I had originally planned to begin a series of posts focusing on retro dishes from the 50s and 60s. That plan found its way to the back burner, however, when my brother suggested a recipe for penne with spicy Calabrian shrimp from Giada De Laurentiis’s latest cookbook, Eat Better, Feel Better.
I’ve been a Giada fan for years and have, more often than not, had success with her recipes. This one, however, gave me pause for two reasons. First, most Italians, myself included, consider combining cheese with fish an anathema. Secondly, the book’s title and introductory material promoting a healthier style of eating, while appealing to many, were deterring to me. At 72 years of age, am I interested in reading a chapter titled “Learning to Listen to Your Gut” or following the steps outlined in another “The Reboot: A Three-Day Mini Cleanse”? Believe me, I don’t need any help listening to my gut; sometimes I just wish it would keep quiet.
Nevertheless to satisfy my brother, I decided to make the recipe as written—and yes, even to throw in the cheese, but I stopped at serving the pasta with even more. A step way too far for me.
The only problems with the recipe were of my own making. I used the called for ½ red onion, but because the onion was rather large, the amount it yielded when diced overwhelmed the 1 tablespoon of oil the recipe indicated for sautéing it. Except for simple sauces like aglio-oglio (garlic and oil) or pasta acciughe (anchovy pasta), I’m never successful making a sauce while simultaneously boiling the pasta. I addressed this ineptitude by halting the sauce preparation midway and waiting for the pasta to reach the desired stage of cooking (2 minutes before al dente) before resuming it.
These snags were easily overcome and in the end we enjoyed one spectacular (and yes, healthful) pasta dish. The shrimp were mildly spicy and lusciously succulent. The unctuous sauce of olive oil, Calabrian chile paste, sun-dried tomatoes, and two smashed garlic cloves was intensely rich with deep tomato flavor and subtle chile spice. In fact, the heat from the chile paste sneaks up on you and provides a spicy coda to the dish.
Penne With Spicy Calabrian Shrimp (adapted from a recipe in Eat Better, Feel Better by Giada De Laurentiis)
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more to drizzle
1 tsp grated lemon zest (I used all the zest from one lemon)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (I squeezed the juice from ½ a large lemon)
1½ tsp Calabrian chile paste (I was generous with the chile paste)
¾ tsp kosher salt, divided, plus more to drizzle, plus more for pasta
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled (Next time, I might mince the cloves for more garlic flavor.)
½ lb regular or gluten-free penne
½ red onion, diced
½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving (I skipped the serving)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1. In a medium bowl, combine shrimp, 2 Tbsp oil, zest, juice, chile paste, ½ tsp salt and garlic; toss well to coat. Set aside at room temperature 10 minutes.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; season water generously with salt. Add pasta; cook 2 minutes less than directed on package, about 6 minutes. Reserve ½ cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta. If using gluten-free pasta, rinse under cool running water; drain again. (I recommend transferring the pasta from the pot with a spider.)
3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add remaining 1 Tbsp oil along with onion, remaining ¼ tsp salt and sun-dried tomatoes.
4. Cook 4 minutes, or until onion is soft and fragrant, stirring often.
5. Add shrimp, spreading them evenly so they all make contact with bottom of pan. Cook 3–4 minutes, stirring often, or until shrimp are bright pink and opaque all the way through. (I stopped preparing the sauce after cooking the onions. After the pasta reached the midway point, I added the shrimp to the sauté pan and resumed cooking the sauce.)
6. Add drained pasta to skillet and sprinkle with cheese. Toss well to incorporate cheese and coat pasta with flavored oil.
7. Add reserved pasta water and basil; toss again to create a sauce. Serve on heated plates with more cheese (not I) and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.
Wine Pairing: Falanghina