Wow, it has been far too long since my last post. Between some technical problems (i.e. shipping my computer off for warranty repairs), followed by an extended vacation with my beautiful bride in celebration of 25 years of wedded bliss, it seems like a small eternity since we last got to hang out in the kitchen together. Anyway, those things are in the past now, so it’s time to dive back into the world of skillets, chef’s knives and fresh ingredients where we belong.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been taking an interest in the Mediterranean diet both for its health benefits and to satisfy my own culinary curiosity. Today’s offering draws on that theme, this time with some Italian influences. We’re doing two recipes in this installment: a tomato-garlic shrimp dish and a side of herbed polenta.
I’m going to start with the polenta side dish. Because of the time needed to chill the polenta after cooking, you will want to make this well in advance of your shrimp dish. Polenta is a common Italian staple that keeps well for a few days when it’s molded and chilled, and this recipe will make enough for two meals. I used a 9 oz. box of Delallo brand polenta meal as the base, so my recipe is scaled for that amount.
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 tbsp. minced shallot
- 4 1/2 cups cooking liquid (water, milk or white stock)
- 9 oz. polenta meal
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves
In a 2 quart sauce pan, heat the oil and sweat the shallots for a minute or two, but do not brown them. Add your liquid and bring it to a boil. You can use any combination of the liquids listed above to suit your preference. I used equal parts water and milk. Depending how much milk you use, you may need to take special care not to let it scorch. When your liquid is boiling, gradually stir in the polenta meal, making sure it does not clump. Reduce the heat to low, then stir in the salt, pepper and dried herbs, and cook the mixture for a few minutes until it thickens, which shouldn’t take long at all, and remove it from the heat.
At this point your polenta looks like porridge, which is not useful for our intended purpose, so we will need to mold and chill it. To do that I recommend a glass baking dish of about 9″ x 9″, either greased or treated with nonstick spray. Pour the cooked polenta mix into the baking dish and spread it evenly with a wetted spatula, making sure it settles all the way into the dish. Pop it into the fridge and let it chill for a couple hours, after which it will become solid like a heavy cake. You can then turn it out of the dish and slice it into the desired shape and size — I did simple half-inch slabs, but feel free to get creative. It’s your dinner, after all. At this point you can grill it, pan fry it or whatever suits your fancy. I browned mine over medium heat in a bit of whole butter until it developed a nice crisp texture. You might want to finish it with some fresh grated parmigiano for good measure.
Now it’s time to move on to the shrimp, which will come together quickly. To make 4 servings of this dish you will need:
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. cracked pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
On the selection of tomatoes, my personal preference is for cherries because they burst after a few minutes of cooking and release their juices into the sauce. If you choose grape tomatoes, I recommend slicing them in half because they tend to stand up to the heat better and may not burst as easily when cooked.
Start by heating the oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame and cook the shrimp for about 1 minute on each side, just long enough to cook it through, then remove it from the heat and set it aside. You will probably want to cook the shrimp in batches to prevent overcrowding. In the same skillet, stir in the garlic and cayenne (and a little more oil if needed) and cook for about half a minute, then add the wine and let it reduce by half. Next add the tomatoes and let them cook for about 5-10 minutes until they become very tender. You may need to give them a little press with a wooden spoon to make them burst. If the pan begins to dry out while the tomatoes are cooking, an extra splash or two of wine will fix that. Next, season with the salt and pepper, adjusting as needed to suit your taste, then return the shrimp to the skillet to heat through for a minute or two. Lastly, stir in the basil and you’re ready to serve it with some of that delicious polenta and your favorite veggies.
There you have it, more Mediterranean-inspired yumminess to tickle your palate while maintaining a nice healthy balance. I hope you’ll give it a try and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!