Pasta With Lemon Cream And Shrimp
I’ve procrastinated to the point that I’m sharing an Olympics-inspired recipe after the Olympics are over. Sorry. But it’s fitting because this recipe is inspired in part by a memorable meal I had in Greece the week after the 2004 Athens Olympics ended.
In my sportswriting heyday, I worked a few contract gigs for NBC’s website, www.nbcolympics.com. I was first hired as a fact-checker during the 2000 Sydney Games as part of a crew based in San Francisco. I fact-checked incoming copy from Sydney and wrote dozens, hundreds, MILLIONS of athlete bios.
It should be noted that in 2000 the internet was still a relatively new media tool. NBC’s first Olympics website, staffed by a mere handful of people, debuted just four years prior at the Atlanta Games. Because my primary job was to verify facts, many of which could be verified online (e.g. Roger went to ABC high school, Bobbee indeed spells her name with two Es), I became a whiz at utilizing search engines to find what I wanted and quickly. I more or less had the same responsibility at Sports Illustrated during the summer of 1999. By the time the Sydney Olympics ended, I had logged hours upon hours searching and tracking down all kinds of facts on the internet. Today, I imagine most folks are relatively good at this but in 2000, I was an unlikely expert at scrounging up all kinds of information on the internet. This made me the go-to person in my circle of friends for tracking down old flames, researching ex-girlfriends, etc. If it was out there, I could find it. Now everyone’s a pro (or scoping Facebook for what they need), and my internet search stalking requests from friends have dwindled to zero.
Following the Sydney Olympics, I worked as a copy editor for the 2002 Salt Lake Games and as the tennis and softball web producer for the 2004 Athens Games.
(On my way to a tennis match wearing the bazillion required credentials)
(On the job)
I never had much time to explore on-location during these gigs – Olympic coverage is a 24/7 operation and many NBC employees work 13-hour shifts start to finish. You don’t hear many complaints, though — it’s an upbeat, energetic environment; the time mostly flies by; and it’s truly thrilling, rewarding work. That said, having few opportunities to sightsee during the Games is unfortunate considering the Olympics are held in some mighty fine locations. I had two days off during my 30-day contract gig in San Francisco and spent that precious time aimlessly wandering around the city by myself. I did work in one day of skiing in Park City during the Salt Lake Games. And Jason and I did attend one Olympic basketball game during the 2004 Olympics.
(In the stands)
When Athens rolled around, I got smart and tacked on a few days at the end to travel. It was sort of a belated honeymoon for Jason and me, and we visited the Parthenon as well as traveled to the Greek island, Hydra, which respectable travel guides will tell you is a tourist trap, but whatever, I’d be happy to be trapped there anytime.
Vehicles are prohibited on the island, so all travel is done on foot or by donkey.
And every nook and cranny is postcard pretty.
I have many fond memories of our time in Hydra but one evening stands out: we scaled the narrow, winding stone trails of the island to reach a small restaurant overlooking the port. We dined on perfectly-cooked pasta and fresh seafood tossed lightly in a bright and flavorful cream sauce. We savored that meal, bite by bite, sipping crisp white wine and staring out into this:
I hadn’t thought about that meal in a long time until our friend, Scott Cook, had us over for his famous “lemon pasta.” It reminded me so much of the pasta we enjoyed in Hydra, and I was instantly intrigued because I hadn’t tasted anything like it since leaving the island.
Scott’s lemon pasta is legendary in our neighborhood. I’d been hearing about it for years. YEARS! (*Shakes fist!*) Neighbors would say, “Have you had Scott’s lemon pasta magic yet?” When Scott and his wife finally kindly had us over for pasta night, I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond the obvious: that pasta and lemons were involved and that, based on others’ reviews, the combination was going to be terrific.
Scott makes his noodles from scratch, so that’s part of the delicious equation. The cream sauce is a fusion of butter, cream, fresh lemon juice and lemon zest — proof that uncomplicated ingredients yield extraordinary results. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with a dream team like that. Scott adds shredded parmigiano-reggiano to the pasta just before serving. Although he doesn’t usually serve it with seafood (mainly because we have so many vegetarian friends), I figured, based on the pasta we had in Hydra, that shrimp would pair fantastically with that gorgeous lemon-cream sauce. I was right.
The dish is unlike other cream-based pastas I’ve had in that it’s inexplicably light-tasting. I think this illusion (and let’s be real — with cream, cheese and butter involved — “light” is indeed an illusion) is created by the infusion of lemon and the fact that the noodles aren’t swimming in sauce. A light coat does the job here.
Scott says no matter how much lemon pasta he makes — and he’s increased his batches over the years — the pasta always disappears. Every last noodle.
Inspired by Scott Cook’s lemon pasta magic, which he adapted from “pasta al limone” from The Classic Pasta Cookbook
Serves 4-6 adults, depending on serving size and, of course, appetites.
1 lb pasta (Scott makes fettuccine noodles; I make tagliatelle noodles – for a great homemade tagliatelle recipe, try this one from Saveur – see my note below*)
4 tablespoons butter plus 1-2 tablespoons for cooking the shrimp
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons (very fine) lemon zest
1 1/4 cups cream
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs large shrimp, deveined and shells removed (tails removed, too, if desired)
3/4 cup parmigiano-regianno + more for garnish
* I adore this tagliatelle recipe and technique from Saveur. Instructions are spot-on and the pictures are helpful. A few notes based on my experience:
- Instead of hand-kneading the pasta dough for 10 minutes, I placed it in my kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook and kneaded on medium for approximately half the time until smooth and elastic per the instructions.
- Make sure the sheets of pasta are well floured on both sides before you roll them up and cut them; otherwise, they will be a sticky nightmare when you attempt to unravel them.
- I left the pasta out to dry longer than the recipe called for and it was fine.
In a saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest and let bubble for one minute. Add the cream, bring just to a low boil and let simmer on low for 10 minutes until the sauce has reduced (the original recipe says to reduce by almost half but I usually don’t let it get all the way to this point). Add salt and pepper to taste. At this point, if you want the sauce to have more zing, now’s the time to add more lemon juice and zest (a tablespoon of juice and 1/2 teaspoon of zest is a good start). If you add more lemon, let simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add ¾ cup cheese and cook until melted, stirring occasionally, approximately 1 minute. Taste the sauce again and make sure it’s seasoned well with salt and pepper. The sauce can be kept warm on lowest heat until the pasta and shrimp are ready.
In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter on medium heat. Add the shrimp, leaving room between them for even cooking. Cook for approximately 4 minutes. Turn the shrimp over. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes until shrimp are cooked through. Repeat with remaining shrimp.
Cook 1 lb of pasta according to instructions. Drain. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the sauce. Add the shrimp. Serve immediately, garnishing with more cheese and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.