This dish was born in our sea house kitchen in Capo Zafferano one late summer morning, when our trusted fisherman friend was delivering us some swordfish filets. On his truck I spotted a heaping case of just-caught tiny, peeled shrimp, which hailed from the port of Porticello, located outside of Palermo. When tasting one tender morsel raw, with its delicate scent of the sea, I couldn’t resist but purchase some.
Ideas quickly ran through my mind; I could prepare the shrimp fried, in a seafood salad, or even with a pistachio pesto as a pasta sauce. However, cooking on our stovetop in that moment was a sauce for a “spaghetti alla carrettiera,” a simple but flavorful pasta dish that contains nothing more than olive oil, garlic, onions, and chopped tomatoes. And so, I chose to add the shrimp to the sauce so we could enjoy them immediately.
The dish takes its name from the wagoners who historically used to transport people or deliver goods around the island on donkey-driven carri, the iconic colorful Sicilian carts (imagine a scene from Verdi’s opera Cavalleria Rusticana). For lunch, these wagoners typically ate such quick pastas along the road. Today, the carts are no longer used for transportation, but they remain a part of Sicilian identity, and so does this dish. That day, with the addition of the shrimp, a splash of white wine and a handful of chopped parsley, I transformed the classic carrettiera sauce into a hearty meal, and this dish is now a favorite in our home.
It is important to use very ripe flavorful tomatoes, a high-quality olive oil and fresh shrimp, which differentiate themselves from their frozen counterparts, by their tender and flavorful nature.
If preparing alone, this dish serves 4. If served as a first course, it is sufficient for 6 people.
SPAGHETTI ALLA CARRETTIERA CON GAMBERETTI SGUSCIATI
Serves 4-6 people
- 1 pound small peeled white shrimp ideally fresh, not frozen
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled
- 4-5 preserved peeled plum tomatoes or fresh tomatoes with skin and seeds removed
- 1 pinch sugar
- ¾ cup parsley chopped
- ½ cup dry, unoaked white wine
- 1 pound spaghetti
- salt to taste
- crushed black pepper or red chili flakes to taste
- Place the peeled shrimp in a colander and rinse well. Remove and discard any pieces of the shrimp shell or any impurities. Hold aside.
- Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.
- In a sauté pan, gently heat about half of the olive oil and add the finely chopped onion. Add a touch—about two teaspoons—of water. Cook the onion for approximately 15minutes, until light brown in color.
- Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a knife or with the palm of your hand and roughly cut them in half. Add to the onions and stir the ingredients together. Let cook until the garlic is soft, making sure the cloves do not turn dark brown in color.
- Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan along with a pinch of sugar and approximately 1 cup of water. (If using canned tomatoes in sauce, add the sauce to the pan as well. If using fresh tomatoes, after discarding the skin and seeds, add the tomato liquid to the sauce). Cook over high heat, stirring often, until the sauce has reduced by more than half.
- Add the chopped parsley and the white wine and reduce slightly.
- Add the peeled shrimp, the remaining olive oil, the salt and crushed pepper to taste. Stir all the ingredients together. The shrimp will release their liquid into the sauce. Cook until the sauce is reduced, doesn’t appear watery and coats the back of a metal spoon. Depending on the type and size of the shrimp, this process will take about 10 minutes.
- While the shrimp are cooking, add salt to a large pot of boiling water. Add the pasta, stir so the strands don’t stick to one another, and cook until it is slightly underdone (less than al dente). When straining the pasta, reserve some of the pasta cooking water on the side.
- Add the spaghetti to the sauce and stir constantly. Let cook until the pasta is al dente or until it reaches your desired consistently. It is important that the pasta sufficiently absorbs the sauce. If necessary, add a touch of the pasta water and additional olive oil.
- Serve while hot.
This recipe is published as part of our Regional Tasting Report on Sicily.
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