Tag Archives: basil

Pesto with Walnuts with Chicken & Spaghetti And The Beauty of Pesto (serves 6)

When I was making pesto last night and putting the basil leaves into my food processor, I started to think about the fact that I was excited about leaves, an ingredient if you didn’t know about and asked what was for dinner, and were told it would be “something with a bunch of mashed leaves in it!”, it wouldn’t make you run to the table with a knife and fork in each hand in anticipation.

Pesto with Chicken and spaghetti

One thing to serve with pesto

In fact, if you have never eaten pesto, or seen pesto (don’t laugh – I never ate or knew what “pesto” was growing up in Ireland) it might even look a little hmmm…how shall I put this delicately, a little like pukey green sludge! I know that I am not exaggerating when I say that not everyone has heard of pesto because when I was in the supermarket (in the United States) yesterday combing the vegetable section for pine nuts before finally asking the guy piling the oranges in a giant pyramid where it could be located, he said, ‘What are pine nuts?”

Thyme & Basil freshly snipped from my garden

Thyme & Basil where the key green last night

When I finally discovered pesto, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff and the color that looked like greeny mush to me one day transformed to the color of liquid glistening emeralds the next! It is Italian (of course) and the word comes from the Italian to pound (broadly speaking) which makes perfect sense, as the leaves are indeed pounded to crush them which releases their gorgeous taste. It is hard to believe that a small little basil leaf can pack such a flavorful punch.

Bowl of Lemon Basil - complete heaven.

Bowl of Pesto  – complete heaven

Anyway – back to the pine nuts which are traditionally used in the pesto. They were eventually located by a manager and as I thanked her and threw them into my basket I noticed that this tiny plastic container of pine cost $9 – that was more than the chicken! Wait a minute! I just couldn’t fork over the money for them. All I could think of was how I could possibly feed 6 people a dinner for the same price. It was extravagant enough for me to be buying basil that is out of season here (I grow as much of it as I can in the summer) and so I put the pine nuts back ( a little embarrassing after all the hoopla about finding them, but how and ever) and opted to use the walnuts that I knew were sitting in my fridge (and cost half the price for twice as much).

My Lemon Basil!

The walnuts worked absolutely great and I would bet even the pesto purists of the world would not know the difference. The pine nuts are oily, so are the walnuts, so they did the same job.

Sweetness (Had to add some fresh basil pesto to guild the lily!)

Pesto on a sandwich

Pesto is great on almost anything, from this pasta dish, to sandwiches, to plain old pesto on toast. Try it on most any food within reason and it is delicious. I made my daughter a pesto frittata for breakfast this morning and it was heaven.

Bravo Pesto!

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*This is a Blood Type A Friendly Recipe. If you are very strict do not use black pepper. The cheese is not so bad but do not use if you want to be ultra-pure*

For the chicken:

2 tbs olive oil

4 good-sized chicken breasts

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

2 or 3 springs fresh thyme (optional)

For the Pesto:

5 cups packed basil leaves

3/4 cup broken walnuts (or 1/2 cup pine nuts)

3 cloves garlic (2 if they are big)

1/3 extra-virgin olive oil, (more if needed)

sea-salt to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (optional) 

*I use Parmigiano cheese if I have it but if I don’t, this pesto is super fine without. Also one of my kids is not fond of the taste so I leave it out and just have cheese on the table to add later*

And to complete this dish:

1 lb spaghetti (I use Barilla brand)

Method:

1 – Season chicken with salt and pepper. Put saute pan on high heat and when it is hot add the oil. Wait until it is hot and then place the chicken breast in a single layer in the pan. Sear on that side until brown.

Chicken for Calzones

Sauté Chicken (it will accumulate it’s own juices)

2 – Turn chicken over and continue to sear on high heat for about 1 minutes. Turn heat down to low and add the thyme (if using), and cover with a lid. Cook gently for  between 12-15 minutes. Check to make sure they are cooked, then turn heat off and leave to rest for about 10 minutes with lid on. Remove chicken and slice and return to pan.

