Last night’s dinner was a happy accident. I spent the late afternoon out in my garden pulling weeds and giant thistles that appeared to have grown up overnight! Why couldn’t my basil crop thrive in the same Jack-and-the-Beanstalk sort of way? I was exhausted when I came in and declared I couldn’t possible muster up the energy it would require to make dinner!
After some time on the couch, and a shower, I took a walk outside. The evening had become cool and pleasant. I looked at my little grill outside and decided to light it. I had recently just read that if you place a small pan of water on the bottom rack beside the coals when using the plain unfancy Weber Grill, it will keep the food moist because of the steam. My secondary thought was wondering what to actually grill? I stuffed paper in my chimney starter, put charcoal on top, lit a match, and headed for the supermarket for inspiration.
I had made chicken wrapped in bacon the day before and I was still dreaming about the flavors (type Chicken Wrapped in Bacon in search box to the right for the recipe). If I could find a piece of sturdy fish, I could cook it the same way on the grill perhaps? Alas, the fish selection was poor, no whole fish to be had. I settled for 1 lb of gulf shrimp. I figured their large size could sit on the rack without falling through the grate.
When I got back the coals were lovely and hot. I poured them onto the bottom rack and set a loaf pan (made of tinfoil) of water to the side. When asked what was for dinner I responded, “grilled shrimp following by roasted marshmallows.” Because of the marshmallows, no one seemed to mind that we were only having shrimp!
When it came to throwing the shrimp on the grill I just couldn’t do it. I needed some flavor? I am a total grilling novice and had to rack my brain as to how to achieve this without marination, or, making a sauce for brushing on the shrimp, or whatever else it is grilling experts do! I went with an option that I might have used if cooking the shrimp in the oven. I made a foil package and filled it with fresh thyme sprigs, lemon juice, a little wine, oil and the shrimp and set it on the grill. I sat outside by my little grill with a glass of wine thinking how silly I was to go to the trouble of lighting the grill only to cook something that would probably be done in 10 minutes. That’s what you do when you have a gas grill!
When I opened the lid to check the shrimp I was surprised at how different the heat felt and how the coals glowed evenly. Could it be my little water bath? The shrimp packet had turned into this beautiful dish of shrimp with a flavorful lemony thyme-laced juice. Immediately I knew I had to save this juice and make it into a sauce with a little spaghetti. I also though the shrimp smelled as if they were grilled but did not have any lovely charring from the grill. I put water on for pasta, poured the juices into a little bowl and right before the pasta was cooked I put the shrimp on the grill to singe them.
When the spaghetti was cooked I used some of the pasta water, along with a little butter and my shrimp juice and it turned into a barely visible sauce that clung to each strand. It was a very appropriate late night summer dinner and we all ate on the back steps of the house with the plates on our laps.
I know this is a long-winded account of a very basic dish, but I discovered a couple of things about grilling that hopefully will spur me on to not be so afraid of the thing, and, I just wanted to let you know how you can create as you go, and shouldn’t care if it all falls apart; there’s always pizza or Chinese take-out a phone call away!
You will need: 1lb Gulf shrimp with shell on (or about 24 large shrimp), 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1/2 lemon, thickly sliced, 4 thyme sprigs, 2 tbs white wine, 12 to 16 basil leaves, 3/4 lb spaghetti, 1 tbs unsalted butter.
1 – If you have a charcoal grill, light it immediately (if not sooner!). If using a gas grill turn on 10 minutes before you need it.
2 – Unroll a large piece of tin-foil and double it. Put on counter top and pull up the sides (enough to house the shrimp and liquids). Add the shrimp, oil, lemon juice, lemon slices, thyme, and wine. Season with a dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Bring corners together and twist.
2 – When grill is ready put water on for pasta. When it boils, add spaghetti and cook according to instructions. Reserve a 1/2 cup of cooked pasta water before draining and set aside.
3 – While spaghetti water is heating put the shrimp packet on the grill. Check after 10 minutes. When just cooked, take off grill and leave to steam and cook a little further for 5 minutes.
4 – Take shrimp out and set on plate by grill. In the meantime drain pasta (making sure to reserve pasta water). Immediately place spaghetti back into pot and add the butter, juices from shrimp, basil leaves and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Stir together and add more pasta water if necessary.
5 – Quickly char the shrimp on the grill and toss into the pasta.