shrimp with feta

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I recently got together again with friends Ruth, Toni and Velma for an afternoon of cooking.  Ruth found this delicious and easy recipe from The Contessa and we all agreed we should try it.  I must say it was very easy to put together, but then again, there were four of us in the kitchen sharing cooking duties.  We loved the beet and fennel salad we had last time we got together so much we served it again.  The roasted shrimp dish went really well with crusty bread, a nice Pinot Grigio and a sunny July early evening on the deck!

I recommend you watch this video of Ina Garten making this dish.  It illustrates just how how easy it is and shows how to make the fresh breadcrumbs.  I think it’s hilarious that she adds way more of certain ingredients than she specifies in the recipe like the wine, olive oil, parsley and lemon zest.  I like the way she cooks by feel vs. measuring.  🙂  We’ve adapted the recipe slightly, which you could easily do as well. I will also mention it says on the Food Network site that this dish serves 4.  I think that would be 4 very hearty eaters – four of us dined very well and still there were leftovers.

Ingredients

4 tablespoons EV olive oil, divided
1 1/2 – 2 cups medium-diced fennel (2 medium bulbs)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine (unoaked)
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon Pernod, Anisette or Sambuca
1/2  teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 – 1 1/4 pound (16 to 20 per pound) raw shrimp, unpeeled and deveined
5 ounces good feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 lemons, one cut into wedges

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10 or 12-inch heavy ovenproof skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Add the fennel and saute for 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat, until the fennel is tender and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute till fragrant. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, tomato paste, oregano, Pernod, salt and pepper to the skillet. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Arrange the shrimp in one layer over the tomato-mixture in the skillet. Scatter the crumbled feta evenly over the shrimp. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and lemon zest with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle over the shrimp.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the shrimp. Serve hot with the remaining lemon cut into wedges.

Notes on ingredients:

SHRIMP: The original recipe called for peeled, deveined shrimp with tails on.  We used unpeeled, deveined and cooked with the shell on thinking that it would add more flavor.  While this makes it more challenging to eat, it insures that the shrimp will be juicy and succulent.  I thought the specified amount of shrimp was a lot and will try this in the future with just one pound of either extra-large, as called for, or large shrimp.

PERNOD: None of us has Pernod or Anisette in our liquor cabinet, and we didn’t want to spend the $30 on a bottle just for a tablespoon.  Luckily Ruth had Sambuca. We had our doubts given the sweetness of that liqueur, but it worked beautifully.

FETA:  Try to find a solid piece of feta for this dish and crumble it by hand.  Crumbled feta comes packaged with cellulose powder or other anti-caking agents which affect how it melts.  I recommend French sheep’s milk feta, if you can find it, for it’s soft texture and great melting properties.  The Greek feta recommended by Ina is also good.

BREAD CRUMBS: We used a french bread that was on the softer side for the bread crumbs.  We processed it with the crust, which didn’t break down as finely as the inside of the bread.  I liked the texture this added to the bread crumb topping.

Pappa Al Pomodoro

January 7, 2012

Margaux says…

Happy birthday, Desi! My son is 3 today, and it reminded me of this soup, which I made for his birthday party last year. This year we’re skipping a meal with the party, but I made the soup this week anyway because it was on my mind, and it is SO GOOD!!! This has got to be at least in my top 5 favorite soups, if not number 1. I saw Ina make it on Barefoot Contessa last fall, and have made it SEVERAL times since. It was in the same “bread” episode that I got this recipe, which is also pretty wonderful. Anyway, back to the soup…for one thing, it has fennel in it, which is fast becoming one of my favorite ingredients. If you haven’t tried fennel yet, you must…it adds so much flavor to things! The other awesome thing about this soup is the topping–you have to make that part, because it’s divine. If you’re making the soup vegetarian, it’s no problem, the topping will be just as good without the pancetta (although you may need to add a smidge of olive oil to make up for the lack of grease).

If you’ve never used fennel before, you chop it like you would an onion. First, you need to remove the stalks completely, then cut the bottom off, and then slice it lengthwise. Remove the outer layer, and cut out the core at the bottom. Then lay one half cut-side down on a chopping board, and slice lengthwise into 1/4″ slices. Then slice again crosswise, in about 1/4″ slices. Super easy.

If you have leftover croutons after the soup’s all been eaten up, they also taste great on salads (including the pancetta)!

Make this vegetarian by replacing the chicken broth with water, and eliminating the pancetta. Make it vegan by eliminating the parmesan, which I actually did last time I made it and it was just as delicious! I found that one large loaf of ciabatta will work for both the soup and the topping. I don’t remove all the crusts from the bread that I put in the soup, just the toughest bottom part (I have a hard time wasting all that bread!).

Pappa Al Pomodoro

from Barefoot Contessa

1/2 cup good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (water for vegetarian)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (eliminate for vegan)

For the topping:
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes
2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped (eliminate for vegetarian)
24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper

Directions
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine.

Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.