March 03, 2011

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine + Blanched Kale with Garlic and Shallots

Shrimp Fra Diavolo is one of my favorite dishes.   Shrimp, heat and pasta in the same dish... what's not to love?   I've ordered this dish numerous times in Italian restaurants, and thankfully it's usually been pretty good.   What I'd never done was make it for myself. 

Until this past weekend, that is. 

The recipe I used was from The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated.  That book is full of recipes I plan to make as written, plus lots more that give me ideas for making things of my own.  The Shrimp Fra Diavolo is one of the former:  I made it just as directed in the recipe, save that I didn't go with the suggestion of small to medium-sized shrimp.  Our local market has recently had really large shrimp for a great price, so I bought some of that for use in this dish.

The Shrimp Fra Diavolo turned out great.   Preparation included a touch I've seen in restaurants but never done myself:  Adding alcohol to the pan and igniting it.  

I used brandy, and the combined flavors of the brandy and the quick scorch of the flame made the shrimp really delicious in their own right.  Combining that with the spicy tomato sauce that is the signature characteristic of Shrimp Fra Diavolo made for a truly memorable dish, every bit as good as any version I've ever had.   This is definitely something I'll be making again.

In planning the menu, I decided I wanted to include a vegetable side dish to go with the Shrimp Fra Diavolo (I rounded things out with some breadsticks).    I hadn't made anything with kale for awhile, and while it isn't Juli's favorite vegetable, I like it quite a bit, and I figured she'd be happy enough with the shrimp to not mind kale too much.  Thankfully, I was right about that.

I wanted to do something new with the kale, so I decided I'd blanch it in boiling water for a couple minutes, drain it, squeeze out the excess liquid, then mix it in with a flavorful olive-oil based sauce.  I wanted other ingredients to add accents, but not compete with the kale, so I went with a bit of garlic, a minced shallot and a few other seasonings, most importantly a bit of sugar and a bit of lemon juice, to balance the kale's slight bitterness with some sweet and sour accents.

Kale retains a fair bit of firmness when sauteed, and even when added to hot soups at the end of the cooking process, so I had expected it to hold up fairly well to a brief blanching.   As such, I was both surprised and a bit disappointed by how soggy the kale got after only a couple minutes... it looked almost like canned spinach.  This didn't hurt the flavor a bit, though.  The kale's flavor stood out, but was nicely supported by the other ingredients.  I liked the finished dish quite a bit.  Juli, predictably, was less thrilled, but that just meant she had room left for an extra helping of the shrimp.  So, in the end we were both happy.

Blanched Kale with Garlic and Shallots

yield = 2 servings

1/2       teaspoon table salt
1          pound kale, stemmed, washed and chopped
2          teaspoons olive oil
2          shallots, peeled and minced
2          large cloves garlic, thinly-sliced
1/2       teaspoon sugar
1/4       teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/8       teaspoon black pepper
2          tablespoons lemon juice

Add one quart of water to a Dutch oven and bring to a boil.  Add salt and kale and cover.  Cook 3 minutes, then drain into a colander.  Return kale to Dutch oven, cover with cold water and drain into colander again.  Squeeze the kale dry, using your hands.

Dry the Dutch oven, then add the olive oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the shallots and sliced garlic and cook until slightly browned (about 2 minutes).  Add sugar, thyme leaves, black pepper and lemon juice, then add kale and cook until the kale is heated through.  Serve.

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