Make Pesto:

Place he basil in a food processor and add the rest of the ingredients on top (except the salt). Blend until smooth. Taste for addition of salt and add a little at a time until you are satisfied. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

walnut pesto

walnut pesto

*At this point the pesto can be used for any dish (not just for this one!)*

The tid-bit that saved us

 Pesto on toast is  great breakfast or snack!

Continue with the dish:

Put water on for spaghetti and cook according to instructions.

cook spaghetti..

cook spaghetti..

While spaghetti is cooking, take the chicken from the pan (keep the pan and broth) and slice. cover with foil to keep warm.

When spaghetti is cooked, scoop out about 1/3 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Do not rinse pasta but transfer directly into the pan with the chicken broth. Mix up a little and then add 1/2 of the pesto to the pan and mix gently until incorporated. If the pasta seems thick, loosen up with a little pasta water until you are happy with the consistency. Taste and add salt to your liking (or not).

One thing to serve with pesto

One thing to serve with pesto

Divide pasta between warm plates and add some slices of chicken and another  dollop of pesto and serve.

Cheaters Style Sausage with Red Sauce and Spaghetti (serves 4-6)

OK – I admit to cheating sometimes. I think cheating is fine when you have a good reason? Last night was one of those nights; I cheated!

Cheaters Sausage and Red Sauce with Spaghetti (fastest dish ever)

Before you go getting any ideas, it is clear that I am talking about red sauce, right? 

Yes, I am guilty of always having a back-up jar of plain old marinara sauce to use in a pinch. Yes, I love making my own, and I do make it 95% of the time, but I hate to be backed into a corner when time is short, and I have a family to feed on the double!

The beauty of this dinner is that it is ready in 20 minutes, start to finish. The thing that saves it from being hum-drum is the addition of fresh herbs, although it would certainly raise no complaints if you didn’t have any on hand.

I make dinners like this when getting food on the table is more important than me lolly-gagging at my leisure in the kitchen.

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You will need: 4 mild Italian sausages, out of casing and pulled into bite-sized pieces, 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 sweet or red onion, small dice, 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 tsp freshly chopped rosemary leaves, 6 fresh basil leaves, salt to taste, freshly cracked pepper, 1 lb spaghetti pasta 9 I used Barilla brand), 1/2 – 1 cup warm pasta cooking water (you will have this when you boil the noodles).

1 – Put big pot of water on for pasta and when it comes to a boil cook noodles according to instructions. Before draining into colander, scoop out 1 cup of pasta water to use later in the finished sauce.

2 – While pasta is cooking, do the following; Put saute pan on medium heat and add oil. When it has warmed, add the diced onions, garlic and sausage pieces. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the chopped rosemary and several grinds of black pepper.

 

cook sausage on pan with garlic and onions

3 – Continue to cook for another 10 minutes, in which time the sausage will start to brown nicely.

Let the meat get nice and brown

4 – Add the tomato sauce (bought or homemade) and cream, and give everything a stir to incorporate. When it is warm, stir in the basil leaves.

add sauce, cream & basil

5 – When pasta is cooked, add up to 1 cup of pasta water to sauce to thin it out. Divide drained pasta between warmed bowls and top with generous portion of red sauce. you can also toss the pasta directly into the sauce and let everyone help themselves.

Very Simple Shrimp Curry (serves 4)

This was such a simple dinner, but got rave reviews from the family. Sometimes I wonder why I go to such lengths over dinner, and then make a dinner last night that had barely any ingredients and was ready in a flash and I am hailed a supermom!

I had spent way too long in the hot steamy garden yesterday weeding, bent in a posture that my lower back didn’t appreciate. When I finally dragged myself into the house I though I would have to spend the rest of the day lying in a tub of epsom salts recovering. Alas, the dream of being left alone to soak undisturbed, would have to be deferred for another couple of years. There were mouths to feed, and that was my job.

Simple, clean taste on a beautiful plate, by potter, Michael Klein!

