Shrimp Marinara with Spaghetti

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As of late, quick-fix dishes seem to be dominating our weeknight meals. More often than not, they’re dictated, not only by my schedule, but by what’s in the market and how many extra ingredients I’ll need to pick up. Having over five items kicks me off the express check-out line, so 4 is my maximum number of secondary ingredients.

Last night’s supper is a case in point. Peeled and deveined shrimp caught my eye at the market. I knew I already had half a can of chopped tomatoes sitting in our fridge, so I thought: shrimp marinara with some pasta. The shopping list evolved from there: parsley and spaghetti were the only other ingredients I needed to purchase as I already had plenty of olive oil, garlic, herbs and spices at home. I was out of the market in 10 minutes. (Pity anyone who stands in my way as I race through the aisles.)

If you start with putting up the water for your pasta and prep and cook as it comes to a boil, you can have shrimp marinara on the table in about 30 minutes. Here’s my recipe:

Shrimp Marinara with Spaghetti

2 small garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/4 cup extra-vigin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Calabrian red-pepper flakes (Calabrian red pepper flakes have a lot of heat; you may need to use more or less depending on the type of pepper flakes you have and how spicy you like your sauce.)
16-ounce can chopped Italian tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped parsley
8 ounces spaghetti (I recommend a spaghetti that has flavor and texture. Rustichella d’Abruzzo is my favorite.)

Prepped ingredients
Prepped ingredients

1. Put up the water for the pasta.

2. In a large skillet, over medium low heat sauté the garlic with the red-pepper flakes in olive oil. When they become fragrant and the garlic turns just a very pale gold, add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper.

The garlic and red-pepper flakes
The garlic and red-pepper flakes

3. Continue to cook on medium low and after the tomatoes come to a slow simmer, cook for 15 minutes, string occasionally.

4. At this point, the water for the pasta should be at a boil. Add a handful of salt to the water and add the spaghetti. Cook, following package direction for al dente.

5. While the pasta is cooking, add the shrimp to the sauce, raise the heat to medium and cook until the first side turns pinks, around 3 minutes. Turn the shrimp and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Shrimp cookiing
Shrimp cookiing

6. One minute before the prescribed time for al dente, using tongs, transfer the spaghetti to the skillet with the shrimp, reduce the flame to low, and toss the spaghetti to coat with the sauce. Off the heat, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve.

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The spaghetti coated with the sauce

Wine Pairing: Pecorino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Sauvignon Blanc

Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon

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After a week of indulging in more mundane fare like grilled steaks and summer corn, hot dogs with baked beans, and roast chicken, I thought it was time to get back into the kitchen and cook something new. We both wanted that something to be light and and my new schedule required it to be quick to prepare. Looking for a recipe to meet these requirements, I turned to one of Marcella Hazan’s lesser known books, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen. Still widely available online, I find it a more personal book than her better known and widely acclaimed Classic Italian Cooking volumes.

The recipe I chose for dinner last night was one of two in the book for scallops, “Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon.” Hazan describes her dish as “simple and very fragrant,” which, in my opinion, is an understatement. The recipe calls for a minimum of ingredients and, including prep time, can be on the table in fewer than thirty minutes That’s simple. But what makes this dish a keeper is its unctuous sauce, redolent with fresh rosemary, pale-gold garlic, and fresh lemon juice. It makes a perfect first course for a more formal dinner or, served with plain rice or crusty bread, an elegant entree for a weekday supper.

If you choose to make this dish for two, you can reduce the amount of scallops. However, I would not cut back on the recipe’s other ingredients, as they yield a sauce so delicious you may find yourselves, like we did, licking your plates to savor every last drop.

To heighten the citrus factor, I used the zest of one lemon, which I added to the pan along with the juice.

Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon
Adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen

1.5 pounds small bay scallops
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (Use the best quality you have available.)
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thin
1.5 teaspoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)

The ingredients prepped
The ingredients, prepped

Wash and, using a towel, thoroughly pat dry the scallops.

Choose a skillet large enough to eventually accommodate the scallops in a single layer. Start by adding the olive oil and sliced garlic to the empty skillet and place over medium heat.

As soon as the garlic turns a pale gold, add the rosemary and stir quickly. (Do not let the garlic turn brown or it will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the scallops.)

