What I'm Cooking: Savory Shrimp Spaghetti

About five years ago, I came across a recipe called "Midnight Pasta" in the New York Times. 

An easy-to-make meal flavored with garlic, capers and anchovies, it was economical and it could be on the table in about 15 minutes start to finish.

Although I have never whipped up a pasta recipe - or any meal for that matter - in the middle of the night, the idea behind this is that it's a simple dish that can be made quickly. 

More often than not, I make it after church on Sundays, with a side of roasted lemon broccoli. We accompanied it last night with toasted chunks of my Dad's famous whole wheat sourdough bread (yum!), dipped in this crazy-delicious Fig Balsamic Vinegar that our friends Beth and Brandon recently brought over.

Since we tend to like protein in our pasta sauce, I added shrimp to the original recipe, and reduced the amount of spaghetti by almost half.  I maintained the original amounts of anchovies, capers and red pepper, though.  We are not eating this at midnight, so spice is no object.

If you freak out at the sight of anchovies on the ingredient list, please stick with me.  Maybe you don't want to eat them straight out of the tin, but they add amazing complexity to the flavor of food - even in tiny amounts.  So skip them if you like, but the flavor of this dish will be kind of flat without them.

Make sure you have everything ready before you start making the sauce.  It cooks very quickly - as in a matter of seconds - so you'll want to keep a close eye on it.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
  • 5 oz. dried spaghetti
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (I use jarred garlic paste)
  • 1/2 of a 2 oz. tin of anchovies, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Black pepper

Method:

Cook spaghetti in a pot of rapidly-boiling salted water for eight to 10 minutes.

While spaghetti cooks, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute shrimp until heated through, about three to four minutes.  Remove and keep warm. 

Wipe down skillet, and add two tablespoons olive oil and warm over medium heat.  If you really love the flavor of anchovies, replace one tablespoon of the olive oil with the (very salty) oil from the tin of anchovies.  Add garlic and cook for about one minute, without letting it brown.  Stir in the anchovies, capers and red pepper and cook for 30 seconds.  Add shrimp to pan and heat through, about one minute.  Turn off heat.

Reserve 1/4 cup of starchy pasta water.  Drain pasta, and quickly add to mixture in skillet, tossing in some reserved pasta water for a creamier texture.  Toss in parsley.  Serve with grated Parmesan and black pepper if desired.

Makes two yummy servings.

Buon appetito!

Get Sauced

Growing up in Missouri, one of the first things my mom taught me to cook was spaghetti. 

She didn't use jarred sauce, and there was no family recipe for sauce that simmers for hours.   The recipe?  A can of tomato paste, water and a packet of spaghetti seasoning mix.  Plus a package of ground beef.

I frequently made spaghetti for my parents and brothers.  No sharp knives or fancy equipment required, so this was something 10-year-old Amy could cook with minimal risk to the kitchen or myself.

After moving to New York, I discovered that Manhattan was a veritable wasteland when it came to hunting down my favorite seasoning mix.  So for years, I stocked up when traveling. 

When I recently spotted McCormick Thick & Zesty Spaghetti Seasoning Mix at a store in East Harlem, I might have heard a chorus of angels singing.  The ensuing lively Facebook discussion revealed a local demand among non-native New Yorkers for this Midwestern delicacy.

Over the years, this recipe has become known as "Aunt Amy's spaghetti," because our nieces and (especially) nephews request it when I am around.  When we have people over for lunch after church on a cold day, I might make a batch on Sunday morning, and simmer it in the slow cooker until we get home.  My own version of your Italian grandmother's "Sunday gravy."

So, here is the recipe. The magic dust is the Thick & Zesty.  I cannot vouch for any other seasoning you might use.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound ground beef, turkey or chicken
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pkg. McCormick Thick & Zesty Spaghetti Seasoning Mix
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 2 cups water

Method:

Brown ground beef in skillet.  Pour off oil and keep beef warm.  In a separate pan, heat olive oil, and sauté onion until soft and translucent.  

Add ground beef to onion, and stir in seasoning, tomato paste and water. 

Bring to a boil (keep an eye on it - it boils very quickly).   Turn down the heat to low and simmer for at least 20 minutes.  While sauce simmers, boil water and cook spaghetti or your favorite pasta according to package directions. Pour sauce over cooked, drained pasta and enjoy!

I intentionally do not recommend a specific amount of pasta here.  To my taste, one recipe of the sauce is good for about half a pound of pasta and three to four people.  But we are "sauce" people here, so you be the judge of how much pasta you need.

Buon appetito!