Most purists in Italy consider any sauce for any fish to be nearly heretical, but in Liguria, the herbacious bath of pesto has the weight of barely floral scented spring and early summer breezes so, the odd exception is often made.
In this case the particularly briny shrimp from the Mare Tirreno marry well with a pesto with less cheese than normal and a slight increase in the pine nut content. The first time I tried this was at a seriously relaxed place on the high end in Portofino callled Il Splendido. There is a pool terrace and then a casual restaurant in the garden where they serve lunch only to high-roller Euro types and American heiresses who missed the boat to Clooney's house over on Lago di Como and where, despite the often kiss-kiss-mwah crowd, the food is actually killer.
They serve these marinated shrimp on the salad buffet (I know what you're thinking, and it is not that way here; it is truly exquisite), but they also do a piatto del giorno with a fresh puffy pillow of focaccia genovese, piled with shrimp, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and giant, nearly bitter arugula leaves. Two glasses of local vermentino and a plate of green melon and the nap by the pool puts you into the dreams of Gian Vincenzo Imperiale.
Seven Fishes Shrimp and Pesto
- For the pesto:
- 2 bunches basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 tablespoons pine nuts
- Coarse salt and black pepper
- 2/3 cup Parmagiano Reggiano or grana padano grated
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 pound shrimp, preferably rock shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Chile flakes
- Toasted breadcrumbs
Wash basil; drain. Pulse basil, garlic, pine nuts, and a pinch of coarse salt in a food processor. Slowly add grated cheese to form an even paste. Slowly blend in olive oil until just achieving a creamy consistency.
Prepare an ice bath. Poach shrimp in boiling salted water until cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes; remove from water and shock in ice bath.
Toss shrimp in pesto until coated. Season with cracked black pepper and chile flakes. Finish with high-quality extra virgin olive oil (preferably Ligurian) and toasted breadcrumbs.