The garlic, lightly gold
The garlic, lightly gold

Add the scallops, and season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the scallops change from translucent to a flat white.

The final sautee
The final sauté

Add the lemon juice and zest, turn up the heat as high as possible, stir once or twice, then transfer to warm plates and coat with the sauce. Serve immediately.

Wine Pairing: Garganega, Soave, Pinot Grigio

Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes

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Yesterday, I was challenged to to prepare the following recipe from Weight Watchers. At first glance, it looked fine.

Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes

Ingredients
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup of grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup water

Instructions
Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add zucchini in a single layer; increase heat to high and cook until bottoms are golden, about 2 minutes. Flip zucchini and cook until golden on the other side, about 2 minutes or more. Remove zucchini to plate with a slotted spoon. Heat remaining oil in the same skillet. Add shrimp; sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper; sauté until shrimp are almost cooked through, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and water; sauté, stirring to loosen bits from the bottom of the land, until shrimp are cooked through and tomatoes are softened, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Return zucchini to skillet; toss and serve.

However, when I brought the ingredients home and re-read the recipe I couldn’t resist making some changes for the following reasons., which would unfortunately slightly increase the number of Weight Watcher points.

First off, I don’t like to sauté in nonstick pans. I have two, but use them exclusively for eggs and omelets. I opted to use stainless steel, which necessitated using an extra tablespoon of olive oil.

Second, I thought that sautéing the tomatoes for 1 minute really wouldn’t extract their flavor or change their texture.

Finally, I thought combining water and raw garlic to “deglaze” the pan wasn’t going to add much flavor.

So, keeping most of the ingredients except for substituting wine for the water as well as adding an additional tablespoon of olive oil for sautéing and a quarter cup of chopped parsley for garnishing, I prepared the recipe with a few changes to the instructions.

I added all the olive oil (2 Tablespoons) up front and sautéed the zucchini along with the garlic for about 3 minutes; I kept my eye on the garlic making sure it remained light gold and not brown. As a a result, the zucchini were only lightly colored but nonetheless perfectly cooked.

I transferred the zucchini, garlic, and oil to a bowl, making sure there was no garlic left in the pan. I then carefully poured off most of the oil from the bowl, without any of the garlic, back into the sauté pan. I then seasoned the grape tomatoes with the salt and oregano and sautéed them until they started to break down and create a sauce.

At this point, I added the shrimp and cooked on one side until they turned pink, about 2 minutes. I then turned the shrimp and cooked for about 1 more minute. Then I added the wine and returned the zucchini, garlic, and any remaining oil in the bowl to the pan. I cooked everything for about about 2 more minutes. I then plated onto heated plates, sprinkling the shrimp with some chopped parsley and served with couscous.

I know the final dish had a few more Weight Watcher points than the original, but I think the extra flavor and texture of my version may have been worth them. However, if you are following their program religiously, I think you’ll be more than happy with the original recipe at the beginning of this post.

Wine Pairing: Dry Rose

Linguine alle Vongole

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Last night, we enjoyed our favorite seafood pasta: linguine alle vongole, linguine with white clam sauce. It’s a relatively quick and easy dish to prepare, but it does require attention to detail: slow poaching of the garlic in the olive oil to extract optimal flavor, just a pinch of Calabrian red pepper flakes, a final addition of finely minced fresh garlic and lemon zest at the end to add brightness.

As with most Italian cooking, the primary ingredients must be of the highest quality. For this reason, sometimes you have to adjust a recipe by what’s available in the market. Such was the case yesterday. Typically I use either Manila or small littlenecks for this dish. However, yesterday, there were none of the former and the latter were just too big. But I did find some wonderfully fresh cockles, which I find a tad sweeter than clams.

2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 teaspoon Calabrian red pepper flakes
2 pounds small clams (littleneck, Manila, or cockles), scrubbed if necessary and rinsed. Inspect the clams discarding any that are cracked or that are open and do not close when pinched.
1/3 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped fine
8 oz linguine
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon, unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, starting from room temperature, poach 3/4 of the garlic and the pepper flakes in the olive oil over a low flame until aromatic. Add a pinch of the parsley for the final minute of sautéing. The garlic should take on only the lightest hint of gold color.