After I got situated in the kitchen and starting to think about what I could do with an onion, 1 zucchini and a bag of frozen shrimp my lower back pain fading into the distance, and I perked up. The challenge was on! I came up with the simplest solution and made a curry. The lovely saffron color of the sauce, dotted with pink shrimp, and vibrantly green basil from my garden made me wish I had only 5 or less ingredients to choose from each evening when deciding on what to make for dinner.

I was so pleased at how great this tasted, and how each bowl came back to the kitchen licked clean. Make this if you are short on time, energy and ingredients, and want a big reward for little effort!

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You will Need : 1 lb shrimp, shelled & deveined (use thew 31-40 count size per lb), 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 zucchini, thickly sliced & cubed, 1 med/lrg sweet onion, large dice, 12 fresh basil leaves, 1 mild pepper, sliced, 1 tbs mild curry powder (or 2 tsp if it’s on the hot side), 2 tbs all-purpose flour, 2 cups chicken or veggies stock & 2 cups water (or, 1 good quality chicken or veggie bouillon cube & 4 cups water), 2 cups raw basmati rice (for stove-top method), or, 3 cups rice when using rice-cooker and rice-cooker measuring cup.

*Put rice on to cook first thing and keep warm until curry is ready (should be ready around the same time).

1 – Put pot (3 or 4 qt) on medium heat on stove-top and add oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Add the cubed zucchini and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. You may need to adjust your heat (turn it down) as you go.

saute the veggies

2 – Add the curry powder to the pot and stir it into the onions and zucchini. Next add the flour and do the same. Pour 1 cup of broth (or water) into the pot and stir until the flour and curry powder have been incorporated. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and the remainder of the broth/water. If using a bouillon cube, add it now (I usually crumble or break it into the liquid). Bring liquid to a simmer.

add the curry powder, flour, then liquid

3 – Cover and simmer at very low heat for about 8 minutes. Take lid off and add the prepared shrimp. Cover and simmer for about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the basil leaves. Let curry sit for 5 minutes before removing lid (to let flavors meld). Taste sauce and adjust seasoning according to your taste if necessary.

Very Simple Shrimp Curry

Serve over basmati rice

Pizza Margherita (makes 4 Individual pizzas)

Being the curious cook that I am, I cannot make something called Pizza Margherita and not know why Margherita got the honor of having my most favorite pizza named after her? Why not me? Well, it turns out that I would have had to be the queen visiting Naples in the late 1800’s, where I was duly served a pizza representing the Italian flag of Tomatoes (red), mozzarella, (white) and basil (green)! Makes perfect sense, and I am so glad that the Italians were patriotic enough to come up with this fantastic combination of flavors; Viva Italia!

the best seasonal tomatoes from Good Work Farm!

Despite the fact that I am not Italian, and, have no business making pizza (again!), but, when I got these tomatoes from my local farmers this week, I had to try my hand at making this famous pizza. I knew it could not touch anything served in Naples, but I can say that something made at home with love and determination tastes better than any delivery or store-bought pizza from around here! I did, after all, have fresh locally grown tomatoes, and, basil from my garden to help me along.

My attempt at Pizza Margherita

I love everything about pizza; the bread, gooey cheese, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. It tastes comforting (bread and cheese), and highly evolved (basil and olive oil), all at the same time. Washed  down with a glass of good red wine, and you have one of the meals I might request if I had to request my last meal!

The pizza dough I make is extremely simple and is so easy to remember; basically 4 cups of flour to 1 of each of the other ingredients (salt, 1 packet of yeast, and starting off with 1 cup of water). In a pinch, you could buy the dough from the supermarket. My friend Kathleen swears by the basic white bread dough from her local grocery store, and I must say, she makes a killer pizza!

It was a hot evening, but heating the oven up to 500* was worth it. My Pizza Margherita tasting pretty great, and I felt like the queen of my castle when I served it to myself. The glass of wine I served myself along with it didn’t hurt either!

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You will need: 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 packet of yeast, 1 (plus more if needed) cup warm water, 16 basil leaves, 3 beautiful red tomatoes, sliced, 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced or pulled into bite-sized pieces,  extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling.

