
Most folks think that a pesto sauce must be made of basil, along with a little garlic, some toasted pine nuts, olive oil and grated cheese. Pesto can be made with many other options however, and for this pesto I combined both parsley and basil in my sauce.
The great thing about making pesto is that you can vary the flavor combinations depending on what is available and what flavors you prefer. This summer in fact, I have fallen in love with pesto made from celery leaves and lightly toasted almonds with just a little hot red pepper and lemon zest.
Herbs such as parsley, basil, celery leaves, coriander and mint work well in a pesto sauce, and you can also use arugula, spinach, or even broccoli to create a tasty sauce. If pine nuts are too expensive, instead throw in some pistachios, almonds or walnuts. Want to change up the flavor even more? Include some lemon zest or juice, or a dash of red pepper flakes.
For this sauce, because I was adding shrimp into the final dish, I did add lemon juice to brighten and lighten the sauce but skipped the addition of cheese as cheese and seafood are rarely a good combination. Here in Italy, shrimp are usually served with their tails intact which is how I prepared mine, but if you prefer, feel free to remove yours.
I used an artisan fusilli as shown in the photos, but I’d recommend any short pasta such as fusilli or penne, or even spaghetti for this dish. Use just enough of the sauce to lightly coat the pasta, as you do not want to use a heavy hand with this dish.
You probably will have extra pesto sauce left over from this recipe, and you can freeze it, or use it to flavor a tomato sauce. My grandson Gabe was very happy with my version of this pasta dish so I decided to share the recipe.
- 1 1/2 Cups Fresh Parsley Leaves
- 1 1/2 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves
- 2 Cloves Garlic, Peeled
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 Cup Lightly Toasted Pine Nuts
- Salt and Pepper to Taste
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3/4 Pound Shrimp, Cleaned
- 1 Pound Pasta of Choice
- Place the parsley, basil, garlic, lemon juice, pine nuts, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until well blended.
- Slowly pour in the olive oil while pulsing until you have a fairly smooth consistency.
- Heat a large pot of lightly salted water to boil, then cook the pasta until it is "al dente".
- While the pasta is cooking, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, season the shrimp with salt and pepper, then cook the shrimp over medium heat until cooked through and pink, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Drain the pasta, reserving a small cup of pasta water, the return the pasta to the pot with the shrimp.
- Place the pasta pot on the stove over medium high heat, and add a scoop of the pesto sauce, tossing the pasta until it is well coated.
- If the sauce seems dry, loosen it with a little of the pasta water.
- Continue to toss the pasta with the shrimp and sauce for another minute or two until it is piping hot, then serve in individual bowls.