Riffing on the Minimalist’s Summer Express

by Terry B on July 25, 2007

Penne with Shrimp and Arugula is a satisfying meal that comes together in minutes. Recipe below.

Let me start by saying thank you, Mark Bittman. Last week, the New York Times’ Minimalist ran a piece called “Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.” Kristen over at Gezellig Girl immediately announced her new purpose in life was to cook all 101 recipes. And everywhere around the globe, I’m sure printouts were magnet-nailed to refrigerator doors like so many copies of a modern-day Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. [Okay, how many of you were awake that day in high school Western Civ class?]

Myself, I took a printout of the article to the supermarket on the way home from work the other day. There were a couple/few ideas I was ready to try immediately, and I needed the list at hand as I checked out ingredient availabilities.

Mr. Bittman’s 101 simple meals aren’t so much recipes as they are basic approaches. The one I settled on that evening at the store read, in its entirety, “11. Warm olive oil in a skillet with at least three cloves sliced garlic. When the garlic colors, add at least a teaspoon each of cumin and pimentón. A minute later, add a dozen or so shrimp, salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley, serve with lemon and bread.”

Sounds pretty wonderful as is, right? But as I started thinking about possible sides to go with this, I decided instead to expand on this simple dish and turn it into a meal. Here’s how I did it.

First, I wanted something green. The arugula looked good, and its peppery kick sounded like it would play well with the garlic and spices. Suddenly, this was sounding like a pasta sauce. So along came the penne and I had a dinner planned.

A quick note about the spice combination. I expected the cumin to give the dish a decidedly Indian taste—or at least a distinctly cumin flavor. But together, the smoked paprika and cumin create a delicious, complex, slightly mysterious taste without either taking over. They also gave the shrimp and the pasta a beautiful, deep color.

Penne with Shrimp and Arugula
Serves 2

3 – 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika [pimentón]
1 teaspoon cumin
2/3-pound medium-sized uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined [see Kitchen Notes]
4 cups fresh arugula

4 – 5 ounces uncooked penne pasta [see Kitchen Notes]

Start a pot of water for the pasta as you prep the other ingredients. When the water comes to a boil, salt it generously, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. When pasta is seven minutes or so from being done, warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sliced garlic and cook ’til it colors, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove garlic from oil with slotted spoon and reserve.

Add paprika and cumin to pan and cook for about a minute, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp and cook through, about 4 minutes, turning halfway through. Turn off heat. Stir in garlic and arugula. Drain pasta, add to pan and toss thoroughly to coat pasta with sauce and wilt arugula. Divide between two plates and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Shrimp—details, details. Okay, what’s with leaving the tails on? I understand it when the shrimp is finger food—it gives you a little handle to grab onto. But increasingly, I’m seeing chefs and cooking mags do it in everything from gumbos and paellas to pasta dishes. And yes, in the photos, it looks elegant, giving you a sense of the original creature from which it came. But all that elegance evaporates the moment you either have to fish the shrimp from the dish with your fingers to remove the tail or go at it with a knife and fork. We’re making dinner here, not extra work for our guests. Remove the tails, please.

Pasta. I used penne because that’s what I had on hand. It worked well with the dish, both in appearance and in eating it. Farfalle [we call it bowtie pasta, but it actually translates much more poetically from the original Italian into butterflies] would be absolutely beautiful in this dish.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen

Bluesy garage punk? Punkish garage blues? Call it what you want, just play it LOUD, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

One serving equals one cake at this cute little Lakeview bakery, at WTF? Random food for thought.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Toni July 25, 2007 at 5:53 am

I’ve never used pimenton. Never heard of it, actually, but anything that gets me to acquire a new spice is a good thing! Love the sound of this combination, and I see this happening in my kitchen – very soon! I’m soooo with you on the shrimp! Get rid of those tails if you plan on eating it with a fork!

Fabulous photo!

Lydia July 25, 2007 at 9:50 am

One dish down, one hundred to go! I think we’ve all printed that list — mine is on the bulletin board. Shrimp and pimenton is a wonderful combination; in fact, I use pimenton in many things, including omelets.

Terry B July 25, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Toni—There are two pimentons [Spanish smoked paprikas]—one sweet, one hot. Sweet seems to be the more prevalent and is what I used here. Don’t know how hot the hot is, so if you use that, do so with care. Anyone out there familiar with the hot version? How hot is it, say, in relation to chili powder?

Lydia—We mostly use Hungarian paprika. Marion had to remind me we actually owned some of the Spanish. Now I definitely plan to experiment with it and its nice, smoky taste. Your omelets sound like a great place to start!

