Pesto, please!

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) partnered with the Basic Needs Initiative program and virtually hosted a cooking demonstration of a shrimp pesto pasta recipe on Feb. 11. The tutorial was conducted as part of Basic Needs “Cooking with CSUMB,”  which provides budget-friendly meal ideas for hungry college students. Led weekly by CSUMB staff and faculty members, each participant has the opportunity to win $25 gift cards, applicable towards groceries. 

CeCe Chavez from CSUMB’s Student Housing and Residential Life instructed viewers on how to make the healthy, simple and adaptable pasta recipe. It pairs exquisitely with whole grain, penne, spaghetti or zucchini noodles, and this scrumptious and appetizing weeknight staple can be prepared in under 20 minutes.

Chavez had some spiralized zucchini noodles laid out on a paper towel, sprinkled with a dash of salt to draw out the water, while explaining the type of shrimp called for her recipe. Using a Costco Kirkland brand of frozen, deveined and deshelled shrimp, Chavez prefers the simplicity of tossing the shrimp in a cast iron skillet with olive oil and saving the mess of peeling and discarding tails.

“I prefer to use frozen shrimp because I prefer a fresher taste,” Chavez said. “You don’t necessarily need to go to a seafood market to achieve that.”

Chavez quick-thawed the shrimp before cooking by placing 12 to 15 frozen shrimp in a bowl of cold water for five minutes. Cold water prevents the shrimp from cooking while defrosting and is an effective, fast method. 

“The cool thing about shrimp is it takes no time to cook them,” Chavez said. 

Seasoning the shrimp with oregano, salt and pepper, Chavez informed viewers that dashing some red pepper flakes can turn up the heat, adding a twist of spiciness. Once the shrimp have a touch of orange color in the middle, flip and continue cooking. Switching to a high heat for the last 30 seconds to a minute beautifully browns and crisps the shrimp, producing a crunch.

Basic Needs intern Misha Arnold provided viewers with plant-based modifications for the pasta dish. Incorporating extra vegetables, such as broccoli and zucchini, as well as adding tofu or chickpeas allows for vegetarian and vegan dietary options.

“You can steam vegetables in a bowl with a little bit of water, covered, in the microwave for about five to six minutes,” Arnold said. “There’s a lot more protein in vegetables than people give them credit for.”

If using pasta noodles, boil the water and cook according to the instructions on the box. “Sometimes I test my pasta by biting a noodle,” Chavez said. “If it’s too chewy or too stiff, it’s not done yet.” 

For those who favor vegetables and ‘zoodles,’ add a few tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron skillet for five to 10 minutes, depending on desired texture, and that will savorly cook the zucchini noodles.

Drain the noodles, combine with a pesto sauce of choice, top with shrimp, spinach, tomatoes and cheese and voila! The simplicity of the recipe gives home chefs the ability to combine ingredients of choice for a delectable, healthy and budget-conscious meal. 

Join “Cooking with CSUMB” to learn how to re-create tri-color quinoa with veggie stir fry on Feb. 18.

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