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Simple shrimp pasta

I think I've mentioned here before that my long-suffering wife, who likes just about every good thing to eat and drink, draws the line at shrimp. This has something to do with an unvortunate childhood experience, and she will not be persuaded otherwise.

I, on the other hand, love the little critters, so when my spouse hits the road on a business trip, I generally console myself by consorting with the tasty crustacean.

So the other night, home alone, I put together a quick and simple pasta dish that showcased a pile of shrimp against the simple, compatible background of garlic, lemon, a shake of red pepper and a bowl of steaming linguine, a simple variation on the dish that Italian-American restaurants often if redundantly call "shrimp scampi."

In an optional variation, I "brined" the shrimp before cooking in a salty bath, a procedure that I often use with pork and that I thought proved quite successful. The shrimp emerged from the brine looking plump (in fact, weighing indicated that 8 ounces of shrimp had taken up about 1/2 ounce of saltwater during a half-hour session); after quick cooking they seemed unusually light and tender. The dish will be fine without brining, but in my opinion the results make it an optional step worth taking.

I made an oversize portion for one; the following recipe has been slightly adjusted to make a more rational dinner for two. Even if you're counting calories, please don't skimp on the olive oil. It's a key element in the flavor profile of the dish.

I liked this so much that I might make it again when Mary is home, but next time I'll try it with a mixture of seafood - shrimp, clams, maybe a few calamari rings, some firm-fleshed fish.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

12 ounces (250g) medium shrimp in the shell
3 cups (750 ml) water
4 tablespoons (60g) salt for the brine
4 ounces linguine or other long pasta
2 or 3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Dried red pepper flakes
Salt for seasoning
Juice of 1/2 medium lemon, about 2 tablespoons


1. Shell the shrimp, and devein them if you prefer. (Personally, I rarely bother with this strictly cosmetic step.) In a bowl or large measuring cup, dissolve the salt in the water to make a brine. Put in the shrimp, add a few ice cubes, and set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and put in the pasta.

3. Mince the garlic, juice the lemon (discarding seeds) and assemble your other ingredients. Drain the shrimp, rinse them briefly and pat dry with paper towels.

4. When the pasta has about five minutes left to cook, heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet or saute pan over a medium-high flame. Put in the minced garlic and red-pepper flakes to taste. (Don't be too heavy-handed with the peppers ... this is Italian cooking, not Thai!) When the garlic becomes aromatic, add the shrimps and cook them quickly, stirring and tossing, until they turn opaque. This takes only a minuter or two; don't overcook.

5. If you got your timing right, the shrimp should cook through just as the pasta finishes. Stir the lemon juice into the shrimp. Drain the pasta and toss it with the shrimp, oil and lemon. Check for seasoning, add salt if needed, and serve..

WINE MATCH: A crisp but not light-bodied white wine is called for, and the recently tasted Mission Hill 2002 Okanagan Valley Pinot Gris reported in yesterday's Wine Advisor served quite well. Actually, the slightly sweet flavor that made the wine less than a personal favorite for me on style points worked in its favor with the rich, sweet shrimp, and I found the wine more appealing with the food than without it. Try any Pinot Grigio or other crisp Italian white, or your choice of Sauvignon Blanc.

Want to a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Simple shrimp pasta"

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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Grits go uptown (Feb. 26)

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Thursday, March 4, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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