Last night, I had a immense craving for capellini (angel hair pasta, for the lay-pasta-people in the audience) with tomato sauce and shrimp. I wanted to make it myself, but I also didn’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. And so, dear reader, while one day in the near future I am sure I will be sharing my homemade tomato sauce recipe, today is not that day. That’s right, I bought the sauce. And I bought the shrimp already peeled and cleaned and frozen. And cooking pasta basically requires knowing how to boil water, not that that’s necessarily an easy task, as our new Junta idiot could probably tell you.
This is all to say something very important: it is perfectly okay to use pre-made foods. Even we at Food Junta do it. Because cooking should never be a chore, and making tomato sauce from scratch would have been, at least the way I felt last night.
That is not to say, however, that all you should do with pre-made foods is heat ’em up and eat ’em. You can do that. But why not take five minutes (or less) to make the food your own, just a little bit? The number one way to do this is to adjust the seasonings: I added fresh ground pepper, a good pinch of kosher salt, and about 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper to my sauce). The number two way to do this is to add a few additional ingredients: I chopped a few tomatoes that were going bad, fried them briefly, and threw them in; I also got a small yellow squash, diced it, sauteed it, and added that for a little more vegetable matter.
To thaw frozen shrimp, simply put them in a colander and run lukewarm water in a thin stream over them for a few minutes, shaking them occasionally. If you want to remove the tails, do it while you’re heating some olive oil in a pan over medium heat. (I left them on, thinking it might give more flavor and not be a huge pain while eating, but I wouldn’t repeat that mistake.) Shrimp cook quickly, so once you have them in the pan pay attention. You just want them to be pink on both sides; it’s almost a sure thing that if you can’t see any gray they are cooked through, but test one to make sure.
As for cooking pasta, any foodie could probably write the Great American Novel filled with advice. But I will be brief. Fill a large pot with water (if you are not cooking a lot of pasta, you don’t need to fill it all the way). I just add a shake of kosher salt from the get-go, which will season the pasta slightly; I think it might slow down the boiling time, but that way I know I haven’t forgotten. When the water is boiling, add your pasta. You want your pasta al dente, which literally translates as “to the tooth” in Italian, and means that the pasta has a little bite left in it, something to sink your teeth into. This, believe it or not, takes a little diligence and a little practice. Test strands of the pasta at various stages in its cooking and you will get a better understanding of how it progresses. One piece of advice: always drain the pasta the second you think it might be al dente — it will continue cooking a little once it’s drained, and then it will be perfect.
Lay the pasta down on the plate, then the sauce (the heat from which will warm the pasta if it’s gone a little cold), then the shrimp. Optional and controversial: grate parmesan cheese over. Serve with a simple salad, dressed with just oil and vinegar (and salt and pepper).