When I take off for a few days to a new place, I am always looking for something fun to bring home. My 11-year old son always asks if I’ve brought something for him, and he’s usually non-plussed with my foodie finds, wishing instead for a toy or a trinket, but I think this time, even he liked my souvenir!
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of going on a great foodie tour of Providence, RI with a few of my chef friends. We met early on Saturday morning on a gorgeous sunny day to tour the Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill with Chef Cindy Salvato.
Chef Salavato was an instructor at Johnson and Wales for many years and she was a wonderful guide for our tour. She had recently had knee surgery so she soldiered along on crutches, God bless her, and she shared with us the rich Italian culture of this small neighborhood on the hill that is full of gems! We got great information, enjoyed great humor and fabulous food tasting, and had a perfect tour guide! I highly recommend checking out Cindy’s tours if you are ever in Rhode Island.
We began at Antonelli’s which I posted about last week ( the little store on the square where you choose your own live chicken) which is where I got my fresh quail eggs. Then we moved on to Tony’s Colonial which was a fabulous little Italian market. It’s not a huge place, but the shelves are just full of wonderful little Italian gems. Artisanal pasta in all different shapes, rich tuna packed in oil, herbs, spices, incredible olive oils and balsamic vinegar, olives, jams, tomatoes… you name it! There was a deli counter with beautiful homemade “take out” and sausages and cheese. Oh it was wonderful!
Chef Salvato taught us about choosing REAL Italian ingredients that hold a special certification, Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or D.O.P. It’s not authentic unless it says D.O.P. on the label! We had an interesting discussion about San Marzano tomatoes and how even if the can says “San Marzano” they aren’t the real deal unless the D.O.P. symbol is on it.
Some of the SM tomatoes used by the Foodnetwork chefs are NOT the real deal, but are SM TYPE tomatoes that are grown in Florida not Italy. Be careful out there! (By the way, Wegmans has a store brand of San Marzano tomatoes, and they are indeed D.O.P.! That’s why we love Wegmans!)
Cindy also talked about the pasta making machines that make the pasta we consume here in the US and that the mass-produced pasta is fed through Teflon coated die so that the surfaces are smooth, but “artisanal” pasta is made with old fashioned bronze dies which are rough and give the pasta some rough surface area for the sauce to cling to. Sure enough, looking at the pastas at Tony’s they were rough and a bit craggy.
So on to my dinner connection to Federal Hill. After the tour, I went back to Tony’s Colonial to do a little shopping and came home with some great artisinal pastas including a bag of artichoke pasta! They are beautiful little green leaves of pasta flavored with artichoke. MMMMM!
A shrimp scampi-ish dish with an addition of sauteed shallots and a good handful of fresh basil was the perfect foil for my little artichoke leaves. The pasta cooked to perfectly al dente and had the mild earthy flavor of artichokes that really complimented the sweetness of the shrimp and the tart, bright lemon. The underside of each leave was mottled and bumpy which did hold the delicious lemony shrimp infused sauce…OH YUM! It was a 20-minute dinner from start to finish and so very satisfying! Luckily there is some left over for my lunch today!
In the end, it wasn’t a t-shirt or a plastic New England lobster that my son had hoped for, but the whole family enjoyed my little gift from Tony’s which of course is the whole point of bringing home a souvenir, right?
If you can go to a great Italian market, buy some artisanal pasta and check out the difference that the rough surface makes, but if you only have the brand name pasta, either way, you’ll enjoy this recipe!
Shrimp with Garlic, Shallot and Lemon over Artichoke Leaf Pasta
Serves: 6 servings
3/4 pound artichoke leaf pasta, orichietti or other flat shaped pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/3 cup fresh Italian basil, chiffenade
zest of one medium lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
¼ c of dry sherry or dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Prepare pasta per package instructions. Meanwhile prepare shrimp. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes, then add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 3-5 minutes, stirring often. (Don’t cook the shrimp until they are done as you will finish cooking them with the pasta!) Remove from the heat, add wine or sherry, return to the heat and cook for one minute to cook off the alcohol. Then remove the pan from the heat and add the parsley, basil lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine. Keep the pan in the wings…it’s not done yet!
When the pasta is just cooked, drain it, reserving some of the pasta water, and add it to the skillet with the shrimp. Toss and continue cooking for one minute until the pasta is coated with the sauce and cooked to al dente. Add a bit of the pasta cooking water if needed to “loosen” the sauce if the pasta seems to absorb it quickly.