Shrimp is America’s number one seafood, beating out salmon, crab, clams, tilapia and even canned tuna. I can take or leave shrimp but my family really loves it so I do prepare it occasionally. Even I really liked this savory Chili Prawn Pasta with Wilted Greens. This is an elegant and tasty dish worthy of company or a special dinner, but it’s deceptively easy and fast. If you buy pre-shelled shrimp, the prep time is very short and dinner can be ready in the time it takes to boil the pasta. Now that is what I call fast food!
Pasta is often thought of as empty carbs but that is not completely true. In processing traditional pasta the bran layer and oil-rich germ is removed which gives an indefinite shelf life, a quick cooking time, a familiar texture and a mild, versatile flavor. Depending on the type, however, 50 to 90 percent of a grain’s nutrients and phytonutrients are removed during processing. To address this substantial loss of nutrients, the United States government requires refined flour to be enriched with specific vitamins and minerals, including iron and the B vitamins folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, so it may not be as bad as you think. Whole-grain pasta is an excellent source of B vitamins and iron, which occur naturally and provides significantly higher levels of essential trace minerals and fiber. The most common whole-grain pastas are made from whole wheat or buckwheat, but there are many new combinations available now made with brown rice, quinoa, spelt, farro and kamut which are good gluten free options. I tried a new multi-grain pasta for this dish, made with red quinoa and amaranth. I liked the flavor but be warned that some whole grain pastas can get sticky if overcooked. I always save a cup of pasta water before draining and then adding some of it back to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Some whole grain pasta, this one included, don’t increase in volume when cooked so I had to double the quantity of dry pasta.
So how does the nutrition of traditional pasta made with refined flour stack up with whole grain pasta? A 1-cup serving of plain, cooked enriched spaghetti provides 221 calories, 8.1 grams of protein, 1.3 grams of fat and 43.2 grams of carbohydrates, of which 2.5 grams are fiber, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By comparison, 1 cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti has 174 calories, about 7.5 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat and 37.2 grams of carbohydrates, of which 6.3 grams are fiber — an amount equivalent to 25 percent of the daily value for fiber. ( HealthyEating.SFGate) Surprisingly, refined pasta is not a bad choice (thanks to the US government), so I no longer feel guilty when digging into a big plate of pasta in a restaurant. When I cook at home, though, I prefer to use whole grains.
NOTES ON SHRIMP AND PRAWNS: When buying shrimp, look for wild vs farmed shrimp, if possible, and pay attention to where they are from. According to Seafood Watch, wild-caught shrimp is generally a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” with the exception of shrimp fisheries in Mexico and Thailand, which are on the “Avoid” list for poor management. Most “Best Choice” shrimp is caught in Alaska, but there are other great farmed and wild options. Buy these first, then look for a “Good Alternative” like U.S. Gulf of Mexico shrimp. Only buy imported shrimp if you’re sure it’s from a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” source. Heads up: You’re good to go if the shrimp is caught in a way that reduces harm to sea turtles. Also, over 90% of our shrimp is imported. Farmed shrimp from the U.S. is also a good option. However, 90% of our shrimp is imported farmed shrimp, mostly from Asia, and is generally on the “Avoid” list due to questionable practices including overcrowding, chemicals, poor quality of food and even abusive labor conditions. So even though they are likely to be more expensive than farmed, wild-caught shrimp are also better for you. Go to Seafood Watch for a current listing of shrimp fishing practices around the world.
TIPS: The shelling process is not difficult but does take a bit of effort. You can shorten the prep time by about 10 minutes by purchasing prawns that have already been shelled and deveined. Just make sure the tails have been left on for best presentation. Don’t skip the step of drying the prawns or your shrimp won’t sear properly and might curl into tight little balls when you cook them instead of keeping their gorgeous traditional shape.
CHILI PRAWN LINGUINE WITH WILTED GREENS
- 2 lbs raw prawns
- 8 oz linguine or spaghetti (wheat or gluten-free if desired)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 tsp Creole Seasoning (optional)
- 3-4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
- 2 fresh red chillies, sliced thinly (or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes)
- 3 cups fresh greens (spinach, kale, arugula, etc)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsn fresh mixed herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme or basil), chopped (optional)
- Shell and devein prawns, leaving tails intact. There are two veins that should be removed; a white one that you remove along with the legs and a black one (usually) along the back that can be removed with a sharp knife. The black vein (poopy vein) especially gets gritty when cooked.
- Dry prawns on a layer of papertowels.
- Cook pasta in large saucepan of boiling water, according to instructions, until just tender. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water then drain pasta and return it to the pan. Add a bit of pasta water if pasta seems dry or sticky. Meanwhile, heat half the oil in large frying pan. Cook prawns, without crowding, just until they just change colour.
- Turn to cook the other side and remove from pan and loosely cover. I love Tony’s Creole Seasoning with prawns, so I sprinkle a pinch on them while cooking but this is not necessary if you don’t have it.
- Heat remaining oil in same frying pan. Cook garlic and chilli, stirring, until fragrant.
- Stir in greens and saute until slightly wilted. Taste and add salt and more red pepper, if desired.
- Put prawns, reserved cooking liquid and greens mixture in with pasta. Toss to combine, top with fresh herbs and serve immediately.
Chile Prawn Linguine with Wilted Greens