Orecchiette and Shrimp in a Light Tarragon Cream Sauce

To Know:

I pride myself on keeping a well stocked freezer and pantry, partly because I find more pleasure buying something when it is on sale instead of in the premium-priced panic of immediate necessity. But the luster of a freezer full of treasure can quickly tarnish if you don’t have your shizzle together and forget to take something out the day before to defrost (or so I’ve heard, ahem). That said, some freezer items can save the day in minutes even when pulled directly from the frosty depths, shrimp and peas falling near the top of that list.

Ordinarily, I am not a fan of pre-cooked frozen shrimp, as I think they can be fishier than the uncooked frozen alternative. But these particular tiny, pre-shelled timesavers are mild no matter how they arrive in your kitchen. Plus, they are about the same size as the orecchiette, so each bite will be a perfectly balanced combination of pasta, shrimp and pea, joined together in this lighter, brighter cream sauce, co-starring tarragon’s subtle licorice flavor and zippy lemon zest. It’s a dish that feels far more luxurious than it is, which comes in handy, particularly during the post-holiday winter blahs, when our wallets are a little bit lighter but our arses are decidedly not.

Editor’s Note to my Italian readers: I know, I know, I know, shrimp and cheese, I know. But, please, no hate mail until you try it. I bet even Mr. Reese thought chocolate and peanut butter together was an abomination until that fateful day when those two worlds collided in an attempt to create world peace…

To Get:

1  pound dried orecchiette pasta

1  pound frozen shrimp (150-200 count, peeled and deveined. If using larger shrimp, consider chopping into smaller pieces)

2  tablespoons unsalted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  large shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)

4  tablespoons flour

1  tablespoon dried tarragon (2 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped)

1  lemon, zested

1  teaspoon kosher salt

1/2  teaspoon ground white pepper (black pepper is fine, too)

8  cups (one quart) 2% milk, warmed

1  cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated

1  cup frozen peas

1/2  cup scallions greens, chopped

1/4  cup parsley, chopped

Extra Parmesan for garnish

To Do:

  1. Prep your ingredient so that they are ready to go.
  2. Start a 4-quart pan of water boiling; add the orecchiette pasta once the water is boiling and cook according to package instructions.
  3. In a sauté pan, melt the butter with the oil over medium heat, then add the diced shallots. Cook about 5 minutes, if the shallots start to brown, lower the heat. You will want them to lighten, not darken.
  4. Stir in the flour to make a roux. The consistency will be like a thin paste. Add the tarragon, lemon zest, salt and pepper and stir a minute or two to cook out the raw flour taste.
  5. Slowly whisk in the 8 cups of warmed milk, keep stirring until well incorporated to avoid lumps.
  6. Stir in the Parmesan cheese into the sauce until it has melted. Continue to let the sauce cook between medium and medium-low heat to let it thicken, there should be the occasional bubble, any more and the sauce could break.
  7. When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and combine it with the sauce, shrimp, scallions, parsley and peas. Use whichever pan fits all the ingredients. Return the pan to the cooktop and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 5-10 minutes until all the ingredients are thoroughly warmed through.
  8. Serve with extra parmesan cheese and nosh!

Serves 6-8

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