Translated in Italian, primavera means spring. And in my Cajun recipe book, there is no dish that combines light, refreshing spring flavors like this one. With garden-fresh vegetables kissed with the sweet leaves of basil, all tied together with a pungent olive oil-infused bucatini pasta, the only thing that could elevate this to Cajun recipe standards is to add briny brown shrimp from Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana. Lest you think this dish has Italian roots, read on. In fact, it is more akin to Acadian roots via Nova Scotia than to our friends in Italy.
As the story goes, it was famous restaurateur Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque fame, who discovered this dish while on a trip to Robert’s Island, Nova Scotia (land of the French Acadian people) and brought it back to New York in the 1970s. This extraordinary culinary period was the beginning of a chef-driven reawakening of American cuisine that hasn’t stopped since. His rendition of pasta primavera (more like an Alfredo) featured a cream base that has all but been forgotten in today’s lighter, fresher interpretation. But nonetheless, by combining garden vegetables and pasta, his take on freshness was intently covered by critics in the all-important New York food scene.
My Cajun recipe version reaches back to the basics but with an even firmer foundation on freshness. I too forego the butter and cream and instead rely on garlic, olive oil, Dijon mustard and herbs in a vinaigrette to emulsify these crunchy ingredients. The shrimp from neighboring Delcambre, Louisiana are jumbo-size brown shrimp that have just the right taste and texture to add a coastal element to the dish.
Basil grows wild in my herb garden, and I work hard to harvest it before it reaches that unwieldy leggy stage of growth; this recipe is perfect to take advantage of its abundance. The sweet orbs of heirloom cherry tomatoes (in a variety of colors) play deliciously in the medley of freshness along with bright red bell peppers and the bite of red onion. This dish resembles a master class in salad making with warm pasta thrown in for comforting good measure. And not just any pasta, I am using a #12 bucatini pasta which is a thicker version of spaghetti with a hole running through the center of the noodle (like a drinking straw). It cooks up tender with just enough heft and crevices to soak up all the sauce. It turns out pillowy soft with a burst of internal flavor that defines this dish.
- 2 tablespoons salt
- I (16-ounce) package thick pasta, such as bucatini or spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 dozen jumbo (16/20 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 cups julienned red bell pepper, seeds removed
- 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced or julienned thin
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
- 4 cups loosely packed fresh basil, stems removed
- 2 cups multi-colored cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 medium zucchini squash, peeled and sliced thin
- 1 medium yellow squash, peeled and sliced thin
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- Half a lemon
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- In a large pot over high heat, fill halfway with water and add the salt. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 15 minutes. Drain the water, reserving 1 cup for later use. Rinse the excess starch off the pasta and let drain. Toss with olive oil; return the pasta to the dried pot; keep warm.
- Lightly sprinkle the shrimp on both sides with Cajun seasoning.
- In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Once sizzling hot, add the garlic and the shrimp. Sauté the shrimp just until the flesh turns slightly opaque and the exterior turns pink, about 3 minutes. Once done, remove to a platter and keep warm.
- In a stainless steel mixing bowl, add the garlic, mustard, lemon juice, sugar, and vinegar. While slowly drizzling the olive oil, whisk together to make an emulsion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve for later use.
- Move the pot with the pasta noodles to the stovetop over low heat. Add all the vegetables and herbs to the pot. Using tongs, begin rotating the pasta with the mixture and incorporating all the ingredients. Add the shrimp and the vinaigrette. Stir to thoroughly coat the pasta with the vinaigrette. As the mixture begins to warm through, add the red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, and black pepper. (Note: you are not cooking the ingredients but simply warming it through to serving temperature and enough to slightly wilt the vegetables.)
- Remove the pot from the stovetop and squeeze in half a lemon, being careful to catch any seeds. Add the cheese, and stir to incorporate.
- Keep warm for serving and at the last minute drizzle lightly with more olive oil. Serve in large bowls and garnish with more fresh basil leaves.
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