What do shrimp, chickpeas and pancetta have in common?
You love all three of them? Ok, that works.
I guess they really don’t have anything in common, but they’re all really good, right?
At the risk of this turning into a Sophia Petrillo style story (picture it; Sicily; 1914) I am going to have to travel back in time a few years.
It was New Year’s Eve, oddly enough – you know I never believe stories that start that way, but this one is true – really!
Anyway, New Year’s Eve 2005 (pretty sure), we were in Celano (AQ) and were at a local restaurant getting ready for what was sure to be an amazing meal.
That evening we were going to be eating a meal prepared by chefs affiliated with Gambero Rosso.
Apart from this appetizer (and another one that I loved even more than this one but still haven’t been able to reproduce) I remember this particular New Year’s Eve because it was the first time my son celebrated a special event without us.
The restaurant, in its wisdom, set up a separate room for children, where they were fed, entertained and kept busy by a group of young women and the first Harry Potter movie.
My husband and I had decided that we would take turns checking up on him every 30 minutes (it was our first time, what can I say). That quickly came to an end when on my second visit he turned to me (quite exasperated) and said “Why do you keep coming here? Aren’t you having fun at your party?” Those first tiny steps towards independence leave a huge imprint on a parent’s heart.
So off I went, back to our table, back to the dinner. This was the second appetizer that was served that night, a creamy chickpea soup, just enough to cover the bottom of the dish, three medium sized shrimp and chopped, smoky pancetta.
I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how good it was and I was amazed at the combination of ingredients.
Over the years I have meddled and tweaked and fiddled with different versions of what I imagined the recipe to be, because after all, I only got to taste, I have no idea how they made it.
My version has a chickpea puree (closer to a mash) replacing the creamy soup and I use more herbs than I think they did, but I think it’s pretty good just the same.
2 cans chickpeas (250 gram drained per can)
30 gr butter
1 clove of pressed garlic
20 medium sized shrimp, cleaned and peeled
fresh parsley – 1 whole sprig and one sprig chopped
250 ml white wine
One strip of pancetta about 1 cm thick (will weigh about 75 gr) with the skin still on
milk and butter
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the pancetta as thinly as you can and fry it in a little olive oil. When the pancetta turns pink, turn off the heat and set it aside but do not remove from the pan.
Place the chickpeas in a saucepan with enough water to cover them, add the bay leaf and sage and the skin from the pancetta. Let the water come to a boil and lower the heat and let the chickpeas simmer.
While the chickpeas are simmering, turn your attention to the shrimp. In a wide pan melt the butter over medium heat and add the garlic.
Toss in the shrimp, add the chopped garlic and just as they start to turn from pink to white, add the white wine.
You should get a nice frothy effect, lower the heat, salt lightly and let the shrimp cook.
While the shrimp is cooking it is time to drain the chickpeas and either using an immersion blender or a food processor, puree them and place them back in the saucepan over very low heat. Add a nob of butter and some milk, salt and pepper (to taste) and stir until you have a smooth mash.
Put the pancetta back on the heat and cook until just crispy.
To plate this dish, lay down a bed of chickpea mash, then arrange 5 shrimp per dish and sprinkle the pancetta evenly on all four dishes.