Another very simple dinner this week. I did two things I rarely do – (1) serve a main dish pasta and (2) fry the seafood -- and I must say the dish was a real hit. I started with a pasta recipe from Lidia Bastianich – she’s known for her cooking shows, though I have not seen them.
- Tossed Green Salad – I made the vinaigrette with a vinegar that is new to me – Fruit Vinegar. It’s an Asian product and I found it at an Asian grocery. Not surprisingly, given its name, it has fruity sweet notes that make for a great salad dressing. I added some lemon juice to balance the sweetness. My guests heartily recommend this dressing!
- Spaghetti with Breaded Shrimp (Spaghetti con i Gamberi Impannati) – This is essentially a pasta primavera served with breaded fried shrimp on top. I’m thinking it’s the best pasta primavera I’ve ever made, so the shrimp – though delicious – was almost an afterthought to me. I started with Lydia’s recipe, though I omitted the broccoli because several of the folks at dinner do not like it and its strong flavor would have permeated the entire dish. I think you could use any vegetables you like. I used the asparagus and green onions called for in the recipe, and I added some winter squash because I had gone to all the trouble of peeling one the day before and not cooked all of it. And right now Costco has some very reasonably priced chanterelle mushrooms that I could not resist, and they were amazing in the dish.
- Roasted and Pickled Red, Yellow and Orange Bell Peppers – I had some bell peppers in the fridge last week that needed to be used before they spoiled, so I roasted a whole bunch of them and let them sit in a marinade until yesterday. They were really yummy and a nice complement to the pasta.
- Dinner Rolls – these were also leftover from Saturday’s Potluck. They were from Costco and a lot better than you would ever think they could be. Lots of flavor for a white bread roll.
A final cute story from the evening – probably cute only to me because I love my Fish Night guests. I had picked some amazing parsley from the little garden we have under grow lights in our laundry room. I chopped it up intending to garnish each pasta serving before I took it to the table. As often happens, I forgot the fancy final touch and started to wander around the table topping each person’s serving with a pinch of parsley. Two of my guests virtually threw themselves over their pasta bowls to protect them from the “green stuff.” I think I’ve made great progress over the years with encouraging fish consumption among my friends, but I clearly have a lot of work yet to go on the veggie front.
Fascinating Fish Facts: Almost all the shrimp marketed in the United States is frozen (or was frozen before the purveyor thawed it for sale). Shrimp are extremely perishable, so there is always a substantial risk of getting shrimp that’s past its prime if you buy fresh shrimp. I used to be able to buy fresh “heads-on” shrimp from a reliable source at a farmers’ market, but I have not seen that guy at the market for quite a while. When you buy non-frozen fish at a local store, you can be 99.9% sure that it was frozen and then thawed by the store “for your convenience.” The problem, of course, is that you don’t know when the shrimp was thawed or how long it’s been sitting, unfrozen, in the display case. I never buy this shrimp – seriously, how hard is it to thaw something?
You can be fairly confident that the shrimp you thaw yourself and then cook immediately is very “fresh.” Today, fresh wild shrimp catches are processed and frozen immediately to very low temperatures - frequently, right on the fishing vessel. So fresh is rarely better than frozen. Always buy shrimp that is still frozen – better, cheaper and more convenient in the long run.
There are two great ways to thaw shrimp:
- In the refrigerator: Put wrapped frozen raw shrimp in the refrigerator to thaw, with a tray beneath it, to catch the drippings. This usually takes about 24 hours.
- In cold water: Submerge the package in cold water and change the water approximately every 30 minutes until the shrimp is thawed. More often than not, I’m desperate for a quick thaw, so I will also immerse the shrimp without the packaging.
- Don't buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges.
- Avoid packages that are positioned above the "frost line" or top of the freezer case in the store's freezer.
- If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. These could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen - in which case, choose another package. (I think this is very important!)
I see I've gone on too long once again. I'll do better next time.