*Place your pizza stone in oven and Preheat to 500* 1 hour prior to baking pizza.

1 – Put the flour and salt into a big bowl and mix with a whisk. Make a well in the center.

2 – Mix the yeast with a few tablespoons of water in a cup and let it sit until it foams a little (about 5 minutes). Add this to your warm water (use a glass jug) and stir. Pour the water and yeast mixture into you flour and mix with a wooden spoon. Add more water if necessary. The aim is to form it into 1 dough ball.

3 – Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball and put into a bowl and cover with a damp cloth for a couple of hours. You could do this in the morning (doesn’t take long) and leave it in the fridge. Take it out about a 1/2 hour before you want to shape the pizza.

roll or stretch out dough ball

4 – Divide the dough into 4 pieces and form into discs. Flatten each one on a floured surface to about 7 or 8″ with your rolling-pin, or with your hands if you feel confident. The edge should be a little thicker than the middle.

Lay toppings on dough

5 – Put the dough onto your pizza paddle and add the sliced tomatoes, followed by the basil and then the cheese. I like to tuck the basil under the cheese to prevent it from burning up in the oven. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and slide from paddle onto your pizza stone. Start checking after 8 minutes. Mine were all cooked in about 8 to 9 minutes.

*While the pizza is in the oven, form the next pizza (do not put the topping on until your paddle is free).

Ready in 8 minutes or so.

Take out of oven, (I used the paddle and tongs to pull the pizza onto it), drizzle with a little more oil, and serve immediately.

Baked Summer Pasta (serves 6)

Having to come up with a zillion ways to use the bounty of zucchini and squash at this time of year has given me a new appreciation of what people had to go through to preserve every last precious vegetable when they hadn’t the luxury of fridges, freezers and indeed supermarkets!  I have seen gardens where vegetables are rotting because the household cannot eat the amount of vegetables being produced. I can think of a few reasons why this happens; either they run out of ideas of what to do with their 20th squash or 40th tomato, don’t have the time to harvest and cook,  got swept away at the nursery or farmers market buying all sorts of plants on a whim rather than planning their garden, or, it doesn’t bother them because they just grew them for fun, not really caring about eating them or not.  This last reason has come about because we have been spoiled and there is no real guilt about throwing away food. I know countless people who, when they say they are going to clean their refrigerators really mean they are going to throw away food that they never got around to cooking, or, let the leftovers spoil!

another sumptuous dinner provided by local gardens and farms!

I am no saint, but wasting good food makes me feel completely irresponsible and fills me with guilt, as it should. Preserving things like food for future use is not on most people’s minds these days. After all, you can buy a tomato in the middle of winter (albeit a badly engineered one!), so why bother?

When you plant a garden, or get swept away by the choices at the Farmer’s market in the height of the growing season, the very least you can do is cook the thing. I am done listening to complaining children say “but we had green beans yesterday!” Kids need to be taught that food may be plentiful here in this country, but it should be treated with respect and cared for, not thrown away without a thought.

I never went hungry as a child but my parents taught me the value of food. Nothing was wasted and it is a lesson I thank them for daily. I try my very best to cook everything that I grow, I buy, or am given. I change leftovers into different dishes by adding something to it, or cooking it in a different way (ever fried leftover pasta and topped it with an egg for lunch!).

With that thought in mind, I felt challenged by the jumbo zucchini from my friend’s garden, and my relentless basil plants. I also had 3 or 4 tomatoes that I needed to use. The days are exceedingly hot (don’t get me started about the weather!) and I knew they wouldn’t last long. I never store tomatoes in the fridge, it does something awful to the flavor and texture. I came up with a great 1 dish meal that used all of them together beautifully. I based it in on the multitude of layered pasta dishes out there, and I was super happy with the results.

If you have some veggies you don’t know what to do with, before you throw them out, make this dish, or follow the general principles, and make up your own version. No one will be disappointed!


Hmmm…….now what do I make with 6 cucumbers?

