I think I can be pretty predictable at times.
I will fall asleep if you put me in a cozy chair in a dark room and turn on a movie.
I will tell you the same story at least 17 times, thinking it’s the first time, unintentionally.
I will violently leap off the couch in search of the remote to flick the channel when the Sarah McLachlan ASPA commercial comes on.
That commercial is seriously brutal.
Although my culinary preferences can vary wildly, there are a few things that I will always predictably gravitate to. Two of those such items are shellfish and cream — and lucky enough for moi, they generally play quite nicely in the same sandbox.
I walked into Chelsea Market tonight in search of something for dinner, and wandered into The Lobster Place (always my first stop) to see what looked good. The fishmonger had just brought out some jumbo shrimp and I scooped them up, immediately looking forward to marinating them in lemon and garlic and roasting them until they were sweet and tender. Served atop a bed of creamy, tomato-y, mushroom-y pearled couscous, they made for a wonderfully perfect and easy weeknight dinner – and excellent marriage of two of my most favorite tastes.
The richness of the cream is cut gently with the lemony sharpness of the shrimp and the light acidity of the tomatoes. The shitake mushrooms are so meaty in texture, and give a great contrast to the pillowy couscous. The fresh basil is the icing on the cake – it really makes the dish pop with its fresh flavor and scent. It’s deceptively simple and requires relatively few ingredients – most of which you might already have on hand – which is always a bonus when your schlepping home from the market and it’s 28 degrees out and wickedly windy.
And we can add that one to the list….
I will predictably and relentlessly complain about inclement or unbearably cold weather.
Thankfully for you, spring is on the horizon!
Roasted Shrimp over Creamy Shitake Tomato Pearled Couscous
Serves 2 Generously
I love pearled or ‘Israeli’ couscous – most recently seen here. Calling it couscous is a bit misleading as it’s actually a wheat-based pasta that’s in a small circular ‘pearl’ shape (I find it very similar in texture to orzo). Because of its small surface area it cooks quickly, and is sturdy enough to prop up the shrimp and vegetables. I buy it in a large container to add to soups, sauces, broths, or anywhere else that a bit of pasta-like texture is nice.
Don’t be scared of the cream and the butter in the recipe – I use very little of each, and that little bit goes a long way. And please please only use real butter…none of that hydrogenized stuff that comes in tub.
1 lb jumbo shrimp (aim for around 10-12 per pound)
1 cup Israeli (pearled) couscous
1 14.5oz Can diced tomatoes in their juice
½ cup water
1 cup Shitake mushrooms*
1.5 tbsp butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup basil, chopped
Juice & zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & fresh cracked pepper
In a bowl large enough to hold the shrimp, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and fresh pepper. Peel and de-vein the shrimp, place in the bowl with the marinade, and cover to marinate in the fridge for 20 minutes**.
Heat the oven to 400F. Cover a baking sheet in foil and set to the side. Remove the stems from the Shitakes and cut the caps into strips. In a large saucepan (that has a lid) melt the butter over medium high heat. When it foams and starts to subside, add the chopped mushrooms and saute until softened and slightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and their juices, ½ cup water, and stir. Bring the mixture just to a boil, then add the pearled couscous and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the couscous is tender.
While the couscous cooks, roast the shrimp and prepare the basil. Spread the shrimp evenly on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the marinade, and roast in the oven 4 minutes per side, until the shells are bright pink and the tails are just opaque all the way through. Do not overcook – they will continue to cook after you remove them from the oven, and tough rubbery shrimp are never impressive. Cut the basil into a chiffonade (which is a fancy name for thin strips) by gathering it in a tight handful and evenly and thinly chopping it.
When the couscous is tender stir in the cream and chopped basil (reserve a couple of pinches for garnish), and simmer for an additional 3 minutes to thicken the cream and incorporate the flavor of the basil into the sauce. Season the couscous with plenty of sea salt & fresh cracked pepper, and ladle into shallow bowls. Top with the roasted shrimp, and a pinch of the reserved basil.
Enjoy with a cold glass of white wine. You deserve it!
*You can substitute any variety of mushroom if you don’t like or can’t find shitakes. Also, if you are anti-fungi, omitting them all together will not adversely affect the dish. I love mushrooms but I know they tend to have a strong love ‘em or hate ‘em sentiment.
**Do not marinate the shrimp longer than 25-30 minutes – the acid in the lemon juice will begin to ‘cook’ the flesh (along the lines of ceviche) and they will take on a mealy texture when cooked. Ceviche is great when its ceviche….NOT so much for roasted shrimp).