I've always been what I like to call an "ish" cook. Whether I'm experimenting and cooking something for the first time or preparing a dish that I've made a thousand times, I almost always will do something subtly different with each go. Meals I make may sometimes have a "cup-ish" of wine or a "tablespoon-ish" of butter and so on. I personally do not believe that one could repeat the exact same steps while cooking a dish and have it taste the same, time and time again (with the exception of baking a dessert of course, that's a whole other story). When dealing with such variables as: the volume/serving size of the meal, freshness and timing of the seasonal produce you are using, whether your protein is fresh and raised locally or previously frozen. All of these things should impact what you may or may not need to alter in efforts to create a recipe ultimately resulting in a delicious final product. Don't be afraid to take risks and try adding a little of this or a little of that to whatever it is that you are cooking. I have always cooked that way and I always will, I've stumbled on many happy accidental recipes by doing just that. I'd be lying if I said they all turned out wonderful, of course there are roads I should not have taken with a few wrong ingredients dancing together in a pan but we learn from our mistakes and it makes us stronger in the kitchen. With that being said, I segue to my pasta. I had shrimp on my mind the other night and thought I'd put together a light and lemony dish. I ended up with a beautiful and super flavorful shrimp pasta with arugula tossed in fresh lemon and garlic, topped with toasted pine nuts and parmigiano.
I purchased my fresh shrimps deveined to cut down my prep time since it was a weeknight after all. All I had to do was pull the shells off and rinse in a colander. I knew this would be a fairly quick dish to prep, which likely contributed to my desire for making it after a long work day. Starting with a large pan, I drizzled enough olive oil to cover the bottom of it and tossed in a thinly sliced shallot and 5 cloves of chopped garlic. Getting nice and caramelized, I added a two tablespoons of butter and about a 1/2 cup of dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc). I turned up the heat a bit to cook off the alcohol and after a couple of minutes, I resumed the temperature back to a normal medium. Next, my lemon...in order to extract maximum juices I slowly press on it while rolling it back and forth a few times on my cutting board. I grate the zest of that lemon into the pan and then slice it in half, the zest will really lift this sauce and give it a lemony punch. I squeeze the juice of the whole lemon over my hand catching any seeds that try to escape. The aromatic citrus and butter sauce is beginning to take shape and smells fantastic. Ready for the shrimp, I nestle them into the pan, moving and turning them as they start to cook, they begin to change from their original grey to a soft pink within minutes. I drop the heat to low and turn on a pot of water for my rigatoni pasta. You really could use any pasta of choice for this dish but I'd just had linguine a few nights prior and wanted something different. While my rigatoni was cooking, I toasted my pine nuts in a small hot skillet. Just a few minutes over the heat and they start to brown. I remove them as soon as they begin to turn golden and pour them into my pan with the shrimp. Still giving attention to my sauce, I added about 1/4 cup of heavy cream to thicken it up and create a velvety texture. The amount of cream used is totally at ones discretion. Once my pasta is ready, I drain it and add it to the pan with my shrimps in the sauce. I'm gently folding it in along with some chopped Italian parsley to coat each and every rigatoni. For the final touches, I add a few handfuls of washed arugula and toss. The arugula will wilt as you toss it in the mixture but I find tastes best when it's not completely cooked so this should always be added last. Finally some shavings of parmigiano. When I plate the dish, I always prefer to finish it with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a bit more lemon zest, sprinkle of parmigiano, parsley, salt and pepper to your liking.
Pasta is one of the most diverse products one could use in the kitchen. There are literally endless proteins and vegetables that can be used in a pasta dish. It even crosses cultural boundaries and can be (and should be) used not only as an "Italian" meal but also Asian, Spanish, Greek and so on. I believe anybody that is not comfortable cooking but yearns to learn more should first begin experimenting with pasta. Use it as a gateway to get your feet wet with your favorite ingredients. Take those risks and don't fear it, confidence and comfort will build, be empowered by it.