(photo found at a yummy cooking blog, Kevin at Closet Cooking, along with a really yummy looking recipe for a different shrimp and pasta combination. I tried to find a picture from a cookbook or something, but none looked anything like what I made. I should have taken my own photo, clearly. This looks similar, though mine had tomatoes.)
My mom gave me a great cookbook years ago, Pasta Fresca. I think that was when Ted and I first moved in together in 1990. It is one of my very favorite cookbooks, partly because I love pasta, and partly because the recipes are all delicious.
When cooking with recipes, my policy is usually to follow the recipe exactly at least the first time through, and then to modify it if need be to fit my taste. This recipe is good enough that it doesn’t really need any alterations to make it better, or so I thought. I decided to make this the other night, and I used a couple of tips that I learned on America’s Test Kitchen, and varied the ingredients very slightly, with the result that it was even better than it usually is. Here is the recipe, as copied from the book, and then I’ll note my variations after.
Linguine with Herbed Shrimp
from Pasta Fresca, by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
Bunch fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Large handful chopped Italian parsley
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 28-oz can imported Italian tomatoes, drained
1 lb imported linguine
Cook the shrimp in 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a medium saucepan with the thyme, parsley, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Cook just until the shrimp turns pink and is slightly firm. Do not overcook.
To make the sauce, heat 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a medium saucepan, add the garlic and sauté briefly just until it turns opaque. Add the tomatoes directly to the pan by putting them through the coarse disk of a food mill. Cook the tomatoes quickly over medium heat until the sauce thickens. At this point, add the shrimp and all the herbs to the sauce. Heat through so the shrimp are warm but not overcooked.
Cook the pasta in abundant boiling salted water until al dente. Quickly drain and place in a shallow serving bowl. Add the shrimp-tomato sauce and mix. Serve immediately.
Now for my variations.
- First, buying the shrimp. I was watching America’s Test Kitchen a few weeks ago, and they were talking about the best way to buy shrimp at the grocery store. If you have access to truly wonderful, truly fresh shrimp right off the boat, then goody for you, just shut up about it, OK? If you’re like the rest of us, and have to buy shrimp at the grocery store, then you should buy frozen. Why? Because shrimp starts to turn bad quite quickly, so the longer it sits on ice behind the fish counter, the yuckier it is. Also, the fisherman generally freeze it right away anyway, so it’s frozen and thawed. Might as well buy the frozen. Within the category of frozen shrimp, they said to buy it raw, shell on. You can get deveined, but if you get it with the shell off, they use a chemical to aid the shelling process, and that chemical adds a faint though unpleasant taste to the shrimp. They said the best for most recipe is in the 21/25 size, which means 21 to 25 shrimp per pound. It just so happened that Safeway had frozen, raw, deveined, 21/25 bags of shrimp on sale the other day, for about $12 for 2 lbs. Pretty good, since it’s usually about $20 for 2 lbs.
- Next tip, to get a good texture on the shrimp, is to dry it well on paper towels before cooking. If it’s wet, the water steams the shrimp and it doesn’t get any kind of crust. Also, if you season the shrimp, it will have more flavor. So instead of adding the salt and pepper to the sauce, I sprinkled it directly onto the shrimp.
- Instead of cooking in straight olive oil, I added about a tablespoon of butter. So olive oil and butter. Be careful not to overcook that shrimp, or it will be rubbery.
- Let’s talk tomatoes. I was recently making a recipe that called for Rotel tomatoes, and I didn’t write it down, so when I got to the grocery store, I bought a carton of Pomi Tomatoes. Since I needed the spice of the Rotel tomatoes for that other (mediocre) recipe, I tucked the Pomi into the cupboard. So I decided to try them tonight. You know what? They beat the canned stuff all hollow. The ingredients on the ‘all natural’ can of tomatoes I had lying around includes tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, citric acid, and calcium chloride. The ingredients on a carton of Pomi? Tomatoes. That’s it. None of the overly sweet or overly salty, or slightly metallic, flavor, that so often accompanies canned tomatoes.
- My final tip is that I like my pasta kind of saucy. So while I left the proportions alone for the sauce, I only cooked 1/2 lb of pasta, and I cooked it very al dente, then put it in the pan with the sauce and let it cook another minute there, to absorb the flavors.
The results were tender, delicious shrimp in a light, delicious sauce. Really, really good. Would have been nice with a few red pepper flakes thrown in, but it was really good without as well. Bonus points if you know anyone named Herb, and prepare it for them.