Simplicity and freshness are the keys to creating interesting pasta dishes. Pasta shapes are important, too. The length, curves and texture of the pasta should dictate the kind and size of ingredients used. The dome-shaped orecchiette used in this dish are the perfect receptacles for the zucchini balls and capers, which would slide off long pasta.
In Italy, cheese is traditionally never used in seafood dishes, but times are changing – when I was last in Rome, cheese was offered with my shrimp pasta, probably an accommodation for American tourists. I personally avoid cheese on seafood. Butter, on the other hand, is used often in the Emilia-Romagna area for pasta dishes and smooths out the flavour of fish and shellfish.
Fried capers, which look like little flowers, are a trendy ingredient right now. Don’t take them out of the oil too early as they become soggy – you want them to have a nice crispness. As for fried basil leaves, they look like green stained glass, which ramps up the presentation of this dish.
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and patted dry
- 1/2 cup basil leaves, about 20
- 12 oz (375 g) large shrimp (21-25 count), shelled
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 green zucchini, skin on
- 8 oz (250 g) orecchiette pasta
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp butter
Heat vegetable oil in a small, heavy pot over high heat. The oil is hot enough when a cube of bread added to the oil turns brown in 15 seconds. Add the capers and fry until they open and have turned dark and crispy (2 to 3 minutes). Spoon capers onto paper towel to drain. Working in batches, add the basil leaves and fry until crispy (about 30 seconds). Add to paper towel with capers.
Cut shrimp in half on a diagonal through the middle and season with salt and pepper. Reserve. Scoop zucchini into small balls using a melon baller or cut into large dice.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add orecchiette. Boil until al dente (12 to 15 minutes).
Place olive oil in a skillet large enough to hold pasta. Heat over medium-high heat. Add zucchini.
Sauté until zucchini is tinged with colour (about 3 minutes). Add garlic and shrimp. Continue cooking until shrimp turns pink (about 2 minutes more).
Drain pasta and reserve ½ cup cooking liquid. Add pasta and cooking liquid to pan with vegetables and shrimp. Toss together and season well with salt and pepper. Stir in butter. Crumble half of the fried basil and capers into pasta.
Garnish each serving with remaining fried capers and fried basil leaves.