Many years ago, I studied in Spain. My Spanish is still terrible, but it was a wonderful time for me. As students on a budget, we ate a lot of our meals in Spanish bars.
Unlike American bars, they were family-friendly places where locals went for that second cup of coffee in the morning or a quick lunch. And since dinner was served late, the bars did most of their business in the late afternoon when they served tapas -- small dishes of appetizers.
One of my favorite tapas was Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp). Typically served in a shallow earthenware bowl, it's basically shrimp cooked in garlic-infused oil. But there's quite a bit of oil, in fact, the shrimp is swimming in it. It's most often served with bread, but I make my own version and eat it with pasta.
This is one of my quick go-to recipes. It doesn't require a lot of ingredients or measuring and it's a little bit on the comfort food side of things.
The ingredients are simple. I have read recipes for Gambas al Ajillo in which they use lemon, sherry, hot pepper flakes (note, this is not typically a spicy hot dish), paprika, butter, and a host of other things. I imagine that it varies depending on the region of Spain and probably the snazziness of the restaurant, but for the most part, what I have eaten didn't have all those other ingredients. It was pretty basic. I have made it with lemon, which is fine, but we prefer it without lemon.
I have to say that this isn't a light dish. It will probably appeal most to people who sometimes indulge in pasta with no sauce other than butter and salt. Aw, come on. Admit it. I know some of you have eaten that!
It can be made with any kind of pasta, though I prefer spaghetti or linguine.
Gambas al Ajillo with Pasta
1/2 cup olive oil
4 - 6 cloves garlic
1 pound of shrimp
salt (to taste)
juice of 1 lemon (optional)
3/4 pound pasta
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.
Mince the garlic and add to the olive oil in a pan over low heat. This is crucial. Garlic burns very easily. Over a very low heat, it will infuse the oil with flavor. You'll notice the scent wafting up to you in a few minutes.
Add the shrimp. In this photo, I used some bits of red and yellow pepper, mostly because I had them around. The shrimp should only take 3 minutes or so to cook. When they turn color and lose that translucent look, they're done. Add salt.
Using tongs or a pasta spoon, drop some of the pasta into the shrimp and garlic mixture. It's okay if some of the pasta water gets into it. Mix and add more pasta until it looks like the right ratio of pasta to shrimp.
Serve and enjoy!