Along with the delicate vegetables making their appearances after a long winter, thoughts in spring turn to shrimp. What other seafood is so versatile - it speaks every language, from paella to stir-fry - and so easily transforms a salad, soup or risotto into a meal? Skewer it, saute it, grill it - no more than a few minutes and shrimp's done.

Shrimp cocktail is a simple, luxurious preparation you can make even easier with a technique from Ina Garten's new book, "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics." Instead of poaching the shrimp, Garten roasts them in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. By the time you've whipped up the homemade cocktail sauce, they're ready for dipping.

Another experienced chef says to serve sauteed shrimp along with finely chopped leeks and shallots atop the chopped yolk of a boiled egg and asparagus cooked in a little butter. Or brush grilled shrimp with lime juice and sprinkle with chopped chives and shallots to create a salad with tender, fresh mâche.

Just about the only thing you shouldn't do with shrimp is cook it too long, and that often happens, chefs say. Look for the shrimp to turn pink and for the tails to curl - but not too much.

TIPS FOR MAKING GREAT SHRIMP

Confused by terms like "medium" or "jumbo" when buying shrimp? Look for recipes that specify the count for a pound. Sixteen to 20 is a good all-purpose size. Most shrimp has been frozen before it's sold, so it's OK - maybe even preferable - to buy it that way. If you can get shrimp that is individually quick-frozen, it will be easier to thaw just the amount you need. Use thawed shrimp within a day or two. If you're lucky enough to find fresh shrimp with heads on, use them right away - the heads make them more perishable. Be sure the heads are clear, with no dark spots. Always devein your shrimp, but don't cut too far into the shrimp unless you're butterflying it. Using shrimp to top off soup? In her book, Garten advises halving them horizontally to make them easier to eat.

GRILLED SHRIMP SCAMPI

Adapted from "Let the Flames Begin," by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (W.W. Norton & Co., $30)

These flavorful shrimp go great on a bowl of pasta.

2 ripe tomatoes about the size of baseballs, cored and diced small

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3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons dry sherry

1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Juice of 1 lemon

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1. Build a multi-level fire in your grill, and heat to medium.

2. In a shallow foil pan large enough to hold the shrimp, combine tomatoes, butter, sherry, parsley and lemon juice. Place indirectly on the grill, and stir or swirl the mixture around a few times as it heats up.

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3. In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, oil, garlic, and salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Thread the shrimp onto skewers, put the skewers on the part of the grill over the deepest coals, and cook until the shrimp are done, 3 to 4 minutes.

4. To check for doneness, nick, peek and cheat: Cut into one of the shrimp at its thickest point, and peek to be sure it is opaque and cooked through.

5. Push the shrimp off the skewers into the butter mixture, toss to coat, then serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

ROASTED SHRIMP COCKTAIL

From "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35).

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2 pounds (12 to 15 count) shrimp

1 tablespoon good olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup Heinz chili sauce

1/2 cup Heinz ketchup

3 tablespoons prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Place them on a sheet pan, sprinkle with the olive oil, salt and pepper, toss lightly, and spread the shrimp in 1 layer.

3. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, just until pink and firm and cooked through. Set aside to cool.

4. For the sauce, combine the chili sauce, ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Serve as a dip with the shrimp. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

OLD BAY STEAMED SHRIMP

Adapted from oldbay.com

1/2 cup cider vinegar or beer

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails left on

1. In a saucepan, mix vinegar, water and Old Bay. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Gently stir in shrimp, then cover.

2. Steam 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp just turn pink. Drain well.

3. Serve immediately, with cocktail sauce if you like, or refrigerate. Use alone, in salad or with pasta. Makes 8 appetizer servings.

>> Recipe: Quick shrimp with olives, tomato and basil (pictured above)