Thursday, April 29, 2010
This story is the first of 32, in my new "If I were their World Cup Chef" series. Each post will honor one world football player from each of the 32 countries going to the World Cup in South Africa this summer. As my muses, each will inspire a recipe that I am privileged to offer as my gift ... to thank them for making the world more beautiful.
And for the record, today is Sunday, 16 May 2010.
If you are following the Original LA Farmers Market/Monsieur Marcel recipe series, please find grocery shopping tips at end of recipe.
In my Argentine Fever story last month, I suggested that the world of world football (soccer) spends an exorbitant amount of time talking about Lionel Messi. All of that talk is usually only good, and for very good reasons.
Now all of that is going to get even better, since Barcelona just won the Spanish (La Liga) league title today, and my beautiful muse scored 2 of the 4 goals (of his total 34 goals this season) that lifted his club over Vallidolid in this last match of the season.
The pride and joy of Argentina (where he was born) and Barcelona (where he lives and plays), "Lio" is one of the biggest - and most revered - stars in the sport. We are all expecting great things from him in South Africa next month, when he will proudly wear Argentina's national jersey in the World Cup.
He first won my heart two years ago, when at the ripe young age of 20, he was a surprise coach for lucky children in Andorra. Adidas produced a fantastic film project called Dream Big, and connected the world's smallest countries with the world's biggest footballers. Messi and others in his class taught the young players skills, then escorted them to Madrid. The children, alongside camera crews and staff, had unprecedented, entitled use of world-famous Real Madrid football club's locker room, facilities, and stadium, to play the match of their lives to a sellout crowd.
My favorite scene of the little movie was Messi playing cards with the children en route to Madrid. He was perfectly adorable.
The story of how he came to play in his new home of Barcelona further endeared him to me.
Rosario, a river shore town about 200 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is where he was born. He started playing with local soccer clubs at age 5, with his brother and coached by his father. He had spectacular skills and, a growth hormone deficiency. While probably giving whole new meaning to small but mighty, he required expensive medical treatment.
His amazing talent caught the attention of Barcelona's own youth clubs, through his family's relatives in Spain, and they were able to help arrange a connection with the club for him to try out. Impressed enough to take a leap of faith by signing him after they saw him play, they promised to pay for his medical treatment if the family moved to Barcelona - which they did, and Lio began playing with Barcelona's youth teams. (In this very short and sweet "Impossible is Nothing" video, he tells his own story with hand-drawn illustrations.)
That was just about 10 years ago, when he was 12 years old. He debuted with Barcelona in his first league match when he was only 17, and has been breaking records ever since. Among other awe-inspiring feats, he is famous for his hat-tricks, which equal scoring 3 goals in a single match. (A few weeks ago he actually scored 4 but no one could tell me what they call that.) He won an Olympic Gold Medal with the Argentine national football team in the Summer Games of 2008. In his huge 2008-9 season, he led Barcelona to win the Spanish La Liga title, the UEFA Champions League, and the Copa del Rey. It was the first time a Spanish club had ever earned The Treble, which is three such trophies in one season. Last year, he went on to personally win the Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball), for European Footballer of the Year.
His world-class future includes his good work as an ongoing UNICEF goodwill ambassador and, being a husband. He is engaged to be married later this year, to a young woman who is from his hometown in Argentina.
Every time I read more good news about Lio Messi, it feels like more cause to celebrate.
If I were his World Cup Chef, I would positively have to honor his Italian roots, his Argentine birthplace, his presence in Spain and, his pure excellence as a player and human being.
His father's family originally immigrated to Argentina in the late 1800s from Ancona, which is on the Adriatic coast of Italy's exquisite Le Marche region, where handmade pastas reign. While packaged dried pasta is fine for my recipe, handmade egg pasta makes it off-the-charts-delicious and, of course adds more sensuality.
Fresh fish is a popular signature of Messi's native Rosario. Large shrimp or langostinos (like mini-lobsters; sometimes available at fine fresh fish counters) for this pasta make for easy preparation. A Mediterranean accent gets added with fresh and dried herbs, a little heat, citrus, shallots, capers, wine, and olives with their oil.
A nod to Barcelona makes it easy to pick up the perfect finish. Catalonia's picada is like Spanish pesto, made by taking the mortar and pestle to almonds, sea salt, a few pine nuts, saffron, dried bread, garlic, and parsley. Instead of moistening it with water or broth, my recipe leaves this blend dried, so that it can be sprinkled like crumbs on top of the pasta just before serving.
Picada of almonds is something that is documented in traditional Catalan cuisine since medieval times. Since Lio Messi will inevitably enjoy his rightful place in Barcelona's history, it seems only fitting to include the revered tradition of almonds in a dish prepared for him.
Almonds are also an ancient, time-honored symbol of true love. Argentina, Barcelona, and every single one of his fans - including this Chef - certainly vows just that, for this extraordinary young man.
Pasta with Shrimp, Olives, and Almond Picada Crumbs, for Lionel Messi
Marinate shrimp and cook pasta:
1 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
Zest and juice of one fresh orange
1/8 tsp each: ground cumin, crushed dried oregano leaves, chili powder, paprika
Combine orange zest and juice with seasonings in medium bowl, add shrimp and stir gently to coat well. Allow shrimp to marinate for 20 minutes.
1 lb. fresh or packaged dried pasta (fettucine or linguine noodles are preferred)
In large stockpot filled 3/4 full of rapidly boiling water, cook fresh pasta for 2 minutes or dried pasta per package directions. Drain and set aside.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, diced
3 Tbsp drained capers
1/2 cup thinly sliced (garlic or pepper-stuffed) Spanish olives
Juice of two fresh lemons
2 cups dry white wine
2 Tbsp butter (optional; added later in recipe)
Place olive oil and diced shallot in large shallot skillet. Cook over low heat until shallot is very soft, about 10 minutes. Add capers and olives, cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and wine. Keeping heat low, cook sauce until it is slightly reduced, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
1 slice toasted dried bread, broken in small pieces (or, 3 Tbsp dried bread crumbs)
about 20 saffron threads
12 roasted, unsalted almonds
3 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp sea salt
Place all ingredients in mortar bowl, and grind with pestle until crumbly.
Cook shrimp and prepare pasta to serve:
2 Tbsp butter, for sauce (optional)
Additional extra-virgin olive oil, for serving + freshly ground black pepper (optional), for serving
Remove shrimp from marinade and cook until pink in large skillet over medium-high heat, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Over low heat, add shrimp to lemon-wine sauce and swirl butter (2 Tbsp) into sauce if desired, stir to marry all ingredients well. Add drained pasta to sauce. Stir gently to coat well and heat through.
To serve, distribute pasta evenly into 4 or 6 pasta bowls. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired, and sprinkle with picada crumbs. Finish with a healthy grind of black pepper, and serve immediately.
Yields 4 to 6 servings.
Where to shop ~
for specialty ingredients and pantry staples, I love Monsieur Marcel
for produce, Farm Fresh and Farm Boy Produce
for breads, Thee's Continental Pastries, Monsieur Marcel, Breadworks
for fresh seafood, Bob Tusquellas Seafood Market
for meats, Huntington Meats, Marconda's Meats
for things hot, Light My Fire