Three hours before you intend serving the dish: remove the prawns from the freezer and spread them out on a tray at room temperature to defrost. (They are frozen in a water glaze to give the seller more profit and, as they defrost, you can watch the money drain away.)
After preliminary soaking (for general comments on cooking dried pulses), fresh cannellini take about 40 minutes to cook and the dried variety about 1½ hours. Bubble them in plenty of lightly salted water together with some black pepper, the bay leaf, chillies and whole garlic cloves for the requisite time. Skim frequently and top up with water as necessary.
Prepare the prawns by cutting carefully through the back and extracting the intestinal thread. Wipe the flesh inside with a damp cloth. Put them in cold salted water for 10-15 minutes, then swirl with your fingers, gently rubbing them. Transfer to a colander or sieve and rinse briefly under cold water. Leave to drain.
When the beans are done, remove the bay leaf, chillies and garlic and leave in the water to keep warm. Juice the lemon.
Put a large non-stick frying pan over a low heat to warm thoroughly before turning the heat up to medium. This is the best way to slow down deterioration of the non-stick surface. Put a cold non-stick pan over a high flame and you kiss the surface goodbye.
Put the prawns into a bowl with a spoonful of olive oil and some black pepper and toss to coat.
Throw them all at once into the pan and toss and stir for 2 minutes. The shells will blush and the prawns open along the cut, while the flesh becomes white and opaque. Do not overcook.
Put the prawns into a warmed serving dish, add the lemon juice, gremolata and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Drain the beans, add to the bowl and toss all together to mix thoroughly.
Serve at once, after reminding your guests that the allocation is 5 prawns each to avoid any ugly scenes.
© 1995 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.