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Zippy Garlic Shrimp can be served as an appetizer with chunks of chewy bread to soak up the flavorful sauce. Photo by Sue Doeden

Go light and bright tonight with Zippy Garlic Shrimp

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Mother Nature has been teasing me with days full of sunshine and temperatures mild enough to warrant only a heavy sweater to stay comfortable outdoors. It's the kind of weather that breeds wishful thoughts of lemons and fresh berries, fresh green baby spinach leaves, spears of asparagus and bright red juicy radishes pulled from the garden. And my appetite demands something much lighter than the winter fare I've been eating for the last several months.

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Of course, it's way too early to think spring, but that doesn't mean I must continue to slog through the remainder of cold, snowy, gray days with hefty food I've grown accustomed to eating.

This also happens to be the time of year when supermarkets are offering sale prices on seafood. Although I've never been known to have a craving for seafood, I found myself tossing a couple of pounds of the frozen crustaceans into my grocery cart the other day. Succulent, perfectly cooked shrimp are adaptable to all kinds of pairings.

Zippy Garlic Shrimp is unbelievably easy to prepare and takes only minutes to go from stovetop to table. Red pepper flakes add just enough tingle to wake up the taste buds. Quick-cooking shrimp is adorned with a sauce of olive oil and butter dotted with bits of golden garlic. A final splash of fresh lemon juice and some shreds of lemon zest give balance to the flavors, creating a shrimp dish that will give that little boost you need to get through the last sludge of winter.

When you're shopping for shrimp, you'll find they are sold by number per pound. For Zippy Garlic Shrimp, I suggest using 16-20 count shrimp. This means the size will yield approximately 16 to 20 shrimp per pound. The larger the numbers, such as 26 to 30 count, means the shrimp will be smaller because it takes more of them to equal one pound. The smaller the numbers, the larger the shrimp. If purchased in a frozen state, the shrimp should be thawed overnight in the refrigerator.

Zippy Garlic Shrimp can be served as an appetizer with chunks of chewy bread to soak up the flavorful sauce. Serve it the same way for lunch along with a colorful salad. Because the shrimp cooks so fast, it creates a great weeknight supper when you are short on time. Toss it with angel hair pasta for a meal that will impress guests. The slightly spicy shrimp is a great partner for rice pilaf. Or, serve Zippy Garlic Shrimp with a side of orzo and spinach. And, to really brighten a gloomy March day, serve the shrimp over a salad of fresh greens and colorful vegetables.

For now, as I count the days leading to spring, I'll satisfy my warm-weather yearnings with foods that make me think light and bright.

Zippy Garlic Shrimp

1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 pound (16-20 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails attached

4 tablespoons olive oil

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

Measure paprika, black pepper and coarse salt into a small bowl and stir together. Set aside.

Rinse the shrimp and arrange on a double layer of paper towels. Use another paper towel to pat the shrimp dry. Transfer the shrimp to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with paprika mixture. Toss gently until the shrimp are coated with the seasoning.

Mix olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a large skillet. Place over medium heat and stir until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the shrimp all at once, arranging them in a single layer. Turn the heat to medium high. Cook the shrimp for 2-3 minutes. Turn shrimp and continue cooking until they feel slightly firm to the touch and are curled up. It will take another 2-3 minutes.

Add butter, lemon zest and lemon juice and stir until butter melts. Remove from heat. Scatter chopped parsley over the shrimp. Serve immediately. Makes 3 or 4 servings.

Tips from the cook

--I find that 3 medium-sized cloves of garlic will yield about 1 tablespoon when minced or chopped. For this recipe, you will need 6 cloves of garlic or 2 tablespoons chopped.

--Use a good quality olive oil with a flavor you enjoy. The olive oil will add flavor to the sauce that you will be soaking up with chewy bread or tossing with pasta.

--Change the flavor a bit by using Spanish smoked paprika rather than sweet Hungarian paprika.

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