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Chef's recipe: Garganelli pasta with spot prawns

Simple flavours are key in this dish, which features a rich sauce combining butter, citrus and thyme.

John Lehmann/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Here in Vancouver, the season has once again opened for wild B.C. spot prawns - some of the best-tasting prawns in the world. I have had the opportunity since I was a kid to enjoy these crustaceans, which are a sustainable choice for those of us concerned about the health of our oceans. The season is not long - just eight weeks - but during that time I hope you all get a chance to try them if you're on the West Coast.

Just this past weekend, the Chefs Table Society of B.C. hosted its fourth annual Spot Prawn Festival, a day full of food and fun. There was a live band, beer, wine and, of course, lots and lots of prawns - both cooked for consumption and live for sale. As I headed down to the festival, it was cool to see every other person walking away from False Creek Fishermen's Wharf with bulging bags of local-caught bounty.

It reminded of prawn season in Sweden, where we celebrated the critters in much the same way. When I was living there, one of my favourite meals was simply prawns, garlic, butter, white wine, a large loaf of crusty white bread and mayonnaise. So simple, but oh so good.

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There are several recipes I could have shared with you, but for me, pasta and prawns are a great and delicious combination. Pino Posteraro, one of my good friends and a master of pasta, gave me some good advice on the recipe below. Once again: Keep it simple. Focus on the amazing flavour of the prawns with a light sauce. When the garganelli gets smothered in the prawns, you'll have yourself one heck of a dish.

Thanks to Pino and the Chefs Table Society for giving us a chance to realize how good we have it here in Canada, with some of the best food in the world.

Garganelli Pasta with Spot Prawns and a Lemon and Thyme Butter Sauce

Ingredients

Pasta

2½ cups garganelli pasta

olive oil

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Sauce

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup dry white wine

4 sprigs thyme, plus leaves from 2 more sprigs (minus stems)

1 teaspoon heavy cream (optional)

¼ pound (½ cup) unsalted butter

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1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon fine lemon zest

Pasta Glaze

1 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped chives

2 tablespoon julienned flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon fine lemon zest

Prawns

12 large spot prawns, peeled

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon minced garlic

1 small shallot, minced

Method

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta to al dente stage. Strain without rinsing the pasta. Toss with a small amount of olive oil. Spread on a flat baking sheet to air-dry - this step allows the starch to remain on the pasta, which makes sauces cling better. You can do this ahead of time and store the pasta in resealable plastic bags.

To make the sauce, combine vinegar, wine and 4 thyme sprigs in a small pot. Reduce to a syrupy consistency. Remove thyme sprigs. Whisk in the cream - this step will prevent the sauce from separating. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, a bit at a time. If sauce cools too much, return to low heat, but do not let it boil. When butter is incorporated, add lemon juice and zest along with thyme leaves to mixture. Season with salt. Keep warm.

To make the pasta glaze, heat stock over medium in a large sauté pan, until reduced by half. Whisk in butter. Add the pasta and toss to warm through. Add tomato, chives, parsley and lemon zest, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Set aside.

To prepare the prawns, season them with salt. In a non-stick frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high. When the pan is lightly smoking, add prawns and quickly sauté. When prawns are pink on one side, add butter, garlic and shallot. Turn prawns and continue sautéing until cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Finally, to assemble, add the pasta and ¼ cup lemon and thyme sauce to the prawn juices. Toss over low heat until thoroughly warmed. Divide among 4 large bowls. Place 3 prawns on top of the pasta. Drizzle warm sauce on top of the prawns and around the plate.

Serves 4.

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