Many of our favorite dishes to enjoy at our favorite Italian restaurants are Italian-American creations rather than pure Italian fare. In the United States, Italian immigrants are so integrated into our culture that it is almost impossible to separate Italian food from the Italian-American iterations that we enjoy now. One of the best examples of the kinds of dishes we’re talking about is shrimp scampi. A popular combination of seafood and pasta, you’ll find shrimp scampi on the menu of nearly every Italian restaurant in the United States.
Let’s take a look at the origins of shrimp scampi and how it became the staple of Italian food that we love today.
A Mediterranean Crustscean
Before shrimp became the go-to shellfish for this dish, scampi referred to something different. In traditional Italian cuisine, scampi referred to anything made with a small, lobster-like crustacean found in the Mediterranean Sea. These dishes did resemble today’s scampi in other ways, however. As is true today, the common way to prepare scampi was with garlic, olive oil, and white wine.
When Italian immigrants came to the United States, they wanted to make their traditional dishes in their new home. However, many of their traditional ingredients were difficult or impossible to come by in America, so they had to substitute and improvise. When it came to scampi, shrimp was the next best available choice. It was basically the same as the scampi they made back home in Italy, but with shrimp, so logically, they called it shrimp scampi. Butter was also easier to get than olive oil, so garlic and butter became the key ingredients in making the aromatic sauce that completes the flavor profile so well.
Twists on a Classic
The changes Italian-American immigrant families made to shrimp scampi aren’t the end of its evolution. Every chef or family cook has their own twist on shrimp scampi to make it unique. Because shrimp scampi is such a beautifully simple meal, it’s easy to make personal adaptations. Some recipes use lemon juice, others red pepper flakes, and others—like us—add parsley.
Traditional Italian Food at Lo Conte’s
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