Garlicky Shrimp with White Wine & Tomatoes

As much as I love New York City, I’ve got a wicked case of the travel bug. The urge to pack my bags and hop on a plane hits me about every two weeks. In the winter, I usually crave a sunny beach somewhere waaay south, but this time of year I long for Europe. Though France is my dearest love, every so often I like to flirt with Spain…the long, leisurely lunches, the late dinners, the bold colors (and flavors), the beautiful Gaudian architecture of Barcelona, the bright tile work and the fountains of Cadiz, and the tiny little tapas bars that line the narrow streets of Bari Gotti all make me long for a little Spanish sojourn.

Alas, now’s not the time for an overseas adventure, but fortunately I know where to go when the Spanish craving hits: El Quinto Pino.

I’m loathe to share the location of this oh-so-charming tapas bar, because between the horse-shoe shaped bar and its couple of tall tables, it can only fit about 20 people. (My advice: go early!) They sell all sorts of sherries, wine, cava, and horchata (a milk and brandy drink popular in Spain), but it’s their food that keeps me coming back. Crunchy pimenton-dusted chickpeas, crisp potatoes with a spicy aioli, their famous uni-butter panini, and all manner of little cheese, olive, and seafood combinations (octopus terrine, flash fried bluefish) could be the better tapas joints in Madrid or Barcelona.

Photo by Signe Birck

But there’s one dish that is bar none my favorite: their Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with Garlic). Served in a little terra cotta dish, the shrimp come out sizzling from the oven, tossed in a wildly delicious combo of garlic, olive oil, white wine, ginger, and slivers of hot pepper. The shrimp is fantastic on its own, but my favorite part is dipping up the flavorful sauce with chunks of crusty bread.

I used to work in West Chelsea several years ago, and El Quinto Pino became my favorite after-work haunt. I’d go and order the shrimp and a glass of cava and all would be well in the world. Now that I live and work across town, I make my own version of the dish at home. I’ve added tomatoes and some thyme, and though the ginger is delicious in El Quinto Pino’s version, I just stick to garlic and shallots. This is such an easy, beautiful meal that takes about half an hour to prepare. Usually I just serve the shrimp with a simple green salad (with fresh squeezed lemon and olive oil) and crusty bread, though it’s also fantastic with couscous or quinoa to soak up the broth.

Either way, if you get the Spanish craving and you can’t a) go to Spain or b) go to El Quinto Pino, try my Plan C. On your way home from work, pick up a bottle of cava (Spanish sparkling wine), some good olives, a chunk of Manchego, some chorizo, crusty bread, and ingredients for this shrimp dish. If you live on your own, call a friend or two to come over. Before you start cooking, pour a glass of cava, set out the olives, cheese, and chorizo, and a few thin slices of bread – your own tapas party! Then make the shrimp dish, dim the lights, light some candles, and pretend you’re in Spain. Works every time…

Photos by Signe Birck.


Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 to 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 pound large wild shrimp, cleaned and shells removed (with tails left in tact)
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until softened and fragrant (but not brown). Add the grape tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the shrimp, red pepper flakes, and thyme, cooking for about 3 minutes or until the shrimp are pink on all sides. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes or until reduced by half. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Serve the shrimp on a warm platter (or bowl), drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with thyme sprigs. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad OR couscous, steamed spinach, and lemon wedges.

  • kathleen hunter

    LOVE IT! My son is going to Ghana tomorrow, so this is the perfect send off dinner. Love ya! k

    • annabwatson

      Great! Hope you all enjoy it :) xo

  • Kristen Mongrain

    First of all, Gambas al Ajillo is one of my favorite tapas dishes… just thinking about it makes me hungry! I will absolutely be checking out El Quinto Pino and I will absolutely be making this. Yummm :)

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  • Sarah Leed

    Putting it on my To-Do list. We’re suckers for shrimp anything.

    • annabwatson

      Yay!! Sarah, I promise you’ll love it. I make this at least once every two weeks…it’s really good with couscous and a salad. xo

  • Linda Yoder

    Made it tonight! It was fantastic!

  • Theresa J Rogers

    I am trying this for dinner tomorrow night.. Yum!!!

  • Megan Troxell

    On the menu for Notte di Famiglia this week (family dinner when all of the boys’ uncles & aunts come over)

  • Megan Troxell

    Reporting back in – I typically get great compliments for my weekly Notte di Famiglia meals, but this was above and beyond – it got RAVE reviews and was perfect for a hot, hot summer day when we were eating in the backyard. I served it with your suggestion of couscous and spinach and it was so much perfection.

My name is Anna Watson Carl. In a word, I love food, I love France, and I love throwing dinner parties. Over the years, I've worked as a personal chef, taught cooking classes, edited cookbooks, written for magazines, tested and styled recipes, and traveled whenever opportunity has arisen. But at heart, there's nothing I love more than sharing a meal with friends around the yellow table.

For me, cooking has always been a way of life. As a (mildly precocious) ten-year old, I planned and prepared a four-course Valentine's dinner for my parents, birthing a lifelong passion for dinner parties. That was just the beginning. I've been cooking ever since, whipping up souffles at a chateau in Burgundy, searing filet mignon for a wealthy client's dog (bizarre, but true), butchering ducks for confit de canard in Paris, baking the night shift in Nashville, and bathing the floor of my NYC apartment in turkey brine...the story continues.


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