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Two Super Speedy Dinners: Penne with Arugula and Shrimp and Grilled Asparagus and Pesto Potato Salad

April 18, 2007

Penne with Arugula and Shrimp

Neither of these dinners really seemed to merit their own special posts. There are no innovative or difficult cooking techniques involved. Neither of them require unique combinations of ingredients or sought-after spices or even new-to-me greenery. Well, I never really cooked with arugula before, but otherwise this is all pretty run-of-the-mill. However, they were both so fast and delicious and felt so perfect for spring (which I’m still patiently waiting for, here in Boston) that I did want to share them. They are both perfect when you come home from work starving and want something healthier than a microwavable meal, but just as easy. In short, they will quickly become staples in my kitchen, I am sure.

A few key ingredients served to make these super speedy: store-bought pesto and frozen shrimp. How I can even think of writing about frozen shrimp on this, my food blog, is beyond me, except that it’s actually a good food innovation. Sorry to all you purists out there who wouldn’t even consider frozen shrimp. You can plug your ears and hum a little tune through all of this.


I love keeping a bag of frozen shrimp (thank you, Trader Joe’s) in my freezer. I can add a small handful to whatever meal I’m trying to throw together in 10 minutes and feel like that meal is now a little more substantial, and little more fancified. In all my experimentation, I’ve found that boiling the frozen shrimp works best. You can toss them in your pasta water a few minutes before the pasta’s done, and they will turn out a bit juicier than stir frying or roasting them. You don’t even have to thaw them first! Convenience is a blessing.

Grilled Asparagus and Potato salad

So excuse me, for a moment, for being a little too semi-homemade with Sandra Lee and consider that sometimes there is nothing better than dinner in under 15 minutes.

Grilled Asparagus and Pesto Potato Salad

  • 1 bunch of asparagus (about 20 stalks)
  • 5 or 6 small new potatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 T. pesto (from a jar or from your own darned garden, if you’re that lucky and enterprising)

I served this as a main dinner course, but it would be great for picnics or potlucks or whatnot, too, because it’s just as good at room temperture as it is hot. Steaming the potatoes takes way less time than roasting or boiling, for some reason I cannot figure out. And you can grill the asparagus on a grill pan, or an outdoor grill, again if you’re that lucky, or you can just blanch or roast them. Using my grill pan tends to fill the whole kitchen with smoke, but it’s worth it for the charred taste some bits got.

First, cut the potatoes into 1-inch pieces, and put them in a steamer basket, set into a pot filled with about an inch of water. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and let the potatoes steam, untouched, for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim and clean the asparagus, and toss it with a splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Heat your grill (or grill pan) and spread the asparagus across it. Cook for about three minutes, or until they start getting those little char marks on them, and then flip them and cook for about another three minutes.

Remove them to a cutting board, and slice them into bite-sized pieces. Your potatoes should be done by now, so all you have to do is mix the potatoes, the asparagus, and the pesto in a medium mixing bowl. It could not be more easier. The asparagus will still be nice and crispy, and the potatoes soft and only slightly crumbling. You can add a bit more salt and pepper, if you feel like it.

Pesto Potato Salad

This would probably also be excellent with green beans or snap peas. And when basic is in season again, and I can make some homemade pesto, you can be sure I’ll be trying this salad again.

Penne with Arugula and Shrimp

  • 2 c. penne
  • 3 handfuls of baby arugula
  • 1 c. frozen shrimp
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • parmesan or Shepherd’s cheese

This pasta is even easier than the potato salad, and takes only as long to make as the pasta takes to cook, basically. Do I even need to write a recipe? No, not really. Cook the pasta, and add the frozen shrimp right before it’s finished. Drain the pasta and shrimp, retaining just a bit of the water, and pour in into a mixing bowl. Add a few splashes of olive oil and balsamic, and a bit of salt and pepper, then toss in the arugula. Toss it all together until the arugula starts to wilt. Voila: tasty dinner.

I picked up the arugula at Allandale farms over the weekend, and it was so fresh tasting and peppery and lovely I wish I’d thought to buy more. I think I’ve only had argula once in my life, so it’s still a pretty new taste to me. I’m sure this pasta dish could be done much better, but pan searing fresh shrimp, and making a more complicated balsamic vinaigrette to toss it all with, but this was simple and perfect, just as it was.

Arugula Pasta

So there you go. Two very easy and very tasty and very healthy dinners that you can make in way less than thirty minutes. And both of them also make excellent leftovers, which is a bonus for me, because I pretty much eat leftovers for lunch every day of my life. If you added a bit more arugula and shrimp to the pasta, too, you could probably serve that as a side salad, as well. So hey, they’re also versatile!

Sometimes, you just don’t feel like basting and mixing and kneading and stirring for forty-five minutes.

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