Text and recipe by Melissa Pellegrino
For my Italian-American family, Sunday lunches at one of my grandmothers’ houses or one of the many Italian restaurants in New Haven, Connecticut, were a big event when I was growing up. My grandmothers’ meals usually centered around handmade pastas and long-simmered red sauces, so on the occasions that we’d dine out, I’d order my favorite seafood dish: shrimp scampi.
Get the recipe: Shrimp Scampi
Scampi is the Italian name for small, clawless Mediterranean prawns, which are often cooked with lemon and garlic. In the early 20th century, Italian immigrants to America substituted shrimp for scampi, creating the dish we know today as shrimp scampi. Though there are many versions of the dish, the one I now make for my family includes a couple of special steps. First, I make a quick stock from the shrimp shells. Second, while most scampi recipes add lemon and parsley at the end of the process, I add them at the beginning to maximize their flavor, a trick I learned while living in Italy. The finished dish is succulent, bursting with sweet shrimp, heady garlic, and tangy lemon flavors—just as I remember it from my childhood. I hope it becomes a tradition for your family, too.
Need to Know
To save time, ask your fishmonger to peel and devein the shrimp for you, but have them save the shells so you can make the stock.
Make a shrimp stock. This simple step adds wonderful flavor to the finished dish. The recipe yields more stock than you need, but you can freeze the rest to use for more scampi or for other dishes, like shrimp risotto.
Cook the garlic, parsley, and lemon zest together to release their flavor into the butter. The moisture from the parsley and zest also helps protect the garlic from burning.
Add a pinch of salt while mincing the garlic to keep the garlic from sticking to your knife and fingers.
Pat the shrimp dry before cooking. Dry shrimp will cook more quickly and evenly.
Use the right wine. You don’t want to overpower the delicate shrimp, so choose a light, crisp, dry white wine that’s not too buttery or heavy on oak. Some of my favorite Italian whites for scampi include Vermentino from Sardinia, Tocai from Fruili, or Gavi from Piedmont.
Don’t overcook the shrimp. Shrimp cook quickly and become tough if overcooked. Remove them from the heat as soon as they’re light pink and firm to the touch; if they’ve curled into a tight “o” shape, then they’ve cooked too long. A properly cooked shrimp should look like a comma.