When you’ve had a long day or week, when you are ready to pull your hair out at the thought of having to come up with another idea for dinner, when your family is hungry and letting you know – loudly – this is the dish for you. Easy to make and on the table in less than 30 minutes, even the hungriest of your gang will be thrilled to sit down to Pasta with Shrimp and Tomatoes!
Shrimp and prawns are the perfect protein when you want something that cooks quickly. While similar, they are actually different creatures – prawns are larger and shrimp are smaller. There are over 300 varieties of shrimp and what you find in your grocery store will depend on what is plentiful where you live. They are also full of healthy vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. They contain high levels of zinc, Vitamins B-12, D, and E, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, iron, iodine, calcium, magnesium, and omega-3. Delicious and good for you, what more could you ask for?
Unless you can buy directly from a shrimper, you are probably better off buying flash frozen shrimp (with shells on). All shellfish is highly perishable and start to decay the moment they die. The shrimp you buy in stores is mostly thawed frozen shrimp which is only good for a couple of days. It is better to buy frozen and thaw the amount you want for each meal. Always thaw them in the refrigerator or in ice cold water – never at room temperature! If your shrimp smells of ammonia or anything other than salt water, it is a sign that it is past its prime. Truly fresh shrimp will be nearly transparent.
When buying shrimp, you want to ask for it based on the count not the size. Size terms are arbitrary while count is absolute. For example, if you ask for a pound of 16/20 shrimp, you will get about 18 pieces. Large shrimp (31/35’s) will yield about 33 pieces per pound. If you have any questions, ask your grocer for help. They are usually very willing to educate people who are interested in learning.
You typically have the option to buy raw or precooked shellfish. If you want more shrimp flavor in your dish (infused into the sauce) you want to use raw shrimp and cook it with your ingredients. If you want the sauce to stand on its own, buy precooked shrimp and add it at the last minute just to reheat it. You can also grill shrimp for a smoky flavor that permeates whatever you serve with it. Just remember that all shrimp cook very quickly so don’t turn away and leave it on the heat. Stay with it, turning after a minute or two. Depending on the size of the shrimp, they will average from 2 to 4 minutes to cook. Turn away or answer the phone and they will be overcooked and tough. As soon as they turn pink, get them off the heat!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are plating a meal with long pasta, you can make it look like a professional presentation with one easy trick. Use tongs to pick up a serving of pasta. Suspend it over the plate and as you set it down, twist your wrist, spinning the pasta into a coiled pile. Set the prawns on the top or around the outside, garnish with a sprig of basil and you have a stunning plate!
Kitchen Skill: Peeling and Deveining Shrimp/Prawns
Why: To remove the dark vein
How: Starting on the inside curve, peel back the shells and either discard or save to make stock with. Using a sharp knife, make a slice along the outside curve. Open it up and remove the dark vein. This is easy to do under running water. Rinse well and prepare as desired.
- 16 raw prawns with the shell still on* (or an equivalent weight of med. shrimp)
- 1 lb long pasta such as spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 onion, sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup white wine or dry vermouth
- 1/4 cup fish stock or pasta cooking water
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped coarsely (if fresh are not available, you can use canned [drain] or sun-dried in oil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- About 10 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, plus extra for garnishing
- Peel prawns, devein, and rinse well. Add shells to pasta water if desired.
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, stir it occasionally and cook until mostly done. If you bite it, it will be chewy and still a little firm. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Drain pasta in a colander but do not shake off excess water.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. When oil is hot add garlic and onions. Cook, stirring often until onions are limp, about 3 minutes. Add prawns and white wine. Simmer until liquid has evaporated, and then add the chopped tomatoes, oregano, and salt andpepper.Cook for 5 to 6 minutes.If you are using smaller shrimp, they will cook much faster, so adjust timing accordingly.
- Add cooked pasta, tossing to coat with the sauce. Pasta will finish cooking in the sauce, it should take about 3 minutes, but timing differs depending on the type of pasta you use. Cook about 1 minute less than the package directions say. The residual heat will finish it. Add a little of the pasta cooking water if needed. Stir in the basil, taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional basil if desired. Serve immediately!
- * Buying shellfish with the shell on helps keep them firm and flavorful. You can cook them in the shell for a more intense flavor, but your guests will have to peel them. I prefer to make it less challenging to eat and peel them before cooking. Sometimes I will add the shells to my sauce to help flavor it, but that is optional.