One evening about two weeks before my mom died, after helping her get comfortable in bed, I walked out into our living room to my aunts’ shrimp scampi. Our nine-foot long table was full of people, Aunt Trish, Aunt Mimi and Uncle Tim had arrived that week from Ohio to say their goodbyes to my mom. My 3 1/2 year-old daughter, Lily, and my 15 month-old son, Jasper, were there; I know Greg, my husband, was there because he was there through it all with me, my mom’s sickness, her death and after. I honestly can’t remember if my brother and his wife were there yet with their 2 1/2 year old son. My sister and her partner were coming later that week, and I don’t think my dad had arrived yet. But honestly the Pope could have been sitting next to me and I might not have remembered because as soon as I came out from my mom’s room, having gotten her tucked in and watched her fall asleep, all I remember is sitting down at the table and eating some of the best shrimp scampi I’ve ever had in my life.
Everyone else had eaten already, not out of rudeness, but because I’d asked them to. I didn’t know how long it would take me to get my mom to sleep, and we didn’t know, minute by minute, when my mom would need one of us to help her. But they were all still at the table. I sat down at my place and my aunt fixed me a plate of shrimp and bread. The shrimp had been baked in a mouthwatering goodness of butter, lemon, white wine, garlic and butter. Oh the butter! I alternated between bites of shrimp and bites of pulled apart French baguette dipped in the scampi butter sauce. Divine!
I could have sat there for hours eating that meal, so heightened were my senses, so honed in on the aromas and tastes of that meal, so aware of the heaviness of the moment and yet also just simply relaxed and enjoying a really fucking great meal, knowing that the house was full of people who could help me help my mom if I needed it. Knowing how important good meals and sharing good meals were to my family, my immediate family and my crazy large Irish Catholic family. Good food and wine could see us through many a tragedy; we’d proven this. I wouldn’t intimately know death and grief for another two weeks, but I did know fear and worry, and that dinner fed me in a way that for a few brief moments all I knew were delicious savory mouthfuls and the comfort of an amazing meal, leaving no room for my fear and worry.
It wasn’t until months after my mom died, when my bones ached from missing her, that I thought about shrimp scampi and my love for it. When I think about my mom, when I miss her, I miss her laughter, her hugs, her warmth and her beauty, and boy do I miss her cooking. She was such a great cook and she was so much fun to cook with. Cooking fabulous meals over many glasses of wine was how we connected over and over again.
My mom moved in with us when my daughter was one. That summer I found out I was pregnant with my son. She lived with us for just over two years before she died. The first summer she was there we discovered this amazing wild shrimp from the Gulf at the Everett Farmer’s Market, and every Sunday during the summer and into the fall until the market was closed for the winter we would buy shrimp and she would make her shrimp scampi linguini for herself, Greg and I. It’s actually based on Tyler Florence’s recipe and it is divine. Tons of shallots and garlic sautéed in butter and oil, lemon juice, white wine, more butter, fresh Italian parsley all tossed over noodles. She also always topped her recipe with scallions. Mmm, mmm, mmm.
It’s one of those meals that make you want to lick your bowl when you’re done as if you could never get enough. You practically drool when you’re eating it, such perfect flavors together, the wine, the butter, the shallot, and lemon. The next summer as soon as the market opened we started the same tradition. Jasper was a newborn who seemed to need to nurse ALL THE TIME so she and Greg would cook scampi on Sunday nights after we put Lily to bed while I nursed our peanut, and then the three of us adults would sit and watch a show while eating her amazing shrimp scampi linguini cooked to perfection.
I tried making my mom’s recipe a few times the first year after her death and it just tasted blah. I think the bitterness of eating it without her overwhelmed any good flavors I might have tasted. Such is the power of our ever-changing grief.
About twenty months after my mom died, one of her brothers, my Uncle Terry, died of a massive heart attack. I learned later that one of my uncle’s favorite meals to cook for his wife, Paula and my two cousins, Erin and Patrick, was shrimp scampi linguini. I got to cook it with my cousins and my Aunt Paula several months after his death. Aside from our sorrow and missing my mom and Uncle Terry, the meal did not disappoint.
Late December, over two years after my mom’s death I tried making her version again with my cousin, Clare. She’d come to visit just after Christmas and we had so much fun catching up, drinking wine and Greg’s fabulous cocktails, and we cooked shrimp scampi linguini together one chilly night. It was fabulous and more than the amazing bite of perfectly cooked shrimp sautéed in white wine, shallot and butter lingering on my tongue, was the joy in cooking and eating this meal with someone who knew and loved and grieved for my mom as much as I did. That night, cooking with Clare, connecting with someone I love over a great meal got me back on the path of making and loving my mom’s shrimp scampi linguini.
My mom has been dead almost four years now and I make her scampi over linguini or tagliatelle (whatever delicious gluten-free noodles I can find) religiously again. It may have started as Tyler Florence’s recipe, but for me it will always be my mom’s.
- 1 pound linguini or tagliatelle (Jovial makes wonderful gluten-free noodles!)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 shallots, finely diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Juice of one lemon, plus extra for drizzling
- 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped scallions
- Put a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. When it has come to a boil, add a large pinch of salt and the linguini. If you are using gluten-free noodles, you will need to stir to make sure the noodles don't stick together. Cook according to pasta directions. Drain the pasta, toss with olive oil and set aside.
- In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter in the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes until the shallots are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2 minutes per side. It's very important not to overcook the shrimp or they will be chewy and tough. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Raise heat to medium-high. Add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add the additional 2 tablespoons butter and turn off heat. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the parsley and cooked pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Squeeze a bit of extra lemon juice over pasta and top with scallions. Serve immediately.