Patricia Scarpin July 25, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Oh, Terry, the dish looks so good I would be able to eat it all and forget about my allergies! :)

I think you’ve created a masterpiece here, my friend – arugula is my favorite green and pasta is always a hit – great dish!

ann July 26, 2007 at 2:33 am

So, So funny. I was just laying on the couch reading over Bittman’s 101 dinners when I realised we’d had #21 for dinner this very evening. There’s something delicious about simplicity accompanied by a side of Yankees baseball and Law & Order. Thanks for this embellishment. It sounds awesome.

Gena July 26, 2007 at 4:59 am

Maybe leaving the tails on contributes flavor when cooking? I’ve read that, sometimes, you should keep the shells of the shrimp on when sauteeing, to enhance the seafood-y flavor. I wonder if keeping the tails on works in the same way, while being aesthetically pleasing? However, I would agree that shrimp tails are awkward when using a fork and knife :).

Terry B July 26, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Thanks, Patricia! Arugula is an absolute favorite of mine too.

Ann—Ahhh, yes, #21 is a popular little number. For all three of you who haven’t already printed out this wonderful article, here #21 is, again, in its entirety: “21. While pasta cooks, combine a couple cups chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon or more minced garlic, olive oil and 20 to 30 basil leaves. Toss with pasta, salt, pepper and Parmesan.” To me, one of the beauties of Mr. Bittman’s list is that it reminds us of things we already know how to cook and how easy it is to put something good on the table fast. And in the case of the recipe I built on here, it shows us quick, new combinations to inspire us to get back in the kitchen in the summer.

Gena—You’re absolutely right about the shells adding extra flavor. Throwing the shells into a fish stew [and then of course removing them before serving it] will boost the flavor nicely. I’ve also seen the idea of leaving the shells on when you grill shrimp, to add flavor and help keep them moist. And then, peeling them as you eat is part of the informal dining moment. But once the shrimp stops being a finger food—as in the case of a pasta dish—lose the tails.

Susan from Food "Blogga" July 26, 2007 at 11:38 pm

Thanks for explaining the flavor combination of the smoked paprika and cumin; sounds intriguing. Great choice to add the arugula too; its bold flavor must have made this dish perfection.

Kate July 27, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Good. Something to use that lovely can of pimenton in. And to remember the shop in Spain where I was lucky enough to purchase it.

claudia July 27, 2007 at 4:51 pm

i loved that bittman article. i’ve got it on my desk but haven’t done any yet. i think i might cut it out and post it in the kitchen though….

pimenton and cumin is on my list of things to try!

Terry B July 27, 2007 at 5:35 pm

Susan—I think this combo would work well with pork too, maybe pan seared chops. No surprise there, since the Spanish have a way with all things pork.

Kate—Spain is on our travel to do list. And soon some friends here are moving to Barcelona—a perfect excuse!

Claudia—I’ve actually printed out two copies now. One is at home, the other in the car, handy for inspiration at the grocery store.

toni July 29, 2007 at 12:37 am

Simple goodness, that’s why I love Mark Bittman’s approach to food. Fussy does not necessarily = better. The additions you have made created a lovely dish.

Melinda July 29, 2007 at 10:52 am

Hello Terry, I have reached you through Jaden’s blog Steamy Kitchen. Loved your comment about about your wife’s poison gas potatoes.
I have really enjoyed looking through your blog, so many good dishes and your writing is delightful!
Wish I could get a copy of the Mark Bittman 101 easy dishes. Darn it.
(agree with you on the prawn tails being annoying, fiddlely fork work.)
Look forward to getting more posts from The Blue Kitchen.

Terry B July 30, 2007 at 1:39 am

Thanks, Toni! As anyone who’s read more than a few of my posts knows, I’m a huge fan of keeping it simple. Just one more reason I plan to explore Mark Bittman’s wonderful list in depth this summer.

Melinda—Welcome to Blue Kitchen and thanks for your kind comments! Regarding the way you found me, I always read comments on the blogs I like—it’s a great way to discover new bloggers. And to find the Bittman article, just click on the title in the post. It’s a link that will take you right to it.

Anali July 31, 2007 at 4:48 pm

This looks so good and I love the plate too! It was great meeting you and your wife at the food blogger dinner Terry. Thanks again for picking such a great place. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts! : )

Kirsten August 1, 2007 at 5:19 am

Wow, that is lovely. I am not at all hungry (and in need of a few days OFF from eating after my vacation) but your photos are soooo lovely and delicious looking.

Alma September 26, 2007 at 5:45 am

This looks incredible!

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