Friday, February 03, 2012

Sicilian Shrimp Pasta: Great for any weather!

Last week I had friends in for a very casual dinner. I had shrimp in the freezer. This was a small group.  Shrimp isn’t something I often think of for big crowds, partly because it’s a little costly. And partly because it’s hard to find a good shrimp recipe that doesn’t take a lot of last minute work. And I just don't like a lot of last minute work when I'm entertaining a large group of guests.

But for a smaller group, I love to make some sort of shrimp pasta, and I’ve got a new one for you. You can make the sauce completely (up to adding the shrimp) an hour or two ahead and let it set at room temperature. You can also make it even further ahead and refrigerate, bringing it to a simmer before adding the shrimp.

This is quite typical of Sicilian cooking. Citrus grows wild on the island, and capers and raisins are often used with tomatoes there. Marsala wine is native to Sicily. The sauce is thinner than a typical Italian tomato sauce. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

You may wonder about the lack of cheese. Italians rarely use cheese with seafood pasta dishes, but if you want it, I won’t tell on you!

With a simple salad, this makes a great meal to share with friends on a winter evening.

Gamberoni alla Siciliana

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 or 5 plump cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, cut into ¼” dice
1 bulb fennel
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes with garlic and herbs
2 tbsp golden raisins
2 tbsp capers, drained
1 cup dry Marsala
Juice and finely grated zest of one large orange
½ tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb fettuccine or linguine, cooked al dente

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

Cut the top stalks off the bulb of fennel. Cut the bulb in half vertically. Cut out and discard the solid core. Sliver the remaining fennel bulb and reserve the top green fronds for garnish. Add the fennel slivers to the pan with the onions. Stir and continue to cook about another five minutes.

Add the tomatoes, raisins, capers, Marsala, orange juice and zest, fennel seeds and pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed.

When ready to serve, bring the sauce to a simmer and add the shrimp. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are pink and opaque, about 5 minutes. Serve over the pasta and garnish with the reserved fennel fronds. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTE: The red pepper flakes give a little zing without being too hot. You may increase them if you like, or leave them out entirely if you prefer a milder dish.
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