For me, cravings often manifest themselves as an emotional reaction to something I see, rather than from a recollection of something I’ve actually eaten. I was out grocery shopping the other day and as I walked through the mall connecting the grocery store to the train station, I noticed a big glossy poster outside a chain restaurant promoting a new dish. It showed a crown of giant plump shrimp, atop a mound of spaghetti tossed in a verdant green pesto.
I’m sure the actual dish was far less impressive, but the poster did its job and snagged my attention. In fact I found myself craving those juicy coral prawns and emerald strands of pasta hours after arriving home. My lazier side briefly contemplated returning to the cafe for dinner, but past experience has taught me to be weary of the lust-inducing talents of food photographers.
As luck would have it, I’d picked up some shrimp that day, along with some lump crabmeat. I also had an avocado that was at its prime, and since avocado and crab make for a delicious combo in sushi, I figured they should mingle nicely in pasta as well. What I didn’t have, was basil to make the pesto. But who says pesto has to be made with basil? It’s not like “pesto” is the Italian word for basil, and I had an abundance of other green herbs such as cilantro, flat-leaf parsley and chervil sitting in my vegetable drawer withering away.
Actually, to be totally honest, the chervil was a bit of an afterthought. It was an aging prop i’d picked up for a photo shoot, that had outlived its usefulness as a garnish. Ironically, it was the chervil that made the dish. I’d never really thought of chervil as much more than a cute decoration; with its strong anise notes, it has the kind of flavor that could easily become overwhelming. But used sparingly, it helped tie the other herbs together and made for the perfect counterpoint to the rich avocado and savory seafood.
I make a lot of quick pastas to get me through the week. Most of them are pretty good, and some are even good enough to get posted here, but given that my job is to come up with new recipes, it’s rare for me to make a dish more than the handful of times it takes to test it. This one is one of the few exceptions I see myself revisiting.
- Bring two large pots of water to a boil and add enough salt to make the water taste like the sea. In one of the pots, boil the the pasta according to the package directions.
- Add the olive oil, parsley, cilantro, chervil, garlic, parmesan and salt to a small food processor and process until smooth.
- In the other pot, boil the shrimp until just cooked. The exterior will turn pink when cooked, and the flesh will go from translucent to opaque. The time will depend on the size of your shrimp, but mine took about 1 minute. Drain and cover them with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
- Quarter the avocado, and then remove the pit. If your avocado is ripe, the quarters should peel easily by hand. Slice each quarter into 1/8" thick pieces and drizzle with the juice of 1/4 lemon to keep them from turning brown.
- When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to a bowl along with the shrimp, crab, avocado and pesto. Toss with tongs to coat everything evenly, then serve immediately with lemon wedges.