When you eat Key West pink shrimp as often as I do, you need to mix things up a bit. I am always on the lookout for creative ways to prepare shrimp without obscuring their sweet, natural flavor. Not long ago, I was staring blankly at the jumbled shelves of cookbooks in my kitchen when my focus landed on a faded, dilapidated volume called “Adventures in the Kitchen” by one Wolfgang Puck. Puck put this collection together in 1991 when he was at the height of his power as the exalted ruler of California cooking. He was operating four very influential restaurants, including the star-studded Spago in Los Angeles and Postrio in San Francisco and was viewed as one of the most innovative chefs in the business. Puck was one of the first celebrity chefs to build a massive empire and, for me anyway, has lost some of his luster through overexposure (did he really need to sell frozen pizza?). But he has always demonstrated a genuine love of cooking and quality ingredients, and his recipes still hold up today.
Here is a savory pasta recipe from the book that Puck offers as a first course with a note that the addition of shrimp or chicken can make it an impressive entree. I agree completely and make this dish often.
Interesting footnote: Puck apprenticed at L’Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux-de-Provence, where I had an absolutely stunning lunch a few years back. I think I’m still paying off the credit card, but I highly recommend it!
Key West Shrimp with Roasted Red Pepper Pasta
Adapted from Wolfgang Puck’s “Adventures in the Kitchen.”
Rub two medium red bell peppers with olive oil and roast under a 500 degree broiler, turning often, until charred all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and tightly cover with plastic wrap to steam for 10 minutes. Remove the peel, core and seeds with your fingers and slice the flesh into thin strips.
In a cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil, add ¾ pounds peeled shrimp and cook until the shrimp are opaque and just feel firm. Set shrimp aside and wipe out the pan.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook ¼ cup diced yellow onion and two diced garlic cloves until onion is softened. Stir in roasted peppers, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Scoop about ¼ of the mixture into a bowl and reserve. Add ¾ cups chicken stock and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and carefully scrape the mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth and return to the pan to keep warm.
Meanwhile, cook ½ pound of fettuccine in boiling water until al dente. Strain and add pasta to the sauce. Stir in 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, ½ teaspoon sherry vinegar and the reserved red pepper mixture. Serve topped with torn cilantro.
Serves 2 Wine recommendation: Oregon Pinot Noir like Adelsheim or Ponzi