The Fast Supper: Jack O’Malley’s sentimental journey with shrimp

Making dinner a family affair.

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MVRHS Culinary Arts teacher Jack O'Malley shares one of his favorite go-to recipes. – Photo by Michael Cummo — Photo by Michael Cummo

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It seems almost a requirement for developing chefs to have had a grandmother who was a fabulous cook to provide inspiration. That prerequisite is present in spades with the high school’s longtime culinary arts teacher, Jack O’Malley. “She was always trying new recipes, new ethnic cuisine,” Jack recalls. “She lived in Boston, so she had access to different ethnic markets.” And he cooked with her, although he’s not certain when he began; “I just always remember being involved,” he says.

In sixth grade, he won a blue ribbon for his construction of a bombe or bombe glacée(a molded ice cream, whipped cream, and fruit dessert) from her recipe. He began cooking in a diner while he was still in high school, and was running small family restaurants by the time he was 20. After finishing culinary arts school, he returned to his grandmother to cook her a dinner. He used her hand-cranked pasta machine to make angel-hair linguine for her. “At the end of the meal, she gave me her pasta machine,” he relates with pride. He later inherited her “cookbook,” a collection of 3 by 5 cards: “One of my aunts found them. It’s a huge binding.” He was paging through it recently, and rediscovered his blue-ribbon recipe.

Now, Jack’s own kids — twin 15-year-old boys and an 11-year-old girl (another boy, 20, is away at college) — cook along with him and his wife at home. “All three love to cook,” he says. “We divide up the prep.”

Because the kids are also active in extracurricular activities like horseback riding and basketball, dinnertime is hectic at the O’Malley house. “I have to round them up, feed them dinner, and get them started on homework,” Jack explains. The following recipe, Shrimp Vittorio, fills the bill for quick and easy. “Except for the shrimp, I usually have all the ingredients on hand,” Jack says. “And you can now buy the shrimp already peeled and deveined.”

This recipe also has sentimental value. “When my wife and I were first married, we’d go to this restaurant and it was on the menu. I adapted it. It kind of reminds me of when we were first married, didn’t have kids, and were able to go out to eat.”

There’s a smile in his voice. “My wife really liked it then, and now, too.”

Shrimp Vittorio

1 lb. penne pasta

1 Tbs.  canola oil

1 1b., or approximately 21–25, jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tsp. minced garlic

2 Tbs. sundried tomatoes sliced in thin strips (packed in oil is easier)

2 oz. vodka

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 oz. Parmesan cheese

2 Tbs. basil chiffonade (sliced in thin strips)

Salt and black pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil: add penne and cook until al dente.
  2. Drain pasta, reserving one cup of water.
  3. In large sauté pan heat oil; place in shrimp (do not overcrowd; if necessary, sauté in two batches).
  4. Cook shrimp on first side until they release from the pan; turn over; cook again for one minute. Do not overcook shrimp — they will finish in the sauce.
  5. Remove shrimp from pan; return pan to heat; add garlic and sundried tomatoes; continue to cook for another minute.
  6. Remove pan from heat; deglaze with vodka (carefully put back on heat or it will ignite).
  7. Reduce liquid by half; add cream and crushed red pepper; return shrimp to pan.
  8. Cook for another minute; add cooked pasta and Parmesan cheese. Return to heat, then add reserved pasta water to achieve desired sauce consistency. Plate individual pasta bowls and garnish with basil.