Last weekend, I came across beautiful shrimp, live on ice at the farmers market, just caught in local waters. One of many seafoods available at the market, I couldn't pass these up, especially at only 5 bucks a pound, so I grabbed a couple pounds to enjoy throughout the weekend. One reason some people are hesitant to buy fresh shrimp is the preparation involved. While there is indeed a little work, it is more than worth the effort and often much more simple than many think. I typically start by gently popping off the head; it should come off easily if you hold the shrimp at the tail and simply fold back the head. Next, remove the digestive tract, often referred to as the vein. Simply make a shallow cut lengthwise down the curve of the shell, allowing the dark ribbon-like vein to be removed with a pointed utensil (although I usually pinch it out with my fingers). If the tail has been detached, the vein can be pinched at the tail end and pulled out completely with your fingers. Now remove the shell. The shrimp is then rinsed under cold water before being prepared.

Although the shrimp at the farmers markets are good to go, raw shrimp, in general, should be firm and have a mild odor. The shells should be translucent, free of blackened edges or black spots, a sign of quality loss. Once cooked, the meat should be firm and have no unpleasant odor; the color should be white with red or pink stripes.

As with other seafood, shrimp is high in calcium; tryptophan; vitamins D, B3 and B12; iron; omega-3 fatty acids; protein and more. While shrimp is high in cholesterol, it is low in fat and, studies suggest, may boost good cholesterol or HDL levels.

I've tried shrimp in many forms, from battered to fried to steamed. It is equally delicious grilled, sauteed or when prepared in hearty sauce served over pasta and shaved fennel, as seen in this week's Fix. No matter how you use it, be sure to grab your shrimp fresh from the farmers market each Tuesday and Saturday in Santa Barbara.

Sam Edelman is general manager of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association. His column appears every Thursday. E-mail him at food@newspress.com.


SWEET SHRIMP PASTA WITH FRESH FENNEL

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced

3 celery ribs, finely diced

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

2 shallots, finely chopped (substitute1/2 red onion, if desired)

1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped, divided in half

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1/2 cup white wine

3/4 cup vegetable broth or stock

2 lemons (for zest and juice)

3 tablespoons cocktail sauce

2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined (tail on or off is optional; I typically leave it on for presentation) (available from the Gorgita family at the Tuesday Santa Barbara and Saturday Santa Barbara farmers markets)

Cooked pasta or rice of choice

2 tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, diced

1/2 fennel bulb, finely shaved

Hot sauce, optional

In medium pot over medium heat, add olive oil and saute garlic, celery, red pepper, shallots and half the parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cook until veggies soften and are golden. Add white wine and broth; simmer. Add zest from 2 lemons and cocktail sauce. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Add shrimp and cook for about 5 minutes, fully coating the shrimp with sauce. Serve hot over your favorite pasta or rice, top with tomato, shaved fennel and remaining parsley. Add juice from lemons used for zest. Finish with a few dashes of hot sauce.

Yield: 4 servings