I get asked a lot where my inspiration comes from. Which seems strange to me, because in my head, everyone is thinking about food 24-7, just like I am. (I’ve been told people think about other things, but I have yet to figure out what. Or why.)
The thing is, I don’t usually have a very good answer, and end up saying something mumbly and lame. Then, over this past weekend, I was asked on three separate occasions where my inspiration comes from, and it got me thinking I needed something better than that.
The truth is, inspiration is everywhere. In fact, I rarely have to go looking for it — I have far more ideas rattling around in my head than I could possibly act upon each week. I get inspired by ingredients (fresh and in season, mostly, but also exotic or unusual things I’ve never tried), by flavor combinations, by the stuff I eat in restaurants, by techniques, by the things I see in cooking shows or on blogs… give me a cookbook and I can’t even bear to flip through the whole thing in one sitting because my brain just can’t handle it all. Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night with some grand idea for a recipe and have to run to the grocery store in my pajamas to make it happen. (True story.)
But the thing that inspires me the most, hands down, is my stomach. It should go without saying, I cook what I like to eat. Fortunately, I like a lot of things, and I particularly enjoy trying new things, so there’s a wealth of inspiration to be had just from thinking “what do I want for dinner tonight?”
This pasta? This is what I want for dinner tonight. And tomorrow night. And the next day for lunch, because I will never, ever tire of it.
Behold, my new favorite meal. There’s nothing inherently special about this dish — in fact, it’s exceedingly simple — but somehow everything just falls into place. The garlic, and olives, and parmesan cheese… I’ve made this recipe five times, now, and haven’t changed a thing from the very first batch. (Insert look of shock here — I almost never make the same recipe again and again without messing with it.) Of course, most recipes don’t come together so easily, but when they do, I don’t argue. I just thank my cooking angels, and go with it.
The next time you’re stuck for inspiration in the kitchen, I hope you’ll turn to this recipe for help. It’s the best kind of simple, and comes together in in no time flat, so it’s perfect for getting you out of a food rut in the middle of the week. From now on, I plan on keeping a pound of shrimp in the freezer for that very purpose. That is, if I can stop making it every couple of days.
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 2 TBSP butter
- 1 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 lb. fettuccine (or spaghetti, or other long pasta)
- 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil, chopped
- ¼ cup kalamata olives, chopped
- 1 tsp. anchovy paste (or 1-2 anchovy fillets)
- ½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 TBSP white wine vinegar
- 5 oz. baby spinach
- ¼-1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- ¼ cup fresh chopped Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. If your shrimp is frozen, thaw, rinse, and drain it well. Pat shrimp thoroughly dry with paper towels, and season lightly on both sides with a pinch of salt.
- Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Saute the shrimp for about 1 minute per side, or until pink and just barely opaque all the way through. Remove the shrimp from the pan, and set aside. (Don't worry if it's slightly under-done, as it will be added back to the pan later.)
- Reduce the heat to medium, and add the butter and garlic. Saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the garlic just starts to turn golden. Be careful not to let it burn.
- While the garlic cookes is a good time to drop the pasta in the boiling water. Cook according to package directions until just barely al-dente. Before draining, reserve a ladle full of the pasta water.
- While the pasta cooks, add the sundried tomatoes, olives, anchovy paste, and ½ tsp. red pepper flakes to the pan with the garlic and stir for about a minute. Add the red bell pepper, and cook for one minute more. Add the white wine vinegar and spinach, and stir until the spinach is wilted.
- Once the pasta is done, drain it (be sure to reserve a little of the cooking liquid), and add the pasta to the pan, along with the shrimp, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, and parsley. Toss everything to combine, adding a couple TBSP of the pasta water if necessary to help coat the pasta and keep it from being too dry.
- Taste, and adjust the amount of parmesan and red pepper flakes as needed. Serve immediately with extra parmesan cheese, and more parsley for garnish.
I made this recipe for the family a few weekends ago, and doubled the recipe. If you want to make a larger amount, I found it easier to cook the shrimp in two batches, then continue with the recipe as written. (Also, plan on having a very large bowl, or a couple of bowls, at the ready for mixing everything at the end --that is a LOT of pasta!)
Leftovers (if there are any) can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.