Wild USA shrimp plucked from our nation’s shores is a holiday favorite at our house. When those plump-sweet crustaceans are on the menu my kids and extended family become visibly excited with all the requisite oohs and ahhs. But for this celebratory season, how about a shrimp dish that’s not only a treat for the hungry hordes but easy on the chef as well? I’m talking about a meal with one pan clean-up and so good that your Italian grandmother will weep happy tears. The smart shortcut is in using pre-cooked polenta. Just slice it down, fry it up and then cook up a few vegetables with that lovely shrimp in a little white wine. It’s a shrimpfest fit for Christmas Eve, but simple enough for dinner on a Tuesday night.
It’s that easy: Because shrimp can vary so widely in size, they are sold by a count (number) per pound rather than by individual weight. This is expressed as a range. For example, a 16/20 count means that 16 to 20 of them will make up a pound. The smaller the count, the larger the shrimp. Another good rule is that 2 pounds of shrimp in their shells will yield about 1 1/4 pounds when peeled.
Italian-Style Shrimp with Sausage and Fried Polenta Cakes
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Hands on time: 30 minutes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Twelve 1/2- inch thick slices pre-cooked ready to heat and serve packaged polenta
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb. Italian sausage (spicy or mild) crumbled
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 branches fresh oregano, leaves stripped and chopped
- 1 pint (about 2 cups) grape or cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 lb. large fresh wild Atlantic shrimp (31-40), peeled and deveined
- One 5-oz bag baby spinach
- 4 tablespoons butter, chilled and diced
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- Salt, to taste
Heat a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Salt and pepper the polenta rounds. When the oil shimmers, add polenta rounds to the hot pan (it will take a few batches). Fry for 3 minutes and when lightly browned and crisp turn them over and brown the other side, another 3 minutes. Transfer the rounds to a plate and keep warm. Fry the remaining rounds in the same manner.
Add the sausage, onion, mushrooms, garlic, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper to the hot pan and cook until the sausage is no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine and cook until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and top with the spinach (the pan will be full) cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook another 3 minutes or until the shrimp is cooked through and the spinach is wilted. Stir in the butter to round out the flavor of the sauce (it makes it really delicious) and season with more salt and pepper.
Stack the warm polenta cakes, offset, onto the center of six warmed plates and top with the shrimp, vegetables and some of the sauce. Garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan and serve hot, hot, hot.
In the glass: This is a celebration dish so take the plunge and splurge on a bottle or two of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. Or better yet, pop a bottle of bubbly like Mionetto Prosecco?