Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sautee No More

I had some of my closest girlfriends for dinner over last night, and well … I’m still in pain.  Hello, Gatorade and Tylenol – nice to spend yet another Sunday with you.

The pain was totally worthwhile in light of the amazing time I had last night.  It’s impossible not to have fun with these women: they’re smart and hilarious (and delightfully inappropriate) and we’ve known each other for over a decade.  Therefore, it was important for me to spend as much as the evening chatting with them as possible, as opposed to hovering over the stove or running around like a crazy person.  I wanted to serve a rich and delicious meal, but I wanted it to be simple and manageable as well.

I didn’t have much time to prepare, as I’d spent the majority of the day nursing my hangover from Friday night (what? I don’t have a problem …).  I built my menu around two items I already had in my freezer: a 2 lb. bag of shrimp and some broccoli pesto I’d made a few weeks prior.  My menu was as follows:

Linguine with Broccoli Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes, and Roasted Shrimp
Romaine Salad with Homemade Caesar Dressing
Garlic Bread

Miraculously, all I had to buy to make this meal was a crusty baguette, a pint of cherry tomatoes, and a lemon!

I wanted to get as much done ahead of time as possible, starting with defrosting the shrimp in room temperature water.  This is the quickest and gentlest way to thaw anything, and it works particularly well for shrimp.  I then peeled and dried them (they were already cleaned and deveined) and put them back in the refrigerator.  The pesto also needed to be defrosted.  First, I ran the container under the faucet for about a minute, then I dried it off and defrosted it in the microwave on the gentlest setting for about 3 – 4 minutes.  I set this aside on the counter.  I then chopped, washed, and dried the a head and a half of lettuce, thinly sliced a quarter of a red onion, and added both to a large serving bowl which I covered with a paper towel and put in the refrigerator.  Next was the homemade dressing, which I made by following the recipe on the side of Crate and Barrel’s Salad Dressing Bottle with Stirrer (the best Secret Santa gift ever – thanks, Rava!).  Next I washed and sliced the cherry tomatoes and set them aside.  I filled a large stockpot with water, salted it, and put it on the stove, then placed a stick of butter in a small saucepot so it would be room temperature and ready for melting and slathering on the bread.  I also diced the garlic for the bread and set it aside.  I cleaned up (with much assistance from Matt), set the table, and then finally hopped into the shower, calmed by the fact that I was well on my way toward a finished meal.

Showered, dressed, refreshed, and finally feeling in control, I continued my prep with about 30 minutes left until my guests arrived.  I turned the oven to 400 degrees, put the stockpot full of salted water over a high flame, and began melting the butter over low heat.  I cut the baguette in half horizontally and placed it on a large piece of aluminum foil.  Once the butter had melted, I added the garlic and parsley and swirled the pot.  5 minutes later, the mixture was ready to spread over each half of the bread, after which I placed the halves back together and wrapped them completely in foil.  At this point, the water had come to a boil.  I added a package and a half of linguini (for 5 people) and gave it a quick stir to prevent clumping and sticking. 

Here’s the part that I found to be particularly thrilling: I spread the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzled them with olive oil, cracked some salt and pepper over them, and gave them a stir.  A sheet pan?  For shrimp?  I know – it felt odd to me too, but I once saw Ina Garten do it, and the Barefoot Contessa has yet to disappoint.  I figured that not having to prep a sautee pan and stand over the stove turning the shrimp and worrying about overcooking them would be a huge relief while entertaining, and I was right.  It was a completely fuss-free experience and they turned out beautifully.  I don’t think I’ll ever sautee shrimp again!

Everything came together at just the right moment.  The pasta was al dente, the shrimp were roasted, the salad had chilled, the homemade dressing was prepared, and the garlic bread had warmed and crisped in the same temperature oven as the shrimp.  All I had to do was squeeze some lemon over the shrimp, add them and the tomatoes to the pasta after draining it and returning it to the pot, add the pesto, and stir.  I finally sat down, free of stress, and truly enjoyed the company of my best friends (as well as a delicious meal).

BROCCOLI PESTO (from Feeding the Big Guy)

(photo from Feeding the Big Guy)

1 large broccoli stalk, chopped (peeled stem included)
1/2 cup fresh parsley
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and boil for 3 minutes or until slightly tender. Drain and immediately immerse in ice water to retain the bright green color.

Drain the broccoli from the cold water and transfer to a food processor.  Add the parsley, garlic, pine nuts (if yours are raw, simply place them in a nonstick skillet over low heat and toast for approximately 5 minutes, making sure they don't burn - your nose will tell you when they're done), cheeses, olive oil and salt/pepper (be careful not to add too much salt because of the parmesan cheese). Pulse until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

Toss with hot pasta or freeze for later use.

ROASTED SHRIMP (adapted from Ina Garten’s Lemon Pasta with Roasted Shrimp)

(photo from BUTTERYUM)

2 pounds (17 to 21 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the shrimp on a sheet pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss well, spread them in 1 layer, and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, just until they're pink and cooked through.

After removing the cooked shrimp from the oven (they should be pink and curled up), drizzle with lemon juice and toss.

HOMEMADE CAESAR DRESSING (from Crate and Barrel’s Salad Dressing Bottle with Stirrer)
2 oz. White wine vinegar
3 oz. Olive oil
4 tsp Grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. Black pepper
2 Anchovy fillets, minced
2 Gloves of garlic, minced

Combine all of the above ingredients in a sealable container and shake well (alternatively, combine in a bowl and whisk well).

GARLIC BREAD (adapted from Bobby Flay)

(photo from herbcountryliving)

1 stick unsalted butter
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbs chopped fresh Italian parsley OR 2 tsp dried parsley flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 loaf Italian or French bread, sliced lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and let it cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Brush each slice of the bread with the melted garlic butter. Wrap the loaf of bread in foil and bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through.

Thanks for a great night, ladies.  It was truly one for the ages.

- M