It is amazing that a dish this simple can be so delicious. It is a real crowd-pleaser, loved by adults and children alike and perfect as the only dish or as one of several fish dishes (sometimes as many as seven!) served at an Italian-American Christmas Eve feast. “Scampi style” in America just means that shrimp are cooked in a light sauce of garlic, butter, and white wine to a delightful tenderness and flavor.
The Italian name “scampi” is the plural of “scampo,” which means “safety, salvation, or escape,” and the verb “scampare,” which means “to escape.” Regarding this dish, the word “scampi” cleverly refers to the tail of a certain small lobster found in the North and Mediterranean Seas. The French name is “langoustine” and the Spanish name is “cigala.” This small lobster (to get technical, the true name is Nephrops norvegicus) has meat in the tail section but not much in the claws. In the United Kingdom, “scampi”refers to the preparation of the whole tail of this lobster cooked in breadcrumbs, but tradition elsewhere renders “scampi” as a preparation of garlic, butter, and white wine. Try this easy-to-make dish this Christmas Eve and see for yourself how wonderful shrimp can taste!
1 pound of linguine, cooked (serves 4–6)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1–2 shallots, finely chopped, or 1/4 cup finely chopped onions
6 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt and pinch of white pepper to taste
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Italian white wine (chill the rest of the bottle for dinner)
1 pound large shrimp (about 16–18), cleaned, shell peeled off, and de-veined*
Few sprigs of chopped parsley
First, start to cook the linguine, and let the pasta cook as the sauce is being made. If you are lucky, it will all come together at about the same time! A general method for cooking pasta is as follows: set a large pot of well-salted water on the stove to boil, and at the rolling boil, add the pasta; stir; cover the pot to bring back to a boil quickly; uncover, stir, and cook until pasta is “al dente” (slightly firm). Drain and keep warm if pasta is ready before sauce is finished.
Set a large skillet with high sides or your largest frying pan on a burner over low heat. Watch the pan very closely from start to finish so that the shallots, garlic, and butter do not turn brown. The “sauce” will come together very quickly.
Put the olive oil and shallots or onions and garlic into the skillet with the salt over medium heat and cook, stirring as needed, until they soften (do not let them brown).
Add the butter and let it melt slowly. Cook until the onions and garlic are translucent (cooked through).
Add the white wine and raise heat to boil down the alcohol in the wine and thicken the “sauce.” Boil down until about 3/4 cup of wine is left.
Add the shrimp and cook briefly on each side (about 3–4 minutes) over medium heat, until they turn pink, turning and moving the shrimp in butter as needed. Do not overcook, or the shrimp will dry out and become rubbery.
Taste and adjust salt and add a pinch of white pepper as needed. If too much wine has boiled off by the time the shrimp have cooked, add some pasta water. If the sauce seems a bit watery, take the shrimp out and boil down a bit more.
Take pan off heat and add the chopped parsley.
Enjoy over freshly cooked linguine. Because this is a delicate fish dish, no grated cheese topping is needed!
*To get the best flavor from the shrimp in this dish, it is best to buy the shrimp raw and clean them, although shrimp can be bought already cooked and just warmed through in a pinch. When cleaning the shrimp, the veins along the outer and inner curves of the shrimp should be removed by making a slight cut and pulling each vein out. I have a shrimp knife for this task that I found in a specialty food catalog long ago that looks like this and makes the work quick and easy.
—Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria,
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of Conversational Italian for Travelers and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Italian-American Style Shrimp Recipe: Shrimp Scampi