I found my love for Italy at il Mercato Spring Garden.
You see, I worked there for five years - three as a waiter, two as the Assistant Manager.
My first shift was opening night of the 'new' location across the street from Park Lane - March 29, 2004. Until that point in my life, I had never seen such madness, and to top it off, had never heard of things like Short Ribs, Tallegio or Primitivo.
I was scared and excited as hell to be there.
Almost ten years later the restaurant is gone but it left me so much:
Sean, my wonderful husband. We met at il Mercato. He was my boss.
Cathy and Susan, two of my bffs, as well as many other friendships that I cherish.
An incredibly fierce devotion to, and desire to learn about, Italian ingredients, cooking and wine.
The interesting thing about this blog post is that the recipe I'm posting isn't Italian. It's Spanish.
That's something else I learned at il Mercato. Italian cooking varies from region to region within 'the boot', and oftentimes, ingredients, recipes and methods from surrounding countries - Austria, France, Croatia, Spain (and others) - are used.
Romesco is an example of that.
At one point we had a dish on the menu called 'Ling Shrimp' (although, if we're being honest - every seasonal change of the menu had some variation of a Ling Shrimp. THIS Ling Shrimp was linguine tossed with Romesco and sautéed shrimp). It was one of my favourite pastas during my time at il Mercato and so, yesterday, I decided to try and recreate it from memory.
If I told you I nailed it would you think I was bragging?
'Cause I did.
Nail it that is.
Romesco is garlicky and crunchy with a hint of vinegary tang. You can use it with shrimp, chicken, on top of a steak, on a crostini topped with feta or goat cheese, or anywhere else you want a hit of super jacked up flavour.
Romesco Sauce (yields about 2 Cups - takes about 4 hours ---> 3 of those hours to roast tomatoes and red pepper)
4 fresh tomatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch discs
1 red pepper, seeds and pith removed, cut into pieces
10 cloves roasted garlic
5 cloves raw garlic, rough chopped
1/2 C Parmigiano, grated
1/8-1/4 tsp chili flakes (depends on your preference for heat - add more if you like)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt (add 1/4 tsp, taste and add more if you want)
1/4 C olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
A 2-inch wide slice of stale baguette, torn into small pieces
50g hazelnuts, skinned, toasted, rough chopped
50g blanched almonds, toasted, rough chopped
- Preheat oven 225° - lay tomatoes and red pepper pieces in a single layer on two parchment lined baking sheets - drizzle with olive oil and roast in oven for three hours, flipping tomato slices and pepper pieces after 90 minutes - after three hours, remove skin from roasted red pepper pieces
- in food processor, pulse roasted tomatoes, roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, raw garlic, Parmigiano, chili flakes, salt, olive oil and red wine vinegar until just combined
- add crumbled bread and pulse until mixed in - if Romesco is too thick add more olive oil by the teaspoon and red wine vinegar by the 1/2 teaspoon and taste
- add hazenuts and almonds - pulse until nuts are processed but still chunky
Ling Shrimp for Two
1/2 pound linguine
1 Tbsp butter
10 jumbo shrimp, shelled, de-veined
1 C Romesco
1/2 C pasta water
- bring a large pot of salted water to a boil - cook linguine according to package instructions until al dente
- when pasta has 5 minutes left to cook, heat butter in a sautée pan over medium heat - cook shrimp (about 2 minutes on each side)
- scoop out 1/2 C pasta water before draining pasta - put hot drained pasta back in pot and add the 1/2 C pasta water, Romesco sauce and cooked shrimp - toss with tongs until Romesco 'melts' through and coats linguine and shrimp (this is not a saucy pasta - the Romesco is going to cling to the noodles and shrimp - see photo above)
- garnish with grated Parmigiano 'se ti fa piacere' - if it pleases you