Tag Archives: Italian cuisine

Dinner Tonight: 15-Minute Pesto Recipe

One of my favorite smells in the world is the sweet aroma of fresh basil. I was recently watering the basil plant on my kitchen windowsill, hoping I didn’t kill this one, since I seem to be a serial basil-killer, and thought, I need to make some pesto before this plant ends up in the trash. I did not inherit my parents’ green thumb, so I wanted to get some mileage out of this plant. Plus, pesto is such a perfect summer meal – light and fresh.

I first attempted pesto about 3 years ago, but after my lovely husband insisted on “helping” by jamming a wooden spoon into the blender–thus destroying both the pesto and the blender–I haven’t tried it since.

We were at Masina, in Weehawken, NJ, this weekend for dinner and ordered a very flavorful ricotta and pesto crostini. That got my mouth watering and my mind racing. It might be time to revisit pesto. That, and now that we’re all stocked up with new kitchen appliances– including a fancy Cuisinart — I just had to give this Italian staple another try.

Most of the recipes I found online were pretty much the same. This pesto recipe is based on one I found in Bon Appetit. But, but after reading a number of reviews, I made some modifications. See below and enjoy!

15-Minute Pesto

based on Classic Pesto recipe in Bon Appetit, August 2004

Yields about 1 cup of pesto

Serves 4

  • 5 cups fresh basil leaves (about 4 large bunches)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (the best you can find)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon course sea salt
  • 8 oz. uncooked pasta

Boil water for pasta and prepare pasta according to directions on the box. While water is boiling, pick basil leaves and wash thoroughly. Place basil in a salad spinner and spin out all the excess water. Try to get the basil as dry as possible — you may want to blot the basil leaves with a paper towel.

In a food processor or blender, add the first 4 ingredients and blend until a paste forms. Add more olive oil as needed.

Then add the cheese and blend some more. Add salt to taste.

And that’s it! Top a ¼ cup of pesto over pasta and serve with a salad or veggies and you are good to go. A quick and easy meal to make after work.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus Value: 11

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Dinner Tonight: Rigatoni & Shrimp with Vodka Sauce

When I was in college, there was an Italian restaurant just off-campus, Mario & Luigi’s, which had an all-you-can-eat pasta night on Mondays. My go-to dish was penne alla vodka. Oh it was so good!

Of course it was loaded with calories and fat, but at 19 I didn’t really care that much. Now though? Yeah, I care.

About a year ago I found a penne with vodka sauce recipe on Weight Watchers that had rave reviews. Could it be too good to be true? Nope! And my picky Italian husband – he loves it! He cannot believe it’s a Weight Watchers recipe.  And better yet, he calls this dish “blog worthy.”

I’ve adapted the recipe quite a bit. For one, my husband’s favorite noodle shape is rigatoni and it sops up the sauce better. For another, it needed protein, so I’ve added shrimp. Also, it seemed like such a waste not to use the whole small can of tomato paste and box of pasta, so I usually use all of it. To make up for those tweaks, I substitute fat-free half-and-half for heavy whipping cream.

This is definitely a meal you can cook on a work night. I can usually make this in a half hour or less. Also, if you have leftovers, it reheats very well.

Rigatoni & Shrimp alla Vodka Sauce

Adapted from Penne with Vodka Sauce recipe on Weight Watchers

Serves: 6


  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, separated
  • 2 medium shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
  • ½ tsp. coarse sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
  • 6 oz. canned tomato paste
  • 2 oz. vodka (use a quality vodka, not the cheap stuff)
  • 1 lb. uncooked rigatoni
  • ½ cup fat-free half-and-half
  • 20 leaf/leaves basil, fresh, cut into ribbons


Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add half of the butter, shallots and garlic. Sauté until shallots start to caramelize, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add parsley, sea salt and pepper, stirring once or twice. Add tomato paste and mix to form a paste. Cook for about 5 minutes, moving paste around pan occasionally so it doesn’t burn. Add vodka. Scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon and cook for about 5 minutes more.

At the same time, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the rest of the butter and raw shrimp (peeled and deveined) and sauté for about 5 minutes.

While everything is cooking, bring a medium pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to directions on the box and then drain.

Add half-and-half to tomato sauce. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 3 minutes.

Add shrimp and pasta to sauce and mix to coat. Serve and top with basil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Yields about 1 cup per serving.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus value: 10 points

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