The Little Fish Market in the Wall: Shrimp with Pancetta over Chickpea Puree

Fish Market, Montalcino, Shrimp with Pancetta, Italian culture, Italian heritage, Italian american, Italian news, Italian traditions

Street view from the roof of Montalcino


On my first few visits to Montalcino, I would pass a little closed door in one of the walls of the village.  I was never able to catch it open to learn what was behind this mysterious door. Finally a few years back, I noticed that the little door stood ajar, a long line of villagers queued up outside. I finally was going to learn the secret behind the wall! As I peered inside, I realized it was a fish market! It is on Tuesday and Friday mornings that the villagers line up, catching up on gossip as they wait for their catch from the sea.
Since learning of the market, I longed to order fish from the little shop but the line outside snaking away from its door has always been rather intimidating. Something to do with the fear of arriving at the counter and ordering in Italian while the village looks on.  Still haunting me was the memory of ordering prosciutto at a meat counter in Sicily a few years earlier. On a trip to visit friends near Taormina, I headed to the market solo.
I bravely yelled across the counter for what I thought was an appropriate amount of prosciutto, having done a quick conversion from pounds to kilograms in my head. I watched in amusement (ok,horror) as the man sliced container after container of prosciutto.  I smiled demurely as the Sicilians around me grew increasingly impatient.  When I arrived home with 8 containers of prosciutto, my friends dissolved into a puddle of laughter. We ate prosciutto for a week.


On a recent visit to Montalcino, I passed the little market in the wall and noticed only a few villagers in line. This was my opportunity! I was ready to face my fear. I took my place and soon arrived at the front of the line – face to face with the fishmonger. I crossed my fingers and ordered what I hoped was only enough fresh gamberi for dinner that evening. I held my breath as she scooped shrimp. One scoop, two scoops. Then she stood back from the scale and said ‘Basta?’ A smile spread across my face as I realized that I had ordered just enough for dinner. My chest swelled. My bravado soared.
Later that evening, I made this simple meal for dinner- the thought of having overcome one small fear making the succulent fresh taste of the shrimp all the sweeter. Buon appetito!
Shrimp with Pancetta over Chickpea Puree
1 pound of shrimp, if possible with the heads and tails intact
2 (15.5 ounce) cans of chickpeas
Extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
Juice of 1 lemon, divided in half
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (plus additional to sprinkle on top)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ pound pancetta, diced
½ cup dry white wine
2 plum tomatoes (or 1 medium tomato), cored and diced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (plus additional to sprinkle on top)
Clean and peel the shrimp, leaving heads and tails intact (if they have them).
Prepare chickpea puree: Rinse the chickpeas. In a medium saucepan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium low heat. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the rinsed chickpeas and enough water to just cover the chickpeas.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until soft. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid. Using a potato masher or food processer, mash the chickpeas into a paste. Add juice of ½ of the lemon, parsley and about ¼ cup of olive oil. Mix to create a smooth paste. If too thick, add some reserved cooking water or more olive oil to thin. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix until smooth. Return to pan. Cover and keep warm.
Prepare the shrimp: In a large sauté pan, heat a bit of olive oil on medium-low. Add the diced pancetta and sauté until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on a few paper towels. Drain all but a tablespoon of the oil. Add the shrimp to the pan and sauté a few minutes until just cooked through – do not overcook. Remove from pan. Add remaining chopped garlic to pan and sauté over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add in the wine, chopped tomato, and juice from other half of lemon. Simmer for a few minutes until wine is slightly reduced. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add the shrimp back to the pan and stir to coat.
Plate chickpea puree on a warm serving plate. Arrange shrimp and sauce over chickpea puree. Sprinkle with the crisp pancetta and some chopped parsley. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve. Buon appetito!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, they co-author the blog

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