Baked Shrimp with Fennel & Feta

baked-shrimp-with-fennel-and-feta-place-with-toast

Photo Copyright © Bruno Schlumberger

When my friends Kit and Nancy and I get together to celebrate our birthdays, it is always a special occasion. We’ve been friends since the early 1980s (which roughly indicates our age), and the friendship has become life-long, indestructible, and vital to our lives. When one of us turns another year older, the other two plan, in consultation with the birthday girl, a special outing or event. One year, in May, we took the ferry across the Ottawa River from Fitzroy Harbour to Quyon, then had a picnic under the escarpment on our way back along the Quebec side. Another year, in freezing February, we did an overnighter in Montreal, taking in the George Rideout play Michel & Ti-Jean (about an imaginary encounter between Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay and author Jack Kerouac one month before Kerouac’s death) at the Centaur Theatre. Lately it has been celebratory dinners in our homes, two of us sharing in the preparation of an elaborate home-cooked meal for the honoured one.

So it was in late November that we found ourselves in Nancy’s warm and inviting home, her beautiful art lining the walls, a fire in the fireplace, delicious food on the table. This time it was Kit’s turn to sit back and enjoy. Nancy had spent several days making Thomas Keller’s boeuf bourguignon from his Bouchon cookbook, a recipe so complicated the instructions run for three pages. She wanted to replicate the most delicious boeuf bourguignon she had eaten in Paris. Each day involved a different step, all aimed at “refinement:” step one is to make a wine reduction; step two is to brown the meat; step three is to braise the meat in the reduction and stock, on a bed of herbs and vegetables but separated by cheesecloth, so that when the meat is fall-apart tender, it can be lifted out of the pot and the vegetables discarded. The sauce is then passed several times through a strainer and dampened tea towels to remove any “particles and fat that muddle flavour and dull the colour and sheen of a stew.” The meat is then returned to the braising liquid and left to sit in the fridge for a day or two to plump up with flavour. Finally, the potatoes, carrots, bacon and mushrooms, and pearl onions are all cooked separately, and everything is heated together at the last minute and served. In the end, it tasted glorious, the meat rich and tender, the vegetables bright and perfectly cooked. Nancy pulled off this classic French dish perfectly; in fact, it was such a success that she made it again for her family a few weeks later. Whew! Bravo Nancy! Who is this Thomas Keller anyway?

My job, by comparison, was easy: an appetizer and a salad. For the starter, I chose this recipe for baked shrimp with fennel and feta by Molly Stevens for Fine Cooking magazine. Shrimp is laid out on a bed of caramelized fennel and garlic in a white wine-tomato sauce, then topped with feta, breadcrumbs, parsley and olive oil. Just before serving, the dish goes into a hot oven until the shrimp is just-cooked, the cheese has melted, and the crumbs are crispy. (The shrimp I used were medium-size and I didn’t need as many as the recipe calls for.) I served it with buttered, toasted slices of baguette, but it can also be a main course – on rice, with pasta, any way you want. To balance all this richness, I had also brought a clean, refreshing green salad, while Nancy served her homemade lemon pudding cake with whipped cream, blackberries and raspberries. In the end, the birthday meal was delicious, all the different parts coming together into a wonderful whole. Another great celebration for the friendship history books.

And the next birthday? It is mine, in February. We are taking the train to Toronto and back in one day to see Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918, at the Art Gallery of Ontario. We’ll probably eat sandwiches on the train.

From Molly Stevens in Fine Cooking, Issue 73

Baked Shrimp with Fennel & Feta
 
Shrimp is laid out on a bed of caramelized fennel and garlic in a white wine-tomato sauce, then topped with feta, breadcrumbs, parsley and olive oil. Just before serving, the dish goes into a hot oven until the shrimp is just-cooked, the cheese has melted, and the crumbs are crispy. (The shrimp I used were medium-size and I didn't need as many as the recipe calls for.) I served it with buttered, toasted slices of baguette, but it can also be a main course - on rice, with pasta, any way you want. To balance all this richness, I had also brought a clean, refreshing green salad, while Nancy served her homemade lemon pudding cake with whipped cream, blackberries and raspberries. In the end, the birthday meal was delicious, all the different parts coming together into a wonderful whole. Another great celebration for the friendship history books.
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups ½-inch diced fennel bulb (about 1 small or ½ large)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juices
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh-leaf parsley
  • ¼ lb feta (about ¾ to 1 cup)
  • 1 ¼ to 1 ½ lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Instructions
  1. Position a rack in the centre of the oven and heat the oven to 425 F. In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the fennel and sauté, stirring occasionally until slightly softened and lightly browned (mine had begun to caramelize). Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes and their juices, season with salt and pepper, and stir to heat through. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, spread the tomato mixture into an even layer in the skillet.
  2. In a small bowl, stir the breadcrumbs, parsley, feta, the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, and salt (about ½ tsp, depending on the saltiness of the feta) and pepper to taste. Arrange the shrimp in a single layer on the tomato mixture, and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and the cheese is melted, 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Serves: 4


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