Ah, those Galveston Island houses-for-rent-on-stilts... They set the scene for so many of my earliest memories: searching for sand dollars and shark teeth, cleaning tar off my feet, playing Hearts with my cousins, reading novels in the surf in a slowly sinking beach chair, watching my brother shoot my cousin with a BB gun (he was fine), and, always, savoring every last morsel of the food my mom and aunts prepared. Is it just me, or do things taste better after you’ve washed the salt and sand away and taken a seat on a deck with a view, the Gulf breeze soothing your sunburn as your hair dries in the wind?
In my lifetime, my mom has cooked up a roster of delicacies a mile long. “Some items appear only once, never to be seen again,” Dad likes to say, as though pondering the elusiveness of Sasquatch. But one relatively recent dish, introduced a decade or so ago, has remained in rotation: a modified version of the Pasta Ellen from her well-thumbed copy of the circa-2001 Brennan’s of Houston cookbook. She’ll cook it anywhere, but it always tastes best by the water. Which is why I asked her for the recipe the first time I rented a beach house with a group of friends.
It’s definitely a special-occasion dish. I’ll admit to being a little shocked, initially, that a bowl of angel hair pasta with shrimp could possibly hold so much butter. You have to use two entire sticks to make a lemon beurre blanc sauce, and six more tablespoons for cooking the mushrooms, garlic and shrimp. And that’s just for four servings! If there’s a crowd, you’ll end up doubling the recipe, which means five-and-a-half sticks, for those keeping score at home. Did I mention there’s also cream and Parmesan involved?
But no matter. Pasta Ellen is worth it. And, as you can see for yourself from the recipe—look for it online at Houstonia’s Gastronaut blog—it’s pretty easy, too. Enjoy it with a green salad, crusty bread and a bottle of crisp white wine, and you will have zero regrets. Just make sure you use real Gulf shrimp (the recipe actually calls for crab, but local lump crab is hard to come by; for more on that, see p. 40).
My husband and I usually stop at Katie’s Seafood Market on Pier 19 near the Strand for fresh-caught shrimp when we get a rental on the coast. We make a point of it, because if we’re going to eat that much butter, we’re going to make sure it’s consumed with the best seafood we can get. And that, hands down, will always be straight from the Gulf.