My Father is Italian, and extremely particular about what he eats outside of his home kitchen. Because of this, when he and my Mother eat out, it is almost always at an Italian restaurant. Inevitably my Father will conclude that the food is no where near as good as my Mother’s cooking, and that they should eat out less. In all honesty, he is usually right, but knowing a cook’s desire for the occasional night off, I try to discourage the idea.
When they travel out to San Diego to visit my brother, there is usually no other choice but to find the best Italian place close by. After one trip in particular, my Mother came home determined to recreate a meal she had enjoyed during one of their nights out. At the restaurant, the dish was a simple sauté of pasta, shrimp and roasted tomatoes. Once home, my Mother elevated it by adding layers of fresh herbs, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and citrus zest. She also substituted whole wheat spaghetti for the white pasta, which gave it an earthy depth of flavor.
This has since become one of her signature preparations, and because the acorn never falls very far from the tree, I have since explored ways to further evolve the recipe.
Finding fresh, wild shrimp in Washington D.C. can be difficult and I am much more likely to subsitute more vegetables in a dish, then buy seafood that is farm-raised. In this particular recipe, roasted mushrooms are such a natural shoe-in because their nuttyness matches so well with the whole grain pasta, Parmigiano and pine nuts. The basil pesto and natural juices from the roasted tomatoes create an addictive sauce that thinly coats the strands of pasta. Adding a salad of peppery arugula to the top adds good contrast in texture and just the right bite of leafy bitterness. You will find that between all the layers of flavors and textures in this pasta, the shrimp will not be missed.
½ box whole wheat spaghetti
1 C of basil pesto
2 pints of cherry tomatoes
1 lb shitake or portabella mushrooms, stalks removed and roughly chopped
4 shallots, peeled and sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
½ C pine nuts, toasted
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 C baby arugula
small wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Lay tomatoes on one and mushrooms on the other. Drizzle each with enough olive oil just to coat. Roast both pans for about 20 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to caramelize and the mushrooms start to brown. Season both with salt and pepper. Set the mushrooms aside. Add the shallots and garlic to the tomatoes and continue to roast for an additional 5 minutes.
Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 Tbsp of salt to the water then drop in the spaghetti. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente. Reserve ½ C of the pasta water then strain the pasta into a colander. Immediately add the hot pasta back to the empty pot and toss in the pesto, roasted vegetables, pine nuts, reserved cooking water, lemon juice and zest. Toss the mixture together and season appropriately with salt and pepper.
Toss the arugula with the balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Using a vegetable peeler, shave several thin strips of Parmigiano off the wedge and toss into the salad. Portion the pasta into individual bowls, or one large serving vessel, and top with a generous mound of the arugula salad.