It’s official. That vintage cookbook obsession I wrote about the other day has now become a full-blown addiction. I simply cannot get enough. And what’s worse, I seem to have lost interest completely in any food, cuisine or culinary movement that could be labeled as “modern”. It’s as if the books have somehow sucked my brain into a bizarre time-warp and I’m no longer able to comprehend ideas like fusion or molecular gastronomy. Do you think there’s a rehab for this sort of thing?
Actually, if there was, I don’t think I’d even want to go to it. In all honesty, I’m pretty content with the classics right now. I mean, it’s not as if there’s a lack of them. People have been cooking food for as long as people have been eating. Even more to the point, they’ve been serving me well. Take for example, the shrimp scampi I made last week.
Yes, shrimp scampi. Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all restaurant dishes. They even have it on the menu at Red Lobster. A far cry from the quinoa corn muffins I was eating on my cleanse, or even my normal weeknight dinners of super-healthy bean and veggie stews and sautes. My reasons for making it were twofold. Firstly, The Marshmallow. Growing up, his family didn’t eat shellfish. His mother was allergic and his father didn’t like it. He’s an open-minded guy, but his experience is limited. Being that I think of shellfish as one of nature’s greatest and most delicious inventions, I’ve taken it upon myself to single-handedly make up for his lack of experience.
Secondly, after spending so much time with all those dusty old cookbooks, I was craving a classic, something that felt ancient to me, and if any dish fit the bill, it was definitely Shrimp Scampi. One of my very first cooking memories ever is of me standing over my grandmother’s sink on a stool, learning how to peel and de-vein shrimp for Scampi. My Grandmother’s Scampi is the best, hands down. I’ve tried to emulate about it one-million times, and although I’ve come close, I can never quite get it right. To me, Shrimp Scampi is the best kind of food. The kind where the original idea is so perfect that it endures for years and years and still tastes good every single time.
So, can you imagine my shock and horror upon discovering that of all the books in my ever-growing collection not one of them had a recipe Shrimp Scampi? Blasphemous! What I did find though, was a wealth of shrimp dishes, similar to Scampi in every way, except instead of being prepared on the stovetop in a screaming hot saute pan, these were broiled in the oven in a baking dish. Eventually, this got me thinking. What if I took my Grandmother’s infamous Scampi recipe and converted to something that could be broiled in the oven?
I followed three basic guidelines.
1. Use Sherry along with white wine as the cooking liquid. The Sherry adds a sweetness and richness that white wine alone does not acheive. This is the key to my Grandmother’s recipe.
2. Add the garlic at the end. Garlic burns easily and in order for the shrimp to cook through without becoming tough, it’s neccesarry for the heat in the pan to be very high. Adding the garlic at the end insures you won’t end up with that bitter burnt garlic taste throughout your dish.
3. Prep everything beforehand. Once the prep is done this dish comes together almost instantaneously. You don’t want to get stuck trying to chop your parsley while meanwhile, your Scampi is getting burnt to a crisp .
In addition to that I added some crumbled crackers with the garlic at the end, as kind of a throwback to the classic New England style baked stuffed shrimp. Since us Sicilians don’t grate parmesan on our seafood-based pasta dishes it added a nice crunch and saltiness to the finished product.
The resulting dish was good. So good I might even say it gave my grandmother’s scampi a run for it’s money. Richly sauced and refreshingly light at the same time, plus I found that baking the shrimp in the oven rather than attempting to saute on high heat without burning, made it much easier to cook the shrimp without overcooking them. All in all, it was a brilliant success, and a sound justification for sinking even further into the depths of my new-found addiction. Don’t expect me to emerge anytime soon. It’s true what they say about the classics; they’re classics for a reason.
Broiled Shrimp Scampi
1lb Shrimp, peeled and de-veined, or trimmed to your liking
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 tbsp of dry white wine
2 tbsp olive oil
8 cloves garlic
½ cup of crumbled crackers, or seasoned bredcrumbs
handful of parsley
handful of fresh chives
½ pound linguine or spaghetti.
Peel and de-vein the shrimp. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover with sherry, white wine and olive oil. Add the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Crush four garlic cloves using the flat part of a large knife. Add to the bowl with the shrimp and toss gently. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours.
Finely mince the remaining four cloves of garlic. Add to the breadcrumbs along with the zest of the remaining lemon. When the shrimp are done marinating preheat the oven to 475 and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Transfer the shrimp from the bowl into a large baking dish. In the meantime, chop the parsley and chives and set aside.
When the water for the pasta begins to boil, set the shrimp inside the preheated oven. Add the pasta to boiling water and stir briefly. When the shrimp have begun to sizzle (about 5-6 minutes) remove baking dish from the oven and turn on your broiler. Toss the sizzling shrimp with the garlic and breadcrumb mixture and squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon on top. Place dish under broiler.
At this point the pasta should be close to done. Test it to make sure. When pasta is al dente, drain and reserve until the shrimp is done cooking. When the crumbs begin to brown and the liquid in the baking dish has been reduced by about half, remove the shrimp from the oven. Toss the pasta directly into the baking dish and sprinkle with parsley and chives. Toss to combine and serve immediately.