I remember the first time my son ordered pasta with shellfish in Italy. We were seated at a restaurant overlooking the Adriatic sea with my husband’s cousin Ottavio and his wife Antonella. The pasta arrived and our then-teenage son Michael proceeded to sprinkle parmesan cheese over his plate, while Ottavio looked on in horror. Well, actually he did more than merely look on – he started barking in Italian that my son had committed the culinary equivalent of defacing Michelangelo’s Pieta. We weren’t quite sure how to remedy things since the vile act had already been committed, but Antonella thankfully defused the situation, dismissing her husband’s outrage with this phrase: “Non ti preoccupare. E’ despota.” meaning “Don’t worry, he’s a despot.”
We all chuckled at the ice-breaker but needless to say, our son Michael now eats his pasta and shellfish without parmesan cheese, the way most Italians do. Rules are meant to be broken however, and there are still some seafood dishes where cheese is introduced. This is not one of them.
Although this is particularly suited to the Lenten season, when many people are avoiding meat on Fridays, this is one of my standard go-to meals any time of year. I’ve usually got shrimp in the freezer at all times, and my pantry is seldom without spaghetti and canned tomatoes. The hardest part is peeling and deveining the shrimp. Boil the water for the pasta while the sauce is cooking, and you’ve got dinner on the table in 30 minutes.
Sprinkle parmesan on top at your own peril. Just remember that in the minds of some Italians , (and many despots), you’ll be committing culinary heresy if you do and may be forever banned from the dining table.
Spaghetti with shrimp
1 15 oz. can tomatoes or tomato chunks
1 T. tomato paste
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic
3 T. olive oil
dried or fresh basil
red pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
about 10 uncooked and thawed shrimp
I use either whole tomatoes or tomato chunks because I prefer a sauce with more texture. If you like a smoother sauce, use pureed tomatoes. However, if you’re using whole tomatoes, crush them a little between your fingers.
Place the olive oil in a pan over low to medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until onions are soft. Add the remaining ingredients except the shrimp. Let the sauce simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes or so.
In the meantime, pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel. Take the shells off and devein the shrimp. When the sauce has simmered for at least 25 minutes, add the raw shrimp. Cover the pot and let the shrimp cook in the sauce. They’ll need only a few minutes – five minutes at most. Serve over spaghetti or linguini.