Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Garlic and Butter and Lemon and Shrimp

Shrimp Scampi is a dish I first had when I was just out of college. It used to be the kind of menu item that white tablecloth restaurants of the time almost always had on the menu. I really loved eating it but thought that it would be difficult to make well and then I moved and had little income, so shrimp, which tends to be expensive where I live, was not on my menu. Eventually I just forgot about it.

A few days ago I was in an Oliver's market in Santa Rosa. They are a local chain of markets with the best of Whole Foods but at a slightly lower price point and far less pretentious. At their meat and seafood counter I discovered that they had large shrimp that had been frozen in bags of about 1 pound. I bought one and for some reason the idea of shrimp scampi popped into my head. Still thinking that it was a difficult recipe, I looked it up on Google and found that it's actually easy. There is prep work that needs to be done before you start cooking the shrimp because it goes together very quickly (except for cooking the pasta), but the recipe itself is simple. As with any recipe that seems simple, using quality ingredients is crucial. I started with some very nice shrimp. When thawed they smelled of the sea (but not 'fishy')which is a good indicator that they were handled well before being frozen. I made sure I had good linguine, a juicy and firm lemon or two, some excellent dry white wine, good olive oil, fresh parsley and a good, firm head of garlic. The last ingredient wasn't butter, which is the best thing to use, but an excellent non-dairy butter that I usually use only as a finishing ingredient. Since this dish depends on good butter, I really needed all four tablespoons to be as close to the best butter that I could find. Having a dairy allergy is no fun sometimes.

So, timing is important for shrimp scampi. Get the water boiling for the pasta. Gather all the ingredient together and prep the shrimp (I had to peel and devein them but it was OK to leave the tail on), zest and juice the lemon, mince the garlic, mince the parsley.

First you heat up a mixture of that good butter and quality olive oil. Then you saute' the garlic in that combination of oils. Once the garlic has cooked a few minutes, you add the wine and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook that for a few minutes, then you salt and pepper the shrimp and add them to the wine mixture, making sure they are in a single layer. After a couple of minutes, you flip them over to cook the other side. After another couple of minutes you add the lemon zest, lemon juice and parsley and stir it all together. By that time your pasta is cooked and you drain it, then add it to the shrimp mixture and toss it all with some tongs until all the pasta is coated with the butter/olive oil/garlic/ lemon/wine/parsley mixture. Quickly you put the pasta on a plate or in a shallow bowl, top with the shrimp and it's ready to serve! I think it's between 8 and 10 minutes start to finish. No wonder it used to be a popular restaurant item. Done in no time and you can charge a lot for it.

So did it live up to my memories? Yes! In fact it was better. I didn't overcook the pasta. Most restaurants in my youth did. Ditto the shrimp. I used more garlic and it was fresher. I think I should have added a touch more salt, but otherwise it was perfect and perfectly delicious. Sweetie loves shrimp and I suspect he would like me to make this every night for a week. Do try it yourself if you can get good shrimp. The recipe is a combination of about four I found online, plus the lemon zest I added on my own. Lemon zest always ups the lemon flavor, so why not?

Shrimp Scampi
Serves 2-4

1/2 lb. linguine
1 lb. large raw shrimp, rinsed, peeled and deveined (OK to leave the tail on)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons soft salted butter or non-dairy butter substitute
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Have all the ingredient gathered and prepared. The cooking takes about 10 minutes, start to finish.

Bring a very large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. While it's coming to a boil, prepare the shrimp and the garlic, lemon and parsley. 

Once the water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt and the linguine and stir to separate the pasta. Leave uncovered and boil until al dente, about 8 - 10 minutes. Have a colander ready to drain the pasta.

Wait until the pasta water returns to a boil, then begin the shrimp part of the dish.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and oil together over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute' about 3 minutes, stirring a few times. Don't let garlic burn.

Add the white wine and the red pepper flakes. cook another two minutes, stirring often. 

Salt and pepper the shrimp to taste. Add the shrimp and make sure it is in one layer in the pan. After two minutes when the cooked side is pink insteado f gray, use tongs to turn each shrimp over. Cook on the second side for another two minutes, just until it is pink. Do not overcook the shrimp.

Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and the parsley. Stir to combine all the ingredients. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings if needed.

Drain the pasta (check first to make sure it is cooked al dente), then add it to the pan with the shrimp mixture. Use the tongs to gently turn the pasta over until all strands are coated with the garlic sauce.

Serve at once on large plates or in shallow bowls, placing the shrimp on top of the pasta. If desired, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil. Pass good bread to sop up the extra sauce.

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