Friday, February 22, 2008

Spicy Garlic Shrimp Scampi, a la' Marina del Rey

I entered a recipe contest once. It was back in the early 1990's. Marina del Rey, CA was holding a food festival (the first and only) and had a contest asking for recipes that encapsulate the Marina lifestyle. There may have been categories, I don't even remember. I do remember that I had been toying with a simple shrimp scampi dish at home and decided that I could fiddle with it and make it into an entree by serving it over pasta.

I won first prize for my Spicy Shrimp Scampi dish which the contest organizers renamed as: "Festival Shrimp Scampi". It was published in the free local paper and I believe I won two or three dinners for two at local restaurants. I've never entered another such contest. I figured I'd quit while I'm ahead.

The shrimp in this dish, made without the cheese, pasta or breadcrumbs, but all the spices, makes a fabulously simple first course or party appetizer. The trick to make succulent and juicy shrimp instead of dried out and rubberized seafood lies in not overcooking them. While tossing them in the hot pan, be ready to take the pan off the heat as soon as the last few shrimp are turning from grey to pink. They will finish cooking if you let them rest after seasoning them one last time and squeezing a little lemon juice over them. Lovely.

Festival Shrimp Scampi

1 lb medium size Shrimp (I used peeled, some may preferred unpeeled)

3 T butter
3 T olive oil (best quality you have)
3 cloves garlic, minced (more if preferred :)
1/2t ground white pepper
1/2t red pepper flakes
1/4t Cayenne pepper
1/4t dried oregano (or 1/2 t fresh minced)
1/2 lemon - juice of
1/2C Parmesan cheese
5 T Italian bread crumbs (or bread crumbs with a little salt, pepper,
oregano and basil added).
1/4C parsley - minced
salt - to taste
1 lb cooked fettuccine or linguine

Melt butter with the olive oil in a saute pan that is large enough to hold the shrimp in a thin

When mixture is hot, add the garlic. Toss about and don't let it burn. While it cooks, add the white pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano and Cayenne pepper, stir well. When garlic looks cooked but not brown (2 minutes), add the shrimp. Toss the shrimp about in the pan, coating with the spiced oil. Add the lemon juice and keep tossing over the heat. Quickly add the parsley, bread crumbs and Parmesan. Toss to coat completely. The shrimp should now be bright
pink and cooked through.

Place the pan under the broiler until cheese looks melted and the smell infuses your kitchen (1-2 minutes). Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (will probably need a bit of salt).

Serve over the cooked pasta, with additional Parmesan sprinkled over the top.


Monday, February 18, 2008

The Simple Joys of Mirepoix

I'm teaching my husband how to cook. He helps me with my mise en place on big recipes, stirs and flips, and keeps an eye on slow braises and stews. It's a great thing to have an extra set of hands in the kitchen.

In teaching him, I've tried to follow the guidelines I learned in cooking school so long ago. We've started with knife skills and are moving on to stocks and soups. He's a slow prep cook and I give him a hard time about it. I don't know if it's just that I'm quick or if he truly is as slow as the culinary sloth I think he is.

I haven't really been strict about teaching the fundamental cuts for vegetables (brunoise, baton, small, medium, and large dice). It's now become a priority. If I don't specify right up front the exact size I want the vegetables, they are likely to become very small dice. He really likes to cut things small, he thinks it takes more skill and he's anxious to please. But most of the time these little bits are too small. I can sometimes turn them into a good thing, pureeing them into a sauce as a final step. But, most of the time, they turn to mush before the dish has finished cooking.

One of Bruce's most favorite lessons in cooking has been the basic mirepoix (onion, carrots and celery). The novice cook may not appreciate these three basic ingredients. But the knowledgeable chef knows the value of this first step in most any classic dish. Mirepoix is the first set of ingredients for almost all stocks, soups, stews, braises, and roasts in French cooking. Whether vegetarian or meat filled, all dishes are enhanced by starting with these three vegetables cooked slowly (sweated) in a little olive oil or butter. These simple ingredients become magically fragrant and add an amazing richness to home cooked foods. They fill the kitchen and the house with the warm savory fragrance of ... home, of food lovingly prepared, of something good, simmering slowly.

We love garlic and often add a few cloves in after the vegetables has been sweating over a nice low heat to add a distinct piquant richness that only garlic can. There are a few different varieties of mirepoix with other such additions or subtractions. Here are a few I find useful:

Cajun or Southern Mirepoix: Onions, Celery and Green Peppers

Southwest or Mexican Mirepoix: White Onion, Garlic, Chile Peppers

Indian Basic Aromatics: Onion, Chiles, Garlic, Ginger cooked in Ghee (clarified butter)

Italian: add a few cloves of garlic; use olive oil instead of butter or a combination of both

White Mirepoix: Onions, Celery and Parsnips (leeks and mushrooms often added)