Maine Shrimp to the Rescue (Again)

Maine shrimp

Writing out a meal plan for the week is great and all, but there are times, like last night, when I just don’t feel like cooking the dinner I had planned. Thankfully, I’ve stocked up the kitchen with plenty of options for spur-of-the-moment meals, and once again I turned to some sweet little Maine shrimp for a quick weeknight dinner. I put a half pound of the little beauties in a water bath to thaw while I built a risotto: a mix of butter and olive oil, carnaroli rice, plenty of chopped shallot, a dab of double-concentrated tomato paste for color and tang, and the last dregs of a bottle of fizzy that had been lingering in the fridge.

Dinner: February 4, 2010

I usually save my shrimp shells and cook them down to make a tasty stock, but since I didn’t have any prepared I used plain water for the additional liquid the risotto needed. (It was fine, though I will say I prefer the richer flavor the shrimp stock adds. Next time.) The peeled shrimp went in right at the end since they cook so quickly, and I finished the risotto with a knob of butter, a glug of heavy cream, and a bit of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. And dinner was served.

Oy.

torn oysters

The last week and a half has been some rollercoaster ride, and once again I am grateful for those dinners I can practically put together on auto-pilot. Like risotto.

Dinner:  October 15, 2009

This one was enriched with lots of limited edition Butter Moon blue cheese from Narragansett Creamery, and topped with roasted Wishing Stone Farm oyster mushrooms (one of my favorite things). Simple, tasty, and on the table in about half an hour.

Deep in the Woods

hen of the woods

I swung through the Boston Public Market on my way to the train station yesterday evening with every intention of picking up a steak or some chops for dinner, but I stopped in my tracks when I saw the biggest clump of mushrooms I have ever seen in my life. Hen of the Woods, the cluster as big around as a watermelon, gorgeous in their otherworldly way. I had to have them.

torn hen of the woods

I grabbed a sizeable chunk and a couple of ears of corn, bought a knob of chevre from another vendor and continued on home, a plan formulating in my head. I’d roast the mushrooms, tearing them and tossing them with a bit of olive oil and salt, letting the flavor concentrate and the edges crisp, and I’d serve them on top of a risotto, rich with goat cheese and studded with shallots and tarragon and sweet kernels of butter-fried corn.

Dinner:  October 1, 2009

It was a very good plan, and a very good meal. We didn’t even miss the meat.

Lighten up

Dinner:  February 19, 2009

I am officially sick of Winter. I’ve been trying to be a good sport, keep a positive attitude, enjoy the license to eat rich, rib-sticking food, but darn it, I’m so over it. I’m sick of cold hands, perpetual sniffles, and racking my brain to come up with new and creative ways of cooking root vegetables.

So I can’t tell you how nice it was to see fresh little green things around the market last Saturday. I just about burst into song when we got to the table at Ledge Ends Produce and saw not just beautiful microgreens and mesclun, but radishes, bundles of tiny fresh herbs, and sorrel – tiny young leaves, which I knew would be just perfect in our Valentine’s Day salad course. I’ve been plucking random left-over leaves from the bag in the days since and eating them unadorned, but I wanted to find a better way of using the remainder.

We had a piece of Arctic Char in the freezer, and fish is always a good bet for a light and quick weeknight dinner, so I decided to use the rest of that pretty sorrel in a sauce for the fish. I put the leaves in the food processor with a bit of salt and Meyer lemon juice, then whizzed it until smooth, drizzling in a bit of olive oil. The sauce was a little thinner than I wanted, so I added a dollop of plain yogurt from Narragansett Creamery and pulsed the mixture again. It was just the thing to give the sauce a bit more body while keeping it light, and the bright, tangy flavors were a great counterpoint to the silky fish.

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

1.31.09 grocery haul, part 1

Okay, I promise this post will be significantly less mopey than the last one. You know why? This weekend was positively restorative. Really. The last week was a hard one, but I got through it. I had another roast chicken waiting when I got home on Friday evening (thanks, honey), and you just can’t go wrong with that. And then we went to the farmers’ market on Saturday, Jen greeted me with a big warm hug, and Matt Jennings gave us bites of grilled cheese. AND we brought all these goodies home. I’d say that’s all WIN.

1.31.09 grocery haul, part 2

As much as we’d like, we can’t live by farmers’ market alone, so after a stop at Whole Foods for a few other staples, we headed home with our bounty, which included my latest obsession, Maine shrimp.

I can’t get over how good these little guys (actually, gals) are, and they’re crazy cheap (I paid $3.00 for half a pound), which means I’m probably going to overload on them while they’re available. We had them in last weekend’s seafood stew, with some of Perry’s amazing littlenecks and cod from the cutest fish market ever, and enjoyed them again in this Saturday’s dinner, a super easy but totally sexy risotto.

