One of the things I love about cooking is how recipes for the same essential dish can be so different. For fideos – short, thin noodles toasted and then cooked into Spanish (and Italian and Mexican) stews and soups, this is spectacularly so.
Fideos is actually the name of a specific type of thin noodle, most often short, slightly curved pieces. According to Joey Campanaro, chef/co-owner of The Little Owl in New York, fideos is the Catalan word for noodles, and many Spanish cooks use it instead of rice to make paella. Typically, English-language recipes call for using vermicelli, cappellini, or spaghetti and breaking it into short pieces.
The variations in fideos recipes start at the toasting of the noodles themselves. Some – the most authentic sounding to me – call for toasting them in a skillet or paella pan on the stovetop. With others, you toast them in the oven on a baking sheet. Still others would have you skip the toasting process altogether. This is just wrong; the nutty flavor the toasted pasta takes on is invaluable in this dish. And to me, if you don’t toast them, you end up with just another spaghetti recipe.
Even after I’d settled on a version using shrimp, variations abounded. Saffron, no saffron. Sweet paprika, smoky paprika (or both). Tomatoes or no. Wine, brandy; fish stock, chicken stock, stock flavored with ham hocks; clams, mussels, olives….
Chef Campanaro cooked a version for Martha Stewart using fava beans. I liked the nutty flavor and bright green color they add, especially with the red bell pepper. But fava beans aren’t in season right now and are a fair amount of work, what with shelling them twice. Edamame is a nice stand-in, offering the same nutty taste and touch of color. They’re available frozen at Trader Joe’s, among other places. As a bonus, you’ll end up with more than you need for the recipe – they make a great snack. If you can’t find them, frozen peas will add the color, but with a sweet note rather than nutty.
This recipe isn’t difficult at all, but there are a lot of moving parts. Doing some of them ahead – such as cooking and shelling the edamame, peeling and cleaning the shrimp, using the shells to flavor your stock (also optional) and even breaking the pasta into short pieces – makes it all come together much more quickly at meal time.
Shrimp fideos with red bell pepper and edamame
Serves 3 (see Kitchen Notes)
1 package frozen edamame (or 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed)
1/2 pound small or medium-sized raw shrimp
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth or stock, unsalted or reduced sodium preferred
8 ounces vermicelli or other thin pasta, broken into 2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine]
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Do ahead. Cook the edamame according to package directions. This can be done a day ahead, storing cooked edamame in the shells in the fridge. An hour or so before cooking the, shell 1/2 cup of edamame beans and set aside.
Peel and devein the shrimp. If you wish to use the shells to flavor your stock (recommended – they add a nice extra to the finished dish), heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the shrimp shells, toss to coat with oil and cook, stirring occasionally, for two to three minutes. Add chicken stock and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 6 or 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly; then pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup, pressing gently on the shells with the back of a spoon to release more liquid. Add enough water to bring liquid back to 2 cups (I added about 1/2 cup to replace what had cooked away). Set aside. You can do this as you prep your vegetables or a little before.
Cook the dish. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick sauté pan or deep skillet over medium flame. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and quickly sauté, about two minutes per side. Don’t worry if they haven’t cooked completely through – you’ll finish them later with the pasta. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Drizzle a little more oil in the pan and add the broken pasta. Carefully stir it to coat with oil and cook until nicely golden brown, stirring almost constantly, about 6 to 8 minutes. Watch closely – it can go from nothing to burnt quickly. Transfer to a large bowl with a spatula or other slotted tool.
Wipe skillet clean with paper towel. Add 2 more tablespoons of oil and sweat bell pepper and onion until softening, stirring frequently to avoid browning, 5 to 7 minutes (reduce heat if onion begins to brown). Season with a little salt and a generous grind of pepper. Stir in garlic and paprika and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add wine [or substitute] and cook until almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits.
Reduce heat to medium-low and add pasta to pan along with 1/2 cup of broth. Cook, stirring, until broth is mostly absorbed into pasta. Add another 1/2 cup and repeat. Add the remaining cup of broth and continue cooking, stirring frequently to coat pasta. The pasta will seem to resist softening – alarmingly so as the broth level reduces. Don’t worry. At about 8 to 10 minutes in of total cooking time, it will start to relax. And even any errant strands that fail to totally soften won’t have that raw pasta taste, thanks to the toasting. Instead, they’ll have a nice, delicious crunch.
When pasta has cooked for about 6 or 8 minutes, stir in the edamame and nestle the shrimp into the pasta. (If you’re substituting peas, add them when you add the last of the broth to give them time to cook.) Stir occasionally and start tasting noodles at 10 minutes for doneness. Adjust seasonings and serve in shallow pasta bowls, arranging the shrimp on top. Top with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve.
Serves how many? Here’s another place where recipes varied greatly. One claimed a pound of pasta made two servings. Um, no. With half that much pasta, this recipe served two of us well and made a more than generous leftover lunch. It would easily serve three as dinner.