Let me tell you how this got started. My husband and I have a standing date most Friday nights. The date is mellow. We put some records on. Enjoy a cocktail. Open a bottle of wine. All while making a meal together. We’ve been doing it for so many years that’s it’s now become habit (a good one). Hubs does the heavy lifting and calls the shots in the kitchen. He is the chef and comes up with the menu. I’m on deck to help out. I wear multiple hats: from bartender to sous chef to tabletop wrangler. (This means I make the table look pretty.). It’s good to have a chain of command, especially when the end goal is a beautiful meal.
We usually cook pasta on Friday nights because it’s fast. “Fast” is a relative term, meaning we can work with fresh or frozen ingredients and have it plated in about 40 minutes, sometimes faster. These meals are made with love. I know, sounds corny, but Friday night is the dawn of the weekend, which is full of potential and unstructured time. The office is now a distant memory and things are starting to slow down. Sure, we are hungry, but we also want to eat something delicious.
This meal was inspired by a lunch we had this past spring at Scampi in NYC. One of hubs’ superpowers is to taste a restaurant meal, memorize it, break down the nuances of what the chef did and re-interpret it in our kitchen. The ultimate compliment I can give after a couple of forkfuls is, “This is better than the one from the restaurant,” which is often the case with his cooking.
Fill a stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Sauté a thinly cut leek in olive oil and butter until it gets slightly brown. Add minced garlic from two cloves to the wilted leeks. Cook for a minute or so. It’s gonna smell fantastic. Meanwhile, take your cleaned and defrosted shrimp and chop into small chunks. Add these to the sauté pan. They should sizzle and start to turn coral pink. Shrimp bits will start sticking to the pan, so now’s the time to add some white wine or chicken stock. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up some of the brown bits. This will add mega flavor to your meal. Cook for about 5-8 minutes.
By now your water should be coming to a boil. Add salt. Dump half the box of pasta in. Follow the box’s instructions for cooking. I like my pasta al dente, so I tend to go under the cooking time. Meanwhile, back in the leek pan, add the juice of half a lemon, salt, pepper, a few shakes of red pepper flake, and a shower of arugula. Toss all ingredients around in the pan. When your pasta is ready, use a slotted spoon and add it to the sauté pan. Add a generous pat of butter. Give all the ingredients a good turn. Be sure to save about a half cup of pasta water. Add the pasta water to the pan and continue to stir. The most glorious sauce will emerge once the pasta water and butter emulsify. Plate and top with chopped parsley, chives, and arugula. Bonus points if you want to add bread crumbs.
A few pro tips about running the front of house:
- Up your game and light a candle. The flickering flame sets the mood and signals it’s time to unwind.
- Fresh flowers on the table are a game changer. I work for a flower company and have been known to fish around the reject pile for “garbage flowers.”
- No phones at the table! Better yet, turn your phone off or put it in another room.
- Cloth napkins are the ultimate grown-up luxury.
- 1 leek
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 lemon
- bunch of parsley
- bunch of chives
- 1 cup of arugula
- red pepper flakes
- 12-15 shrimp (frozen or fresh)
- chicken stock / white wine
- 1 box penne pasta (or whatever pasta you like)
- olive oil
- butter / ghee