I love shrimp! I love bacon! Shrimp loves bacon and bacon loves shrimp. We’re such a lovey-dovey group.
Grinding them both into some savory meatballs for pasta in a creamy sauce seems like a perfectly natural thing to do.
As a twosome, shrimp and bacon go back a long way. Back in the cocktail buffet days they appeared on tables as devils on horseback, a variation of angels on horseback. The shrimp were wrapped in bacon slices, held together with toothpicks, and broiled until cooked. Often oysters or chicken livers stood in for the shrimp. A delicious sweet/savory variation is bacon-wrapped stuffed dates.
We often make Asian appetizers using shrimp as one of the main ingredients. It’s the glue that binds other ingredients together without adding a strong flavor.
Shiumai or shiu-mai, for example, are usually made from seasoned ground pork mixed with finely chopped or ground shrimp meat. When you steam that little bundle of goodness wrapped in a won ton skin, it ends up as a tight-knit package of meaty flavor ready to be enjoyed with savory dipping sauce.
Traditional meatballs are merely mixtures of one or more meats such as beef and pork blended together with seasonings, bread crumbs, and egg. Now, throw out the ground beef and pork and bring in the shrimp and bacon.
Bacon is not the superstar in this recipe but instead a strong flavoring ingredient. The shrimp and bacon are bound with a mixture of seasoned scallops and cream whizzed to a paste in a food processor.
I put my bacon and shrimp through the food grinder attachment on a stand mixer so it still has a meaty texture.
Spaghetti in Cream Sauce with Shrimp and Bacon Meatballs
Inspired and adapted from a recipe in Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini
If you don’t have a meat grinder, ask your butcher to grind the bacon. Since the best shrimp usually comes in the shell, you’ll need to grind or finely chop it yourself.
There are plenty of variables for this recipe such as a ratio of bacon to shrimp and seasonings. Just make sure when you have the ingredients for the meatballs fully mixed that it will form a ball that will hold its shape when steaming. Deft hands work best.
- ½ pound scallops, bay or sea, whichever is less expensive
- 3 ounces heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- ¾ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning plus additional for final seasoning of sauce
- 1 egg
- zest of one small lemon
- 1½ tablespoons chopped chives
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, or more to taste (We love apple-wood smoked bacon.)
- ¾ pound shrimp
- ¾ cup dry breadcrumbs, more or less as needed
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided 3 and 1
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or put through a garlic press
- ½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
- ½ cup clam juice
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups frozen green peas, cooked
- ½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley for garnish
- Whiz the scallops and cream in the bowl of a food processor until a paste forms.
- Add the white pepper, Old Bay, egg, lemon zest, and chives, and pulse a few times until all is mixed together.
- Remove to a mixing bowl, stir in the bacon and shrimp until combined.
- Add the bread crumbs and stir until all ingredients are fully combined.
- If you think your mixture is too loose, add more breadcrumbs a little at a time. If you think it’s too firm, add more cream.
- Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper.
- Using wet hands, scoop out enough mixture to form a ball about the size of a large golf ball.
- Continue until you have about 12 or so meatballs. At this point, you can set the tray aside in the refrigerator until time to steam them.
- Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over medium high heat and melt 3 tablespoons of the butter.
- Add the shallots and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds then pour in the wine or vermouth.
- Stir it well and cook until the wine is reduced by half.
- Add the clam juice and heat to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium high and gently add the meatballs one at a time, placing them close together but not touching.
- Cover and steam for 3-4 minutes.
- Gently turn them over using a spoon, cover and continue steaming for another 3 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 120º F.
- Remove to a heated platter and keep warm while you cook the pasta and finish the sauce.
- Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water to desired doneness.
- Add the cream to the steaming liquid and heat to a simmer.
- Add the peas and red bell pepper and stir over high heat until it thickens a little. Use your good judgment here as to the amount of sauce for the pasta.
- Mix the flour with the remaining tablespoon of butter, add the the simmering sauce and whisk until the sauce thickens further. If you think it’s too thick, add more liquid.
- Add the cooked spaghetti to the sauce and stir to combine.
- Remove the spaghetti and sauce to a serving platter or bowl, top with the meatballs, and garnish with freshly chopped parsley.