Pasta with Shrimps, Almonds and Breadcrumbs
by Michele Becci
A few years back, I was on a mission to visit as many of the islands of Italy as I could. I still have quite a few to go but managed to visit Sardinia, Capri, the Aeolian islands, the little islands off Venice and my much loved Sicily. In August 2008, I set my sights on the island of Pantelleria, a tiny speck of land that sits closer to Tunisia than it does to Sicily and home to the famed caper berry. My visit to the island was and continues to be simply one of the most memorable trips of my life. I fell in love with the wild nature of the island – a dramatic outpost where the winds of North Africa blow from across the sea. I learned more than I ever thought possible about caper berries. I sampled the freshest ricotta I had ever tasted. I spent evenings with new friends who befriended me after learning I was traveling solo.
Those Sicilian Times
I had a Giorgio Armani sighting. I spent hours driving around the wild fennel fringed roads. I lingered for hours over lunch near the sea, chatting with the wonderfully warm islanders. I was almost stranded after taking a wrong turn down what I mistakenly thought was a road and turned out to be an old lava field. I loved the little island so much that I returned in October of that same year, a time of year when there were no direct flights to the island. After landing in Palermo, I had a driver take me to Trapani where I boarded an overnight ferry to the island. I shared my overnight cabin with 3 Italian ladies on their way to the island for a brief vacation. As my friends chatted way into the morning hours, I lay in my top bunk staring out at the sea from my little porthole, feeling exhilarated and exotic, one of those rare, special moments when I truly understood why I find travel so intoxicating and so transforming.
One afternoon, after a few hours spent hiking along the sea, I wandered into a restaurant in town, La Risacca. There I had the most amazing pasta dish prepared with little island shrimp, fresh breadcrumbs and toasted almonds. Almonds have found their way into many a Pantescan dish due to the Arab influences from the land not so far off its shores. I attempted to re-create the dish when I returned home and since that time, have made my version time and time again, each bite always taking me back to those magical days on the little wild island. I made this dish again last week for dinner and thought you might enjoy as well. Hope you enjoy its unusual flavor as much as I do.
Pasta with Shrimp and Toasted Almonds and Breadcrumbs
About 1/2 pound of pasta of your choice (I like this best with spaghetti or something similar) – 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided) – 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (divided) – 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs – 3/4 cup fresh ground almonds -1 lb. uncooked, peeled, deveined shrimp (I used smaller shrimp as they did in Pantelleria) – Salt and freshly ground black pepper – 3 cloves garlic, diced – 1/4 cup white wine – 1/2 cup pasta cooking water – Chopped fresh parsley.