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Joni Woolf: All pastas are not the same

The picture was beautiful. Called Julia’s Pasta Bake, it was presented in Southern Living as part of an elegant Easter feast. Of course, everything in all the pictures looked good enough to eat, and why wait till Easter? I could make it right now, and share with my family up the hill. So I went into the city, bought all the ingredients, including a pound of Swiss cheese (Have you ever mixed a full pound of Swiss, grated, into a mixture of half-and-half, milk, butter and Parmesan? Have you ever seen glue stretched from one side of the stove to the other?) The recipe made a large amount — so large that I decided to cook half for the family and bake the second half for Calvary Episcopal Church’s Book Club the next night. So I sent half up the hill (I did not try it myself), and the word I got back from my son-in-law was this: “Tell your Mama not to save that recipe.” Still, I had another entire casserole dish prepared, so I baked it and took it to church. I mentioned to my friend Elizabeth Kuipers what my son-in-law, Marshall, had said about the dish. After dinner, all she said was, “Marshall was right.”
Sometimes, recipes simply do not live up to the picture-perfect representation in magazines. I love Southern Living, and swear by most of the recipes I’ve ever tried. But Julia’s Pasta Bake will not make it into my files. HOWEVER, I recently had a fine pasta dish in Atlanta while visiting my sister’s stepdaughter, Cathy Blodgett. It was her birthday, and a friend (who is also a chef) had come to her home to cook dinner. I watched as she carefully sauteed the garlic in olive oil, and as she continued making the sauce — slowly, carefully, as if she had all the time in the world. While we sipped an excellent wine, she kept stirring and adding and finally dinner was ready, beautiful to look at, but also, as delicious as any pasta meal I have had. So today I am sharing a really fine dish that I have watched being prepared, have eaten to my heart’s content, and can attest that it was enjoyed by a diverse crowd. Called simply Shrimp and Pasta, this recipe offered six generous servings. It can easily be doubled to serve 12.

Shrimp and Pasta
8-ounce package linguine pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons juiced lemon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
capers
asparagus
tomatoes
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add linguine and cook for 9 to 13 minutes, or until al dente; drain. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and saute garlic about 1 minute. Mix in chicken broth, wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by about half. Mix shrimp, butter, parsley, and basil into the saucepan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until shrimp is opaque. Stir in the cooked linguine, and continue cooking 2 minutes, until well coated. Serve on individual plates and garnish with capers, slightly cooked asparagus spears and tomatoes that have been quartered. Add a green salad and a loaf of French bread — or better yet, a loaf of Focaccia from Sweet Georgia Bakery — and you have a perfect meal for family or friends or for yourself. Surely you deserve it.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net