I made a stock from the shrimp shells, simmering them with water, sea salt, and shallot and fennel trimmings, which I set aside to add to the risotto later. I used my usual risotto method, sautéing a couple of chopped shallots in a mix of butter and olive oil, and I added some thinly sliced fennel to the mix as well.

The rice went in next, and when it was translucent, I started adding the liquids: a splash of white vermouth, 1/3 cup or so of the juice from a can of San Marzano tomatoes, the juice of half a lemon, and that shrimp stock, a little at a time, finishing when the rice was al dente.

Dinner:  January 31, 2009

I turned off the heat and added the shrimp, gently stirring them through – all they needed was a minute or two to get perfectly done. I stirred a in a little creme fraiche for richness, and garnished our servings with feathery fennel fronds. This was some seriously good stuff – we finished it all.

Sunday brunch

Sunday morning. Our heat was back after a brief outage overnight, the cats let us sleep until 7, and we had pork to look forward to, in the form of this sausage, fennel and potato hash. With Wishing Stone absent from the farmers’ market, we’re tasting our way through the other eggs that are available, and these beauties from Harmony Hill were terrific.

superbowl snack

We didn’t watch the game, but I couldn’t resist putting together a midday snack of nachos, with leftover Freedom Bean Farm beans, chile-braised pork from the freezer, Poblano Farm salsa, and of course, plenty of cheese. There may have been some ice cold beer involved as well. And then there was dinner.

We brought home a 4 lb. top round roast from Simmons Farm on Saturday, which I seasoned really simply – salt, pepper and dried marjoram – and let cook for hours with some carrots and potatoes. I removed the meat to let it rest, pulled out the veggies and strained the bits and juices that remained. I whisked in a little more water, scraping up all of the fond from the bottom and sides of the pan, and adding a dab of tomato paste, then tipped in some pearl onions and green beans from the freezer. I also mixed up a little horseradish and mustard creme fraiche to go alongside.

Dinner:  February 1, 2009

I haven’t cooked a pot roast in years, and unfortunately I let this one get a little more done than I would have liked, but it’s a testament to the meat that it was still moist and juicy, and that the flavor was really, really good. As I had hoped, we have ample leftovers for sandwiches and to incorporate into another dinner later in the week.

Two Fast

Meyer lemons

This has turned out to be an odd week for us, schedule-wise. For the sake of record-keeping, here are our last couple of dinners, with minimal comment.

Dinner:  January 13, 2009

I had planned something different for Tuesday night, but I ended up working late, which got me back home even later, and a risotto was what I wanted. I decided to make a leek and parsley “stock” for the cooking liquid, which is a fancy way of saying I cooked chopped leeks and parsley in water until tender, whizzed them with the stick blender and seasoned with salt until it tasted right to me. This liquid went into my standard risotto base, in which I had also sauteed some diced Meyer lemon. I loved the bright flavors here, but I was reminded that I much prefer the texture of Carnaroli rice to Arborio for risottos. Your mileage may vary.

Dinner:  January 14, 2009

Mike has still been eager to take a meal or two during the week, and he did so again last night, turning out his latest version of Mario Batali’s bucatini all’amatriciana, featuring luscious chunks of guanciale from Pat’s Pastured. I think this was his best yet.

Posting may be sporadic as we finish out this week and head into the next one, but hopefully I’ll have time to share what we’re up to in the kitchen. See you soon.

Creamy Dreamy

Dinner:  November 17, 2008

Risotto really is just about perfect comfort food, isn’t it? I make it fairly often in lots of variations, but a mushroom-studded version is one of my favorites. I generally use dried mushrooms from the pantry, along with the liquid left from soaking them, but last night’s version featured only the fresh kind – a mixture of crimini, shiitake, and hen of the woods, which were sauteed in the same pan with butter, olive oil, and softened chopped shallots.

'shrooms

I threw a thinly sliced fresh red chile into the pan, too, to add a little heat, and a few leaves of thinly sliced fresh sage in lieu of my usual thyme. Since I wasn’t going to have that concentrated umami flavor from the addition of mushroom soaking liquid, I added a dab of tomato paste instead, letting it caramelize on the softened veggies and toasting rice before I gradually added my liquids to the pan (white vermouth and plain old water). I usually finish risottos with a knob of butter, but since I had used up the last we had on hand in the sauteeing, I drizzled in a little bit of heavy cream. The finished dish was a bit more delicate in flavor than my usual mushroom risotto, more cashmere blanket than woolen throw, but just as cozy and satisfying.

