Cook’s Recipe: Lemon & Basil Pasta Salad with Grilled Shrimp

Bertram Grimm sighed softly as he walked through the garden. This was always Andrea’s specialty. He hadn’t known it at the time, but now he could see that her penchant for cultivating such a diverse array of flora may have been partially due to latent magic. That didn’t matter now, and despite all of his attempts, he’d only been successful at keeping a few select herbs alive long enough for them to bear results.

He frowned for a moment at the basil plant, which had taken over much of the space, uncertain what to do. Taking out his pocket watch, he noted the time, then being sure no one could see over the fence, muttered a small incantation and pointed at the plant. Invisible tendrils of force swept over the plant and several basil leaves were snipped and as if carried on a soft breeze, landed gently in a bowl beside the planter.

Grimm laughed a bit as he retrieved bowl to go back inside. He always did when he risked crafting a universal paradox all to complete a mundane task. It didn’t matter the danger, the magic always made him feel closer to his beloved. Checking his watch once more he stepped back into the kitchen now sure of his intentions. Tonight called for something light, a pasta salad perhaps. Andrea would have liked that.

The summer season is upon us once more. Around this time last year, I looked out at the bounty of basil in my mother’s garden and crafted what has quickly become a favorite drink of mine – basil lemonade.  The delicious herb is back in bloom and once again I find myself with a surplus.

Rather than make another beverage, I decided on crafting a dish that would highlight the basil rather than relegating it to the rank of garnish. The result is a summer pasta salad with grilled shrimp dressed in a light lemon and bail vinaigrette.

In order to bring the basil to the forefront I infused it into the olive oil that was used to emulsify the vinaigrette. Thing makes the basil less of an aromatic and more of a up-front flavor. The result is a really versatile dish that could be made with a number of proteins and other ingredients. I used orzo, a small pasta that resembles rice, but other grains or more traditional salad greens could easily be substituted.

Lemon and Basil Pasta Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Serves 2-3 (main dish)
Serves 6-8 (side dish)

Ingredients:

1 lb of Orzo pasta
1 lb of shrimp
1/2 cup of fresh basil
1 tsp of Dijon mustard
1 tsp of honey
1 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1 tsp Pecorino cheese
1/4 cup white wine
3 Cubanelle peppers (or other variety), chopped
1/2 red large red onion (or 1 whole medium), chopped
Salt and pepper

Directions:

To infuse the olive oil, place it in a small sauce pot over low heat. Tear half of the basil into pieces and drop them into the oil. Crush and add in a few pieces of garlic as well, if you’d like.

Heat the oil until it ripples. The process should be slow, you don’t want to burn the oil, but rather raise the temperature gradually and allow the basil flavor to seep into it. Once the basil begins to lose it’s color, and the oil takes on a darker tone, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely. Strain and save the oil for later.

Next, prep the shrimp as needed. For raw shrimp, peel and de-vein. For pre-cooked or frozen shrimp, allow it to thaw. Cook on a hot grill for about a minute per side if raw, 30 seconds if pre-cooked. Remove them if they begin to curl and shrink, this is a sign that they are losing moisture and becoming tough.

While the shrimp cool, saute the onion and peppers over medium heat. Add in the white wine and continue to cook until the vegetables soften a bit, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Boil water and cook the orzo till al dente. Strain and dress with a bit of butter and olive oil.

While the ingredients are cooling, it is time to prep the vinaigrette. Combine the mustard, honey, cheese, and lemon juice in a bowl, along with a pinch of salt. Then, slowly drizzle the infused olive oil into the mixture, while whisking. This will create an emulsion, and hold everything together. Just use as much olive oil as you need to thicken and bring together the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and pour the vinaigrette over the whole dish. Toss to combine, and serve either cold or near room temperature. Depending on the size of your shrimp, you may cut them in half prior to combining everything, in order to have a more uniform dish.

This works great as a side dish or as a main course.