Sautéed garlic awaiting the clams
Sautéed garlic awaiting the clams

At this point, liberally salt the water (add the salt slowly to avoid boiling over) and start cooking the pasta. Cook the pasta following package directions for 1 minute less than al dente

Add the clams, wine, and 3/4 of the parsley to the sauté pan, raise the heat and bring to a high simmer over medium high heat. Cover the pan tightly and shaking occasionally, cook the clams until they open. About 6 minutes.

Clams just opened
Clams just opened

Remove the clams with a slotted spoon, discarding any that do not open, sprinkle them with the lemon zest. Raise the flame to high and bring the sauce remaining in the pan to a boil. Add the butter. Using tongs or a pasta fork, immediately transfer the cooked pasta to the sauté pan and toss for about a minute to coat the pasta. If too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. At this point, the pasta will be the perfect al dente

Transfer the pasta and sauce to a bowl, add the clams, the remaining 1/4 of the minced garlic, and sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Serve on warmed plates with a few grinds of fresh black pepper if desired.

Wine Pairing: Soave, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc

Fregola with Manila Clams

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Last night we had a tasty dish of fregola (Sardinian couscous) with Manila clams. The attached recipe is from BBC television cook Nigella Lawson. The link below to the BBC site also has a helpful video of the recipe.

Lawson calls for tomato puree, which is actually a concentrated tomato paste. I used an imported one from Italy that comes in a tube. After adding it to the pan, I let it toast slightly while stirring it before I added the broth and the vermouth. I think toasting the paste makes for a deeper tomato flavor.

For the small clams called for in the recipe, I used the Manila variety, which I find have a delicious briny sweetness to them. Note that the clams may take a minute or two more to open than the 3 minutes called for in the recipe. Shaking the covered pan may help the clams to open.

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This is a quick and easy to prepare dish for a weeknight meal.  And if you don’t have fregola in the cupboard, it’s worth a trip to your Italian specialty store or an online search to find some. Here’s a link to the BBC Recipe.

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I paired the dish with a 2013 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, a Rhone-style blend rosé. A crisp dry rosé, with hints of strawberry on the nose and an earthy minerality, it was the perfect complement to the briny fregola.

Wine Pairing: Dry Rosé, Dry Riesling, Pinot Grigio

 

Mussels Marinara

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Tuesday is usually a fish day for us. So last night, I prepared Mussels Marinara. I’m not sure how I came up with this recipe, but over the years I’ve been tweaking it. The marinara sauce is based on that of my Neapolitan aunt, who would often prepare it for a weekday dinner’s first-course pasta. The process of steaming the mussels open in the sauce comes from many recipes I’ve used for preparing clams for pasta with olive oil, garlic, and parsley.

This is a relatively easy and quick dish to prepare; perfect for a weekday night.

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2 pounds mussels, rinsed and debearded. (I use farmed mussels, which are easier to clean and require a minimum of debearding.)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
3 Tbs chopped parsley (1 for the sauce; 2 for finishing)
28 oz can of crushed Italian tomatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp crushed red-pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 tsp dried oregano (If you opt for more oregano, be careful not to overdo it, as too much oregano can overwhelm the taste of the mussels.)

1. Clean and debeard mussels, discarding any cracked or opened ones. I keep them in a bowl with cold water slowly running over them and then lift them up out of the water with a spider or small sieve.

2. In a large deep, 3 quart, sauté pan, over low heat add oil and garlic. Poach the garlic slowly for about 5 minutes until they become aromatic and before they take on any color.|

3. Add 1 Tbs of the parsley and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes more.

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4. Add tomatoes and bring to simmer.

5. Add red-pepper flakes and oregano. Rub the oregano in your palms to release maximum flavor.

6. Add wine and simmer uncovered over medium low heat for 15 minutes.musstep2small

7. Add mussels to to the pan and stir coating them with the sauce.

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8. Cover the pan tightly. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan, until the mussels have opened.

9. Transfer to a large bowl with the sauce, discarding any mussels that have not opened. Finish with the remaining parsley and, if desired, a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve, in warmed bowls, with thick slices of grilled or toasted Italian bread to sop up the sauce.

Wine Pairing:  A young Salento Rosso for a red; a Fiano di Avellino for a white.