Pasta with Pistachio Pesto and Shrimp

Pasta with Pistachio Pesto with Shrimp |

I first tasted pistachio pesto (pesto al pistacchio) at a restaurant on the slopes of Mount Etna. I don’t remember the exact year but for argument’s sake, let’s say it was 2007ish. It certainly feels like an eternity ago – but I still remember that meal. (Aren’t food memories the best?)

A ride into the hills around Etna on a summer’s day. A stop at a nondescript roadside trattoria in the middle of nowhere for lunch. Large TVs on all the walls; competing screens blaring with sports and news. A few occupied tables. A carafe of crisp, cold white wine poured into water glasses. Out of curiosity, I ordered the ‘pasta con pesto al pistacchio’ as we were near Bronte, famous for its ‘green gold’ – their pistachios.

And then….. my pasta arrived – cue the band! One very large twirl of spaghetti sat in the middle of a standard thick white plate. The spaghetti was flecked with bright green pistachios and a glisten of olive oil on top. One bite – and it was as if a golden light from above was suddenly illuminated everything – wow! Was this pesto utterly DELICIOUS! The sweet pistachio flavor mingled with the bite from the cheese and olive oil – this was heavenly! And so, so simple. Once again, the Italians have done it – that masterful elevation of simplicity – where the sum is so much more than the parts.

Over the years, I occasionally remember this pesto, especially in the summer heat, and whip up a batch as it requires little cooking (more on this below). Recently, however, it has been on repeat at my house. My recent trips to Sicily have left me a bit pistachio-crazy. I have been playing with pistachios in everything from salads to semifreddo. And this version with shrimp has become one of my hands-down favorites.

Pistachio Pesto |

Did you know that the Bronte pistachios account for only 1% of the world’s production but have earned Italian DOP status? (DOP stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, which in English, translates to “Protected Designation of Origin”. This guarantees that the product is authentic, and high quality. The DOP status ensures that the product is being produced using traditional methods, and grown and packaged by local farmers.) On these slopes of Etna, the pistachio trees thrive in the mineral-rich volcanic terrain, resulting in an intensely flavorful deep green pistachio. They are a bit pricier than your normal pistachios but are worth the occasional splurge. (And if you are in for a splurge, I buy mine from Gustiamo – Pistachios from Bronte.)

Pasta with Pistachio Pesto and Shrimp

This pesto is so incredibly simple to make – just a whirl in the food processor and done. This dish is ready for the table in little more than the time it takes to make the pasta. So wonderful on a hot summer’s day (but also delicious all year round!)

Here I have paired it with wild shrimp as I love the flavor of the shrimp against the nutty taste from the pistachios. However, the riffs on this pasta are endless – substitute other seafood – scallops or diced swordfish perhaps? Or add some veggies – some quick sauteed zucchini or summer corn?

To spend even less time at the stove, omit the shrimp and just add the pesto to the warm pasta with a little pasta water. Serve it room temperature as a pasta salad, maybe topped with slivers of basil, more chopped pistachios and a drizzle of lemon. (I, in fact, made it this way this past weekend.) Throw in a handful of juicy summer-ripe tomatoes. So fun to play! With the summer heat upon us, keep this one on repeat!

Buon estate!! ⛱️

Alla prossima!

Pasta with Pistachio Pesto |
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Pasta with Pistachio Pesto and Shrimp |

Pasta with Pistachio Pesto and Shrimp

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This simple pesto from Sicily substitutes pistachios for the classic basil and comes together in a flash. Dinner will be on the table in little more than what it takes to boil the pasta!



For the pesto:

  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios, shelled
  • About 10 leaves of fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • Finely grated zest of ½ lemon, preferably organic
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

For the pasta:

  • 1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound of linguine

To garnish: Chopped pistachios


  1. Make the pesto: Place the pistachios, basil, garlic, Pecorino, and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped.
  2. With the processor running, add in the olive oil in a thin steady stream until smooth. Taste and add salt if needed. (The Pecorino will be salty so you may not need to add much.) Set aside.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat. Once the water boils, salt generously. Add in the pasta. Stir and cook according to the package directions.
  4. Meanwhile, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive over medium-low heat in a pan large enough to hold the pasta. Add in the garlic and the shrimp. Sprinkle with a large pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir. Cook the shrimp until pink and cooked through. Be careful not to overcook. Transfer the shrimp and garlic to a bowl. Set aside.
  5. When the pasta is almost ready, add the pistachio pesto to the skillet. Mix in ½ cup of the pasta water to loosen the pesto. Warm over low heat.
  6. When the pasta is just shy of ‘al dente’, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain. Add the pasta to the skillet, along with another ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss to combine so that the pesto coats each strand. Cook for another 30 seconds to a minute until the pasta water is absorbed. Add more of the reserved pasta water if the pasta looks to be too dry.
  7. Add the shrimp and garlic back to the skillet. Stir everything together.
  8. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter (or serve right from the skillet.) Drizzle the pasta with a little extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.

Join the Conversation

  1. Pistachio pesto? Sign me up! I adore pistachios and I can imagine a pistachio pesto would truly taste divine. I’m going to try it when I get back home. I also love walnuts which I recently learned were original to the recipe for pesto genovese. Truth be told, of all the nuts one can use for pesto, pine nuts are perhaps the least interesting for me.

    But for now it’s off—to Italy. 🙂

    1. Michele Author says:

      Oh how fun!! ENJOY your time in Italy!! Buonviaggio!

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