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You will need: 1 lb  sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces, 1 jumbo zucchini (or two normal-sized zucchini). sliced into thick coins, 3 tbs olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped, 20 basil leaves, 4 medium tomatoes, (great quality, if possible), sliced whole, 1 lb white cheese, grated (can be a strong or mild cheddar or a soft cow’s milk cheese like Farmer or Monterey jack), 1lb penne pasta ( I used a mini ridged pasta by Barilla), coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Preheat oven 350*

*Put a big pot (4 qt) filled with cold water on to boil for the pasta and cook according to instructions. Drain and rinse pasta in colander with plenty of cold water. Leave in colander and set aside until ready to assemble dish.

Fry zucchini coins

1 – Put saute pan on medium/high heat and add oil. Sprinkle zucchini with a little salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add the zucchini in a single layer and fry until starting to brown (a minute or so per side). Turn and repeat. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

fry garlic and sausages

2 – Turn heat down and add sausages to pan. Fry for 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Assemble your dish.

3 – Lay a single layer of zucchini in the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish. This should use up all of your zucchini. Next add 1/2 of the cooked penne, followed by 1/2 of the basil leaves. Top with 1/2 of the cheese.

Bake in oven.

4 – Lay all of the tomato slices over the cheese and season with a little salt and pepper, followed by the rest of the basil, and all of the sausage. Top with the last of the penne and then the cheese. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until everything turns a nice light golden brown.

Dinner for everyone!

To serve; let everyone help themselves (we certainly did!), or divide between warm plates or bowls.

Roast Chicken with Basil Cream Sauce (serves 4 – 6)

I can’t believe I turned the oven on in 90* weather, but I did! I think the oven can coax amazing amounts of flavor out of chicken, (along with the help of a few fresh herbs from my garden). I can put up with a little heat if my reward is great tasting food. I make dinners like this when I want good food but I don’t actual want to spend time over the task. The only thing required of me is to put raw ingredients into a pan and turn on the oven. The key is good quality ingredients.

Roast Chicken with Basil Cream Sauce

I had a lovely chicken, and all sorts of herbs in my garden to choose from. What more did I need? I had spent the best part of my day experimenting with gobs of blueberries I had picked earlier that morning (expect to read about “blueberry picking” in the near future!), and so, the enthusiasm required for dinner had been spent on fiddling with blueberry jam and possible blueberry ice pops!

I was so happy that dinner tasted as good as it did. The basil and cream worked magic together and I was praised to no end for another great meal. The funny part is, when I teach my son and daughter how to make this, they will realize I’m not such a hero after all. I feel quiet sure at the ages of 10 and 12 they could make this dinner for me tomorrow! But for now perhaps, I will hang onto the title of amazing cook/hero for a little bit longer.

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You will need: 1 cut-up chicken (between 3 1/2 – 4lbs), 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 cup sweet basil leaves, left whole, 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, left whole, 1 sweet onion, diced, 6 garlic cloves, left whole in skin, 4 tbs unsalted cold butter, cut into 6 pieces, 1 cup chicken broth, 1 cup water, 3/4 cup heavy cream, 6 basil leaves for sauce, chopped, coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 lb ridged penne (optional)

Preheat oven 400*

Scatter basil, thyme and onions in bottom of pan

1 – Scatter onions, thyme and basil in bottom of pan and place chicken on top in an even layer. Tuck garlic cloves between pieces of meat. Tuck a cold butter slice under the skin of each piece of chicken except for the wings. Season with salt and pepper and add the broth. Drizzle with the extra-virgin oil and place in oven for 35 minutes.

lay chicken on top of herbs

2 – Take chicken out and spoon juices over meat and add another 1/2 cup water. Place back in oven for another 20 minutes.

.* While chicken is in the oven for the last 20 minutes water on and cook pasta according to instructions. Try to time the pasta to be done when the chicken comes out of the oven.

Transfer chicken to a plate.

3 – Take out of oven and transfer chicken and garlic to a plate. Tent with tin foil and set aside while you finish the sauce.

