Ask Chef Phyllis:
About a year ago, a friend emailed me your Q&A column concerning his parents and their dining experience at the ’39 World’s Fair. We have a disagreement in our family over Shrimp Scampi since the ingredients in most recipes are nothing like what our grandparents ate at that same fair. They said their Shrimp Scampi had tomatoes, and it was served skewered. Never having heard of this before, I’m writing to you. I looked up menus from the World’s Fair and couldn’t find anything. How did you find recipes when I couldn’t?
—Angela Grimaldi, Newtown, PA
It’s my hobby to collect and cherish old cookbooks. I read them with passion and wonder. I found recipes from many world fairs and expositions in an old, probably out-of-print cookbook called La Grande Cucina Internazionale.
Before your friend wrote to me, I was unaware of how precious those days, those moments, and those memories were for so many people—and in turn for their future families.
To me, the theme of each world fair is always exciting, and the 1939 New York World’s Fair diverged from past expositions. Before that, the themes had always touched on “technological innovations” such as the new X-ray machine from the 1904 World’s Fair. But at the 1939 fair, it changed to specific cultural themes such as “A better future for society,” “Building the world of tomorrow,” or “Peace through understanding.”
But in my opinion the true underlying theme that tied people together at the fairs was the food. Every letter I’ve received about world fairs reflected what the person ate!
As a blogger and food writer, I read and review lots of recipes before answering the questions I receive. That’s why I can safely say that I believe your grandparents dined on just one of the many variations of scampi. And oddly enough, out of all the scampi versions I looked at, the most famous version of the dish we know today—with garlic and butter sauce—was hardly among them.
I hope this brings an I-told-you-so smile to your grandparents’ faces…read on!
Shrimp Scampi from the 1939 New York World’s Fair
¾ cup olive oil, plus more as needed for basting
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
24–30 large scampi shrimp, shelled and deveined
6 large tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano, or ½ teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. tender young zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
24–30 thin slices bacon
24–30 medium mushroom caps
Special equipment: 6 skewers soaked in cold water for ½ hour, or 6 metal skewers
- Mix a ¼ cup of the olive oil with Old Bay seasoning in a shallow dish. Marinate shrimp in this mixture for 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice the tops off the tomatoes and set aside. Lightly squeeze the bottom sections if they are very juicy to remove some seeds and juice.
- Season the tomato sections (including the tops) with salt and pepper, then sprinkle them with chopped oregano, parsley, garlic, and a few drops of the olive oil (reserve some herbs for seasoning the zucchini).
- Place the tomatoes, including the tops with the fleshy side up, on an oiled sheet pan. Bake for exactly 15 minutes. Remove from oven.
- With the remaining herbs, season zucchini the same as the tomatoes. Arrange them on the baking sheet next to the tomatoes and bake together for an additional 5 minutes. Remove and keep warm.
- Set the oven to broil. Remove the shrimp from the marinade. Wrap each shrimp with a slice of bacon. Place the bacon-wrapped shrimp and mushroom caps on the skewers, alternating as you go. There will be about 6 bacon-wrapped shrimp and 6 mushroom caps to a skewer.
- Brush each skewer with the remaining olive oil and broil under a medium flame for about 8 minutes, turning often and basting as needed. Cook until the bacon is crisp (or the way you like it).
- Place the tomato bottoms and zucchini on a hot serving platter or individual plates. Place the tops slightly off center of each tomato. Place a skewer on top of each tomato, or lay them on top of the vegetables.
- Serve immediately with a dark green romaine and arugula salad.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Photo by Phyllis Quinn