As summer draws to a close, most of us have cleared out our garden beds either to let them rest for the winter months or turn them over for fall...
A few years back, I was on a mission to visit as many of the islands of Italy as I could. I still have quite a few to go but managed to visit Sardinia, Capri, the Aeolian islands, the little islands off Venice and my much loved Sicily. In August 2008, I set my sights on the island of Pantelleria, a tiny speck of land that sits closer to Tunisia than it does to Sicily and home to the famed caper berry. My visit to the island was and continues to be simply one of the most memorable trips of my life.
I fell in love with the wild nature of the island – a dramatic outpost where the winds of North Africa blow from across the sea. I learned more than I ever thought possible about caper berries. I sampled the freshest ricotta I had ever tasted. I spent evenings with new friends who befriended me after learning I was traveling solo. I had a Giorgio Armani sighting. I spent hours driving around the wild fennel fringed roads. I lingered for hours over lunch near the sea, chatting with the wonderfully warm islanders. I was almost stranded after taking a wrong turn down what I mistakenly thought was a road and turned out to be an old lava field.
I loved the little island so much that I returned in October of that same year, a time of year when there were no direct flights to the island. After landing in Palermo, I had a driver take me to Trapani where I boarded an overnight ferry to the island. I shared my overnight cabin with 3 Italian ladies on their way to the island for a brief vacation. As my friends chatted way into the morning hours, I lay in my top bunk staring out at the sea from my little porthole, feeling exhilarated and exotic, one of those rare, special moments when I truly understood why I find travel so intoxicating and so transforming.
One afternoon, after a few hours spent hiking along the sea, I wandered into a restaurant in town, La Risacca. There I had the most amazing pasta dish prepared with little island shrimp, fresh breadcrumbs and toasted almonds. Almonds have found their way into many a Pantescan dish due to the Arab influences from the land not so far off its shores. I attempted to re-create the dish when I returned home and since that time, have made my version time and time again, each bite always taking me back to those magical days on the little wild island. I made this dish again last week for dinner and thought you might enjoy as well.
Hope you enjoy its unusual flavor as much as I do.
Pasta with Shrimp and Toasted Almonds and Breadcrumbs
About 1/2 pound of pasta of your choice (I like this best with spaghetti or something similar)
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3/4 cup fresh ground almonds
1 lb. uncooked, peeled, deveined shrimp (I used smaller shrimp as they did in Pantelleria)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup pasta cooking water
Chopped fresh parsley
1. In a large pot, cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions until al dente. Drain the pasta. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
2. In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and breadcrumbs and saute until the crumbs are just golden (approximately 8-10 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out skillet.
3. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and saute until the shrimp are opaque (about 4-6 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and remove shrimp from pan. Set aside.
4. Melt remaining teaspoon of olive oil and butter to the skillet. Add in the garlic and saute until fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Add in the white wine and allow to simmer until slightly reduced. Add the shrimp back in to the skillet. Adjust seasonings.
5. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and mix well. Add about 1/2 the reserved cooking water. Toss and saute briefly.
6. Stir in about 2/3 of the almond/breadcrumb mixture and toss. Add in remaining pasta water if a bit dry.
7. Put in serving dish, top with remaining almond/breadcrumb mixture. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.
Photo courtesy of Michele Becci - ouritaliantable.com