Monday: Spring Minestrone with Basil-Arugula Pesto and Toasted Parmesan Bread
Tuesday: Dinner with Tim and Hilda, Peter and Abby: Reverse-Seared Lamb-Chops, Oven-Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus, Strawberry Cake
Wednesday: Fettucine with Marcella Hazen’s Celery and Tomato Sauce
Thursday: Tunisian-Style Frittata with Potato and Chicken
Friday: Shrimp and Tomatoes over Polenta
Saturday: Chilean Beef, Tomato and Corn Sauté
Sunday: Roasted Chicken with Spring Herb Salsa Verde, Celery Root Purée and Sautéed Zucchini
Shrimp loom Large in our cooking. I find oxymoronic statements like that addictive. SWMBO often tells me that there’s nothing so ‘oxy’ about my statements. But she likes my cooking and she loves me, so I don’t mind.
I do mind when she suggests topics for blog posts – I mean, whose blog is it anyway? On the other hand, her suggestions are always good. And, in fact, this short post is based on her most recent one. We were talking about how much we enjoy cooking our own food and how much we’ve learned over the years by cooking again, and again . . . and again.
Last Friday we were not feeling like hitting the supermarket and not feeling like cooking. But we were hungry and we wanted something tasty. And I found a half-bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer and a sack of coarse ground corn meal in the pantry and we still had some of those wonderful Campari tomatoes (the round ones that are larger than cherry tomatoes but smaller than the tomatoes we grew up with). And, we had two large leaves of basil – just enough to make a pretty good shrimp and grits sing with a little herby musk.
But what about the polenta? You may well ask. It used to be – we used to think – that to create a nice, creamy polenta, you had to stir it often for thirty minutes or longer to help the corn absorb the liquid and become creamy – not as much work as risotto, but not far off. Well, no. Below, we give you some advice on how to cook a great polenta with minimal stirring and mostly hands off cooking in the oven. We also tell you how we’ve learned to handle shrimp – this far inland – to make them plump and tasty.
I’m hoping that this advice is what SWMBO had in mind – because I’m looking for a hug.
Thawing Shrimp and Reconstituting Them for Sautéing
Shrimp already deveined and peeled, but with the tails still on so that they still have a briny taste, is available these days at most markets. You can also do your own peeling and deveining fairly easily – but if you’re feeling like we were last Friday, spend the extra money and get shrimp 12-16 or even as small as 20-26 which is pretty much ready to cook except for the fact that it’s frozen as solid as that turkey you forgot to thaw out before you cooked your first Thanksgiving meal.
Here’s what to do: Put the shrimp into a large bowl and run cold tap water over it for 10 minutes. You’ll find that it’s totally thawed-out at that point. For extra points, toss a good handful of salt and some ice into the bowl with the shrimp and let it sit for about 20 minutes – this will let the shrimp rehydrate and they will plump up nicely for your cooking.
Now just drain and dry them off – you’ll be sautéing them in olive oil and you don’t want to introduce water to hot oil – and you are ready to go.
If you want to serve those shrimp over polenta (think of polenta as northern grits), here’s a quick way to cook a silky batch. (You are welcome to use a more traditional method with lots of stirring, but, honestly, this will give you as good a polenta.)
Preheat your oven to 350 F. When the oven is hot, combine a cup of coarse-ground yellow cornmeal (stone-ground is best) with a teaspoon of salt and about 5 ½ cups of water and whisk. Bring this to a gentle simmer over medium, stirring often. [Well, look, a little stirring is good for you}. This will take about 7 minutes, a little less if you put the empty pan over medium for a few minutes before adding the water, salt and grits.
Now transfer the pot, uncovered to the oven and cook for 45 minutes. At that point remove the pot, whisk the polenta and then return the pot to the oven. Cook another 20 minutes or so, until it’s thick and creamy. Remove from the oven and whisk with a little butter (maybe 4 tablespoons) and a half-cup of grated parmesan or pecorino, then season with salt and pepper and cover the pot and set aside. It should stay hot for quite a while, and you can always heat it up with a bit more liquid to reheat.
Shrimp over polenta:
Ingredients (you can easily double or triple): 1 cup of coarse-ground yellow corn-meal (stone-ground is best) ¾ lb of shrimp ¾ lb. of Campari or cherry tomatoes, ½ cup of chopped basil or parsley or a mix, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, red-pepper flakes.
If you want to cook the dish we did on Friday, toss the shrimp with a tablespoon or so of olive oil (use extra-virgin, if you have it) a large pinch of salt and a small amount of grated garlic.
Now heat enough oil (2-3 tablespoons) to coat well the bottom of a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, or a bit lower. Add the shrimp (if you’re using a whole bag, you’ll probably need to do this in two batches) and let them cook on one side for 2 minutes, then remove from the pan. They should be brown on the cooked side.
Reduce the heat in the pan and add a clove of garlic (gentle mashed) and cook for a minute or two – you’ll begin to smell the garlic. Now add about 12 ounces of halved cherry tomatoes, or quartered Campari tomatoes and a good pinch of salt and black pepper and, if you like a little heat (we do), a small pinch of red-pepper flakes. Cook this, with a little stirring, for about 3 minutes – the tomatoes should be begin to soften a bit.
And now, for the finale: Stir in the shrimp and any juices and cook another 2-3 minutes until they are opaque. Turn off the heat, remove the garlic, and stir in some torn basil. Correct the seasoning, if needed.
Whisk the polenta one more time and spoon it into serving bowls and spoon the shrimp and tomatoes on top. Enjoy.