Tastes of the Med: Spaghetti ai gamberi

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On this week’s menu, we’ve chosen two family favorites for our Bistortiglioni al pachino and spaghetti ai gamberi. These are two easy recipes in which the base is warmed and then the wood grilled food is tossed through, much like a salad. Who knew that you could get a  gorgeous pasta sauce from a grill?

And with shrimp? There are always two serious challenges with shrimp: cooking them just right and pairing them with the right ingredients that enhance their delicate flavor and not overpower it.

If you’re underwhelmed by shrimp, there’s a reason why. It’s so easy to overcook them, it’s more than likely you’ll end up with dry, rubbery shrimp than succulent, tender ones. Cooking shrimp on a hot surface or with an intense heat sources tends to quickly draw out what little moisture is inside the shells which, in turn, toughens the delicate meat. Worse, that trademark sweetness is all but gone. We gave up cooking with shell-on shrimp a while back as there were many more things in that price category that were so much better.  Grilled shrimp was a lot of effort; putting them on wood skewers was a lot of hassle with a result that was not at all commensurate with the effort.

That is until we discovered that shrimp cooked over wood coals is the perfect cooking source for them. There is none of that direct heat of a gas grill to dry them out, no chance of flare-ups to scorch the shells if something else is being cooked on the grill. Loaded into a basket takes a fraction of the time of skewering them and contributes to thorough cooking: at the height they rotate above the coals, the moisture emitted from the shrimp doesn’t have enough time to evaporate. Instead, this moisture stays trapped in the shell, so they are basically steaming in their own briny juices while the heat below maintains a constant, even  temperature to cook them just right. Ever try pan frying shrimp for 20 minutes? Of course not, because they’d be totally inedible. How about in a risotto or a paella? Bland. You’ve never had shrimp like these: perfectly moist and totally flavorful.

We took one of our favorite pasta dishes, olio e aglio, and used this as the base for the shrimp to still shine. There are just three ingredients: olive oil and garlic and salt. Garlic is a natural companion to shrimp; when cooked, it turns nutty and its raw intensity is not killed but mellowed, turning almost sweet in the same way shrimp does. This is so simple to make, a beginner could master it but even a food expert can fully appreciate the dimensions of this amazing dish.

Spaghetti ai gamberi

serves 6

Fill the grilling basket with:
16-20 extra large shrimp

Cook over wood coals for exactly 20 minutes, just until the shells turn from pink to orange.
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Meanwhile, fill a large pot of water with water and a 2 T. of sea salt and bring to a rolling boil. Add:
500 g (1.1 lbs) spaghetti (or your favorite long pasta)

In a large pan, add:
5 T best-quality olive oil

Heat on low and gently sauté:
3 cloves of garlic

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain pasta. Remove olive oil mixture from the heat and immediately add the drained pasta to the pan. Add:
2 T. coarsely chopped coriander (or parsley)

With a serving fork, toss quickly to coat the pasta. Turn out onto a platter and pile the the finished shrimp onto the top of the pasta. Garnish with some torn coriander leaves for added color. Serve immediately.

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TIPS FOR SUCCESS:
• Be careful not to overcook the garlic, as it turns bitter when cooked too long. The oil should never get too hot, as the olive flavor will lose not just its golden color but its fruitiness, too.
• As the pasta is cooking, make the sauce but heat the oil just before the pasta is finished.

Luxury Touch:
Add to the oil:
1 dried chili pepper, cut in half with seeds removed

•Splitting the chili pepper and removing the seeds allows it to impart flavor to the oil without creating intense spiciness and can easily be removed for a milder version.

Tips for using the myGrill™ Chef SMART:
•Use the baskets of the myGrill™ Chef SMART grill for best results. The slow rotation of the grill will aid in even cooking.
•Use the Auto function and choose “Fish”. (If cooking shrimp or other fish along with the vegetables as seen in the image above, choose “Fish”). Cook for 20 minutes. The shrimp should turn pink and then to an orange color.
•The variable of the quality of the wood coals used to grill the foods must be taken into account when cooking. Rely on the temperature guide on the computer. If the temperature is too low, add more pre-heated coal.
•When you’re cooking over wood coals, just when you think it needs a couple more minutes, take it off. At high temperatures, food continues to cook even after it comes off the grill.

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