Do you want the recipe for five or for one hundred?? I knew you would say five. A couple of weeks ago, my mother was asked by her friends in the lady’s auxiliary (Philoptichos) of our parish, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, for a pasta recipe to feed one hundred on the eve of St. Nicholas Day.
Typically, a “no meat” dish is offered to visiting dignitaries and parishioners for this meal that follows the Vespers (evening service). My mom suggested my recipe of shrimp and pasta that I often make and enjoy. It’s a simple dish of shrimp, olive oil, onions, garlic, white wine, crushed plum tomatoes, lots of fresh parsley and seasoned to taste. I like the zip of chilli flakes in it.
By now, most of the lady’s auxiliary have heard about my blog and when they learned that the pasta recipe was mine, they had asked me to cook the meal (with the help of the ladies themselves).
I immediately accepted the honour and I was confident that all I had to do was some simple multiplication, get oriented with a professional kitchen and ensure there was plenty of help in the kitchen. I didn’t even have to go shopping for the ingredients…all would be taken care of!
Fast forward to early evening, hours before dinner would be served and I find myself in the kitchen located in the church’s basement. First thing I checked was that we had all the ingredients needed to make this simple yet delicious pasta dish. My confidence had quickly eroded.
No Parsley. Not enough cans of plum tomatoes. Only two heads of garlic for a tomato sauce for one hundred. TWO BAGS OF COOKED SHRIMP??? What I though was going to be a fun evening in the kitchen turned out to be a task…I felt like Robert Irvine in Dinner Impossible. Time was ticking!
Off I went to buy the missing ingredients which includedÂ some proper shrimp, frozen, de-veined shrimp that just had to be thawed and peeled. If there was ever a time that I wanted a Greek event to be delayed – it was tonight!
Having returned from the market, cooking started at 6 PM. Dinner guests, which included our Metropolitan/Arch-Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, the Consul General of Greece, a Bishop, several Priests from Parishes around the Toronto, Archons of the Church, friends and family all in attendance, were to be seated for dinner by 8:30PM. Two and half hours to make a pasta sauce? EASY!
Not really. Not when the electric stove-tops were operating at half their strength. I did not want to serve a runny sauce that would be devoid of any flavour. Dinner Impossible indeed!
Thank God for my army of seasoned cooks who assisted in the kitchen. About a dozen ladies, all with the experience in the kitchen everyone’s mother has but with one proviso…everyone has suggestions. Some advice could be used and others had to be politely dismissed. A recipe has to be followed and unfortunately the dish cannot be all things to all.
Task number one was to thaw and shell the 20 bags of shrimp. This was easy but it took some time. Four people were shelling a whole kitchen basin full of shrimp. In the meantime, “mise en place” was being prepped: parsley was rinsed and chopped, onions diced, garlic was minced and cans upon cans of plum tomatoes were pureed (in batches) in a food processor.
The sauce could not be started until the shrimp were cleaned. I like building flavours and flavour begins with the shrimp. I seasoned the shrimp and seared them until just pink. The shrimp are removed (shells reserved) and then the olive oil (always lots of olive oil in the church), onions and garlic are all added in to the pot until softened. Actually, they were added to two pots!
Remember, the electric stove-tops were working at half strength. We made two batches of sauce to speed things up. White wine (also plentiful in a Greek church) is then added and reduced by half, the tomato sauce is added along with all the shrimp shells, bound tightly in some cheese cloth.
Shrimp shells equal flavour and there was no way I was going to simply throw out all those shells! We were finally able to count the minutes down as our sauce slowly (all too slowly) thickened.
While the sauce was simmering, the other two stove-top elements were occupied by big pots of boiling, salted water. We had all his dead time waiting for the sauce to be “just right” and when catering to one hundred guests, pasta has to be pre-boiled and ready to go. We boiled the pasta (linguine) in batches and then strained them, tossed them in olive oil and placed them in a warmÂ oven to hold until it was dinner time.
In the end, the sauce was ready in time for our dinner guests. Service started at 9PM (a blessing). The cooked shrimp were warmed up and set up on the long kitchen counter for an assembly-line style of service.
Deep trays of warm pasta were tossed in the tomato sauce. I was plating portions onto each plate, the lady next to me place a mound of four shrimp on top of the pasta and wiped the plate of spills, another lady added a small ladle of hot tomato sauce on top and my mom expedited the dishes onto waiting carts.
Dinner service was smooth, I peeked out to see how people were enjoying the dish, they were either very hungry or the pasta was delicious. I like to think it was a bit of both!
The plates came back pretty empty (a good sign), I was complemented by dinner guests, Metropolitan Sotirios, other dignitaries and friends of the family.
My biggest thanks go out to the ladies of St. Nicholas who’s help in the kitchen, out on the floor serving our guests and to those that cleaned up the mess after the meal.
Here’s the recipe for Shrimp and Pasta, on a much smaller scale, much easier and with the same great taste.
Shrimp and Pasta of St. Nicholas
1 can of plum tomatoes, hand-crushed or pureed
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
About 20-24 raw shrimp, shelled & de-veined
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
chilli flakes (Boukovo) to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh Basil (I used Greek basil)
1 500gr. package of dry linguine
- Peel the shells off the shrimp and de-vein if necessary (I buy de-veined shrimp). Reserve the shrimp shells & wrap and tie inside a cheesecloth.
- In a large skillet, add some olive oil and bring to a high heat. Season your shrimp with salt and pepper and when the oil is hot, add your shrimp. Saute until the shrimp have just turned pink (they are cooked) and remove with a slotted spoon. Reserve.
- Reduce your heat to medium and add the remaining olive oil. Now add your onions and garlic and the cheese cloth full of shrimp shells. Simmer for 7-10 minutes or until the onions have softened and translucent.
- Add your wine and bring to a boil. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Now add the tomato sauce, bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes over medium heat. The sauce should be thick. Remove the cheesecloth (discard) from the sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and set aside.
- In the meantime, place a large pot of water over your stove-top and bring to a boil. Season the water well with salt and cook your pasta as per packet instructions. Drain and add to the tomato sauce.
- Add the shrimp, the chopped parsley, basil and chilli flakes and toss until the pasta is well dressed with sauce. Divide and serve immediately.
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