Gambas al ajillo


Last weekend, my dear friend Maggie and I got together to cook, eat, drink wine and reminisce about our recent trip to Spain and Portugal. Last September, the two of us rented a Smart car and drove from Madrid to Rioja, San Sebastian and Leon before heading due west to Guimaeres and Porto, Portugal, and then finishing the trip in Salamanca and our beloved Madrid.

Maggie, muy jovial (como siempre), at the Mercado de San Miguel

Maggie, muy jovial (como siempre), at the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain

Looking down on beautiful San Sebastian

Looking down on bella San Sebastian, Spain

The perfect lunch in an overcast Salamanca

The perfect lunch in an overcast Salamanca, Spain

Tasting porto at Ferreira port cellar, Porto, Portugal

Tasting porto at Ferreira port cellar, Porto, Portugal

Pinxos de anchoa, San Sebastian

Pinxos de anchoa, San Sebastian

Dinner outside on the streets of Leon, Spain

Dinner outside on the streets of Leon, Spain

Rainy Porto, Portugal

Rainy Porto, Portugal

Vinas de la Rioja, Spain

Vinas de la Rioja, Spain

Jamon the Smart car ready to leave rainy Guimaeres, Portugal

Jamon the Smart car ready to leave rainy Guimaeres, Portugal

Sunset, Querida Madrid

Sunset, Querida Madrid

As the wine flowed, more and more Spanish snuck into the conversation while we pored over photos, snacked on pan con tomate (crusty bread smeared with tomato), and made tortilla espanola (Spanish omelet) and quick gambas al ajillo (garlicky shrimp in olive oil).

Mira! Cut the potatoes in little, bite-sized cubes asi.”



“Hee-MAHR-es? Guee-mare-es? Dios mio, we visited the damn town and still don’t know how to pronounce it?” (Full disclosure: We never really learned much Portuguese aside from desculpe, which means “sorry.”)

Pues, anchoas are NOT boquerones, right? Isn’t that what Judith (pronounced Hoo-DEET, the name of the friend we made at a corner bar in Madrid) said?” (We think boquerones refers only to vinegar-cured, Spanish white anchovies.)

“Remember how Madre (the nickname we gave the brusque, pushy proprietor of our crappy San Sebastian hotel) eventually warmed to us because we are so jovial y amable?”

Pues, si, we are.”

Later joined by the Mister, who initiated a marvelous game of Scattergories, the three of us sat up eating, drinking y charlando till probably 3 am, but Maggie and I never achieved our original goal of making a photo album.

Oh well. La proxima vez, no?

This beautiful dish of shrimp, sliced garlic, parsley and olive oil cooks in the time it takes you to open a bottle of rose, which is great if you look up and realize it is 10 pm, you’re a couple bottles of wine in, and the Mister is threatening to order a pizza because all you’ve served so far is lots of pan con tomate.


Gambas al ajillo


    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    3 large cloves garlic, sliced
    1/4 cup torn fresh parsley leaves (plus a handful more for garnish)
    1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I left the tails on for easy grabbing)
    Salt, to taste
    Crusty bread, for serving

Method: Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until it slides easily around the pan. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic and parsley and cook for about 10 seconds.


Crank the heat to high and add the shrimp and a sprinkling of salt.


Cook, tossing a few times, until they’re pink and starting to curl, about 3 minutes. Spoon the shrimp and garlicky oil into a big shallow bowl, top with fresh parsley and serve with crusty bread for sopping.


6 thoughts on “Gambas al ajillo

  1. Pues si! En serio, the shrimp took a total of dos minutos. I don’t care if the book takes us 17 months if means noches of games and tapas and wine and perfect company!

  2. Marge, I first found your blog when I was looking for a pork stew. In the blog you mentioned that you were going to Spain and I have wondered if you did ever since. I LOVE to read your blog! I grew up in Argentina and have traveled in Spain and Portugal, so your taste in food fits right in to mine. I have been this shrimp this EXACTLY like this for years and years and I am so happy to see someone else make it. Loved your pictures! I have three daughters and we have a blog where we put our recipes, but our entries are nothings as hilarious and satisfying as your narratives! Keep it up, Girl. Me encanta lo que haces, y tu manera de decir las cosas tambien. Martha

    • Martha, Muchisimas gracias for your kind words! I’m always happy to meet a kindred food spirit (and have just followed your blog)! Argentina is high on my list of places to visit–I’m so in love with the food there. Looking forward to keeping in touch and keeping up with your cooking adventures as well! Besitos de mi cocina en Chicago!

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