What a wonderful mix of bold flavors and vibrant colors in Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad. Make your own homemade pesto…it will be well worth it.
When I moved to Oklahoma, one of the biggest challenges was lack of access to fresh seafood. On my return flight from my interview I sat next to a friend and, when I told him what I was doing in Oklahoma, his first words were “you know you can’t eat the seafood, right?!” I definitely refused to eat seafood for the first year, and then slowly tested out the frozen product at Sam’s Club. I began with shrimp and salmon, and still always have it on hand.
Bodean Seafood Market is one of the only places in Oklahoma where I will purchase fresh fish, because they fly it in twice daily. I don’t go often, so when I do I buy enough to eat seafood for a week. Some of my favorite seafood recipes are:
- Clams & Mussels with Garlic Butter Wine Sauce
- Open Faced Blackened Salmon Sandwich
- Beer Battered Fish Tacos
- Shrimp Fried Rice
I’m always on the lookout for new recipes; primarily for the blog, but also to expand my meal plan rotation. Two weeks ago was National Shrimp Day, and I also got a sample of North Shore Living Basil from my food blog conference the week before. This was the perfect opportunity to create Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad.
I would love to brag that I took this picture the first time I made Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad. Nope, not even close. My first attempt turned out pretty well, but I didn’t plate the dish properly for photos. I made Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad again a week later, and mixed everything together with the pesto before plating. Bad idea, as the blackening spice came off every piece of shrimp.
I had no more living basil by this point, but my basil plants were growing. I had recently bought shrimp at Bodean, and I was on a mission to get it right. So I made Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad again
Third time’s a charm, right?! First, I switched pasta to a short cut. I love Bucatini, and how well it holds sauces, but it just didn’t work with this Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad. I also went back to my original plan to only mix the pesto with the pasta. The final result was so much better. As usual I made too much pesto, so I dolloped the extra on top. Then again, is there really such thing as too much pesto?
BLACKENED SHRIMP PESTO PASTA SALAD INGREDIENTS
Short-cut pasta: I use the Lumaconi shape by World Market. I bought it a few months ago and it was hiding in the back of my pantry. So this was the perfect opportunity to try it out.
Pine Nuts: I use pine nuts primarily in pesto, but also as a topping for other dishes. I always toast the pine nuts first, to release the oils and bring out the nuttiness. You do have to watch the pine nuts though, because they will go from golden to burnt in a second. And they’re expensive, so you don’t want that to happen.
Red Pepper Flakes: I always have red pepper flakes in my pantry. They’re a quick and easy way to add extra spice to a dish. A little goes a long way, and I’ve learned that the hard way. I usually go light while I cook, and then add a little more at the end for a punch of fresh heat.
Avocado Oil: I recently discovered avocado oil when I got a sample at my food blog conference. It has a wonderful buttery, silky texture and a very high smoke point. In this dish I use it for the pesto, but I now use it often to saute and pan fry foods.
I love all of the ingredients in Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad, and how well they work together. I use thick-cut bacon; sure, you could use regular, but the thick cut has more bite and texture. I considered roasting the tomatoes, but for this dish I prefer the burst of raw tomatoes. The avocado adds a creamy texture that complements the pesto. I considered cooking the red onions, but I like the contrast in texture from the raw. I use large/jumbo shrimp, but the size is really your personal preference. You’ll just need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
I learned to make my own pesto a couple of years ago, and haven’t looked back since. My preference is to always use basil from my garden, but during the winter I buy it from the store. Pesto is so simple to make, and it adds an amazing and distinctive flavor, texture and color to dishes.
I’ll definitely keep Blackened Shrimp Pesto Pasta Salad high on my meal plan rotation while I have access to beautiful fresh basil. I wouldn’t recommend making this too far in advance, because the pesto and avocado will lose their vibrant color.
- 4 ounces short cut pasta
- 12 ounces large/jumbo shrimp, peeled & deveined I use 21-26 count
- 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
- 14 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup red onion, diced
- 4 slices thick cut bacon
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
- 1/2 cup avocado oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
- 2 Tablespoons pine nuts
- 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves roasted garlic (can substitute raw)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
- lemon zest (to taste)
Cook pasta according to box directions
Toast pine nuts in large, dry skillet until golden brown, tossing occasionally. Watch carefully! Will take a few minutes to get brown, but will go from golden to burnt very fast. Remove and set aside
In same skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until desired level of done. Drain on paper towels, cut into bite-sized pieces
Mix flour, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper for blackening mix
Season shrimp with salt & pepper. Drizzle with avocado oil or canola oil. Dredge shrimp in blackening mix
In same skillet you cooked bacon, add shrimp and cook until done. The cooking time will depend on the size of the shrimp. Don't overcook, or the shrimp will be rubbery. Remove shrimp as soon as they are done, and drain on paper towels
Add pine nuts, basil, parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and garlic to food processor. Blend for about 15 seconds to chop up basil. Add oil slowly, until pesto has consistency of a thin paste. For a thinner consistency, add more oil
Combine pesto with pasta, and portion into bowls. Top with bacon, avocado, tomatoes, red onion, and shrimp. Finish with lemon zest. Enjoy!
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