Add cream,water and basil to pan juices

4 – Put pan on stove-top on low/medium heat and add cream and a 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and add the chopped fresh basil leaves. Taste the salt and add additional salt and pepper if you think it needs it. Cook for 2 minutes. If you want more sauce, just add more water a 1/4 cup at a time. The sauce is so flavorful it can withstand a little diluting. Turn off heat.

Add penne to sauce

5 – Add penne to pan with sauce. Put chicken on top and serve, OR, divide pasta and chicken between shallow bowls and serve.

Good Work Farm Vegetables & Shrimp in Sublime Sauce with Spaghetti (serves 4)

This dinner was completely driven by my CSA box of veggies which I receive from Good Work Farm each Wednesday (see top right of this blog for what a CSA means etc). It is getting to the point in the growing season where more and more vegetables are maturing, and so yesterday, I was greeted by wonderful purple, red and yellow potatoes, dill, yellow cherry tomatoes, purple bunching onions, cucumbers, carrots, beets, tons of basil, and 5 fabulous heads of garlic from Rambler Farm (Good Work have co-oped with them to give their CSA members lots of variety). Wow – what a harvest! I wanted to cook it all, just to taste it.

This is why I get excited about the Summer!

When I put all the vegetables on my counter top, I decided that everything besides the protein (I was defrosting some shrimp) would come from my CSA box.

Local Garlic from Rambler Farm

I went with something that would highlight the vegetables, and so made a light tangy broth with wine, butter and lemon juice (oops, where did that lemon come from?). I cannot tell you the difference it made to the dish to use produce that was barely out of the ground from a few short miles away. I could taste every nuance each vegetable had to offer, from the sweetness of the tomatoes to the sting of the garlic.

The result of using fresh local produce - Yum!

When I presented this bowl of goodness to my children I felt as if I were giving them a birthday present, and they received their food with equal enthusiasm. Dinner was ravenously eaten by all, and the broth was slurped and sopped with bread until our plates needed no washing!

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You will need: 1lb shrimp, peeled and deveined (31-40 count per lb size), 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 2 bunching onions including green parts (or 4 scallions), sliced, 2 cups yellow cherry tomatoes, cut 1 cup in half and leave 1 cup whole (red is fine too), 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1/2 cup chopped basil leaves, 1 carrot, thinly sliced, 1 cup white wine, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 vegetable bouillon cube,( or 1/2 cup chicken broth),  crumbled, 2 tbs unsalted butter, 2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 cup cooked pasta water (which you scoop before you drain the spaghetti), 1 lb spaghetti (I use Barilla brand), coarse sea salt (I use Maldon salt flakes), freshly ground black pepper.

1 – Put big saute pan on medium heat and add the extra-virgin oil. Saute onions or scallions for 3 minutes before adding the carrots and garlic. Continue to saute until the onions soften (about 7 or 8 minutes), stirring frequently (adjust heat if necessary).

Saute onions and garlic, then add carrots

*Put pasta water on to boil and cook spaghetti according to instructions. Try to time the process so as the spaghetti is ready after the shrimp has been added to the pan. Scoop out 1 cup of pasta water before draining and set aside for use in the sauce.

2 – Add wine and let it come to a boil. Simmer wine for 5 minutes before adding the halved tomatoes, chopped basil, water and crumbled bouillon (or broth). Bring liquid to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes. Taste broth at this point and add salt and pepper according to your taste.

Add wine, cook, then basil & tomatoes

3 – Add the shrimp and whole tomatoes and bring back to a slight simmer. Cook shrimp for 3 minutes. Add the butter and lemon juice and stir.

add butter and lemon juice

4 – Toss the cooked pasta directly into the pan when it is drained and add a 1/2 cup of the pasta water and stir. If you would like a brothier sauce (We Do!), add the rest of the water.

Add spaghetti, pasta water and a few whole basil leaves.

Serve in warm shallow bowls with a couple of fresh basil leaves (if you have them), and a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese if you like.

Garnish with a little Parmigiano Reggiano cheese if you have it.