I finally made it to my farmer's market this morning, with summer just two days away. I had in mind a recipe by Mark Bittman from the June 16 edition of the Times for Pasta with Peas, Proscuitto and Lettuce. Bittman's emphasis was on using small quantities of meat--in this case, crisped prociutto--as a garnish, as opposed to it being the star player in a dish. Great idea, but what really struck me was the use of lettuce in a hot preparation. Sure, I've wilted my share of spinach and arugula, even watercress, but lettuce?! I grabbed a bowling ball sized head of Boston lettuce and some handfuls of fresh peas, determined to try it out.
I took some liberties with the recipe. Crisping prociutto is blasphemous in my book, as its soft, satiny texture is what makes it so darn good in the first place. But crispy bacon--who could quibble with that? I also added some shrimp, tasty, wild caught, but sort of superfluous, as the lettuce stole the show. Were you worried it would turn out limp and watery? I'll admit, I was. Instead, it was sweet and fresh tasting, and even retained a bit of its crunch at the ribs. The splash of citrusy sauvignon blanc I used to green the vegetables woke up all the flavors, and tasted good in the glass alongside, as well. It was the pefect way to welcome summer.
Pasta with Lettuce, Bacon and Shrimp
6 slices of smoky bacon, cut into batons
1 pound pasta (the gemelli I used were perfect)
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cups of peas, preferably fresh
1 head of Boston lettuce, cored, leaves cut into ribbons
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, cook the bacon batons until crisp. Drain on paper towels and reserve. Spill out most of the bacon fat. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and saute in the fat until just cooked through. Remove and reserve. Melt butter in the same skillet and saute the shallot until softened, about 4 minutes. Turn off the flame while you wait for the pasta to catch up.
When water boils, add pasta and cook until just tender. Drain pasta. Turn the flame back on under the shallots, and add peas, lettuce and wine. Cook until lettuce is wilted but still bright green, maybe 5 minutes. Don't overcook! Add pasta and shrimp back to pan and cook until just heated through. Off the heat, toss with parmesan. Taste for salt and pepper, garnish with bacon, and serve.