Worth waiting for

In the days leading up to our departure from NYC, Mike and I were keeping a very close eye on Lucy’s Greenmarket Report to monitor the anticipated arrival of asparagus at Union Square. We were hoping we could get our hands on some before the move, and one recent day we mentioned our asparagus watch on Twitter. One friend was a little confused as to why we were making such a fuss – after all, asparagus is in supermarkets year-round, isn’t it? She’s right, of course, but as Mike replied to her with a smile, “we’re snobby locavores.”

Now, I don’t know about the “snobby” part (and I’d hope we’re not actually snobs), but the whole exchange really made me realize how much our way of eating has changed over the last couple of years. Buying supermarket asparagus doesn’t even occur to me anymore, even in the dead of winter when I’m desperate for it. It just tastes better in the springtime, when it’s in season and grown close to home, and I’m happy to wait for it and then indulge until I can’t bear looking at another fat green stalk.

Dinner:  April 28, 2008

Though we moved away before our favorite New York area farmers brought their asparagus to market, we scored a big bag of Rhode Island asparagus at the market at AS220 on Saturday. I pulled out the thickest ones for grilling Saturday evening, figuring I’d save the rest for a meatless Monday dinner. By Monday evening, the warm, sunny weather we enjoyed all weekend had turned to wind and rain, so something rich and creamy was in order.

I chopped up my remaining asparagus spears and some fresh chanterelles (sorry, not local), and sauteed them in a bit of butter. I seasoned them with fresh thyme and gently stirred them into a pot of my basic risotto, adding about half a cup of creme fraiche and some finely grated Pecorino Romano off the heat to finish the dish.

The mushrooms were a lovely foil for the crisp-tender asparagus, and the risotto was a wonderful carrier for both. As the weather warms up and asparagus season continues, I look forward to lighter and simpler preparations, but this was a fine way to renew my acquaintance with an old friend.

(Interesting reading on local asparagus here.)

Not-so Buco

Dinner:  March 18, 2008

Osso buco is a classic dish of slowly braised veal shank served with a sprightly gremolata and accompanied by fragrant risotto Milanese. It’s a wonderful combination of flavors, but while a traditional osso buco is a thing of beauty, it’s not exactly weeknight dinner material.

In my continuing quest to pare down the contents of our freezer and pantry before our move, I planned a quick and easy spin on that slow-cooking dish using the last of our suckled veal chops from Bobolink in place of veal shank. I mixed up the gremolata first, smashing and mincing two cloves of garlic and combining them with about a quarter cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley, the zest of one lemon, a pinch of salt and a tiny pour of extra virgin olive oil. I set that aside and got to work on the risotto, sautéing about a quarter cup of chopped shallot in a mixture of butter and olive oil until soft, toasting a cup and a half of Carnaroli rice, then adding the saffron (a good pinch – about 1/4 teaspoon), which I had lightly crushed between my fingers. I made a hot spot and let the saffron toast for a minute, then added half a cup of white vermouth and let it bubble away while I stirred the rice.

I finished the risotto in my usual way, using a mixture of veal stock and water for my remaining liquid, while Mike seared the chops in the cast iron skillet (about 3-5 minutes per side). I added another blob of butter and a generous amount of freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano into the risotto off the heat when it was done, then spooned some onto our plates, topping each portion with the seared chops and a big dollop of gremolata. This was a great way to get the bold, bright flavors of the traditional dish with minimal time and effort.

Fall Fashioned

Dinner:  November 5, 2007

I know what you must be thinking: risotto again, Jen? Well, yes. You know I love the stuff, and I guess since the whole bacon & egg risotto thing reverberated around the internet, I’ve been a little risotto-obsessed. It’s such a wonderful carrier of flavors, and you can dress it up or down in a multitude of ways. I guess you could say it’s the food version of the little black dress, and I’m always eager to find new ways to accessorize.

Abby’s sweet potato risotto got me thinking about doing a version with roasted squash, and I can think of little that pairs better with roasted squash than fresh sage. I used leeks as the onion-y component of my basic risotto recipe, and added a cup of mashed roasted squash (the sign at the greenmarket said it was Calabaza) to the pan after I added the vermouth and before I began to add my chicken stock.

I fried a handful of large sage leaves in butter until they were crisp and added the sage-infused butter to the cooked risotto off the heat, just before finishing it with grated Parmagiano Reggiano and a splash of heavy cream. I grated a bit more cheese on top and crowned each serving with a couple of the crispy fried sage leaves. The resulting dish was like autumn in a bowl, the squash slightly sweet, the risotto creamy and comforting, and the fried sage providing a nice contrast in texture as well as a wonderful woodsy aroma and flavor.