Shrimp in romesco with wilted spinach: It’s CSA time again!!

I’ve been doing CSA or Community Supported Agriculture for about 4 years now.  How it works is you buy a share of produce from a local farm for a season, and they send you a box of goodies every week, or every other week depending on how big a share you buy.  Ours comes from Harmony Valley Farmsin Viroqua, Wisconsin, and has never disappointed.  Well that’s not entirely true.  CSAs are like playing the stock market.  Your fortune rises and falls with the farmer’s fortunes.  But that is part of the point I think, closely allying yourself with local farmers gives you a connection to your food that is sadly lacking in today’s culture.

Let’s all, as cooks and foodies, take that next step in the Food Revolution and start giving a crap about where we get our food.  But make no mistake, this is not a high moral stance.  I admit, supporting the local economy by buying local organic foods makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  But the bottom line is, that if you buy your vegetables locally they can ripen in the ground and not on the Sysco truck, and that makes them taste better.  And that makes cooking them easier because you are halfway to the end zone from the get-go.

The last time I took a cooking class with Chef Tory(word count of article before I mentioned Chef Tory or L’etoile was 215, for those of you scoring at home) he told us why the food at his restaurant was so amazing.  “I make really good stock, and I buy the very best local ingredients I can.  And then I just don’t mess them up.”  This is not rocket science.  We have a leg up on all those French Chefs from 100 years ago because we don’t need to make a sauce to cover up the fact that the meat we are serving it over is spoiled.

I used to think “organic” food was hippy-dippy bullshit.  I cringed when a chef mentioned that they were “all about the ingredients”.  As opposed to what??  “Seasonal cooking”?  Bah!  I’ll cook what I want when I damn-well feel like it.  But now I understand.  Their food tastes better because the stuff they make their food out of tastes better.

Which leads us to this recipe.  And a bit of an admission.  I had to go off on a rant there, well firstly because it’s fun, and kind of my thing.  But secondly because the lovely Mrs Citizen Chef deleted the pictures I had taken of this dish, so I needed something to fill the space.

The main impetus behind making this was I had over-wintered spinach from the farm to use up.  And if you’ll notice, the spinach part of this recipe could not be more simple.  Wilt the spinach with some oilve oil, throw on some salt and that.  is.  it.  I gilded the lilly a bit by putting some 25 year old balsamic on at the very end, but what the heck.  It was amazing.  And the shrimp in romesco sauce was awesome as well.

Shrimp In Romesco with Wilted Spinach
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, Servings: 6

Note: From “The Zuni Café Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers.

Romesco base
2 tablespoons raw almonds (about 12 nuts)
1/4 cup hazelnuts (about 32 nuts)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped drained tomatoes or peeled ripe tomatoes
1 1/4 cup mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 ancho chile
1 1/2 ounces chewy, white peasant-style bread (about 1 thick slice), crust removed
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon l’Estornel brand red wine vinegar or other red wine vinegar fortified with a few drops of sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon mild paprika

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Drop the almonds in a small pot of boiling water and leave for about 10 seconds. Drain, slide off the skins, and rub dry. Set aside.

2. Roast the hazelnuts on a small baking sheet until the skins darken and start to split, 10 to 15 minutes. While they are still hot, bundle them in a towel, then scrunch and massage them to rub off most of their skins. Pick out the nuts and set aside.

3. Turn the oven to broil. Spread the tomatoes one-half-inch thick in a small, shallow baking dish. Trickle with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and broil until the tomatoes char slightly and bubble, a few minutes. Remove from the broiler.

4. Reduce the oven heat to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, pour a few cups of boiling water over the chile and leave to swell for a few minutes. Drain and then stem and seed the pepper.

5. Pour olive oil to a depth of one-half inch into an 8- or 10-inch skillet and set over medium-low heat. Test the temperature with the edge of the slice of bread; when it barely sizzles on contact, reduce the heat slightly and add the bread. (You may need to cut the bread into pieces so it fits into the pan in a single layer.) Check the underside at 1 minute; it should be beginning to color. Fry until it is the color of cornflakes, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain and cool on a paper towel.

6. Thickly slice the garlic, then pound to a paste in a mortar. Scrape into a processor and add the chile, fried bread, almonds and hazelnuts. Grind to a fine, moist paste, scraping the sides frequently. Scrape in the tomato and process to a paste. Add the vinegar, paprika, the remaining extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste. Taste; it should be bursting with flavor, although not overly spicy. The flavor of the paprika will come out over time.

7. Spread the paste in a thick layer in a small, shallow baking dish and bake until the surface has turned dark orange with occasional flecks of brown, about 8 minutes. (Makes about 1 cup. Can be made up to a week in advance.)

Shrimp and assembly
1 cup chicken stock, shellfish fumet (concentrated stock), water, or a combination
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup yellow onions
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pounds large shrimp in their shells or just over 1 pound peeled shrimp
3/4 pound spinach, stemmed, carefully washed and dried

1. Bring the stock, fumet or water and the white wine to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir in the romesco base. Taste for salt. Cover and set aside for about 30 minutes. As this brew cools, the crumbs will begin to swell and soften, which will give the sauce a nice texture.

2. Place the diced onions in a 3-quart sauté pan with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Cook over medium heat until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the romesco and warm through, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook gently, turning each one over once in the thickening sauce, until the shrimp are just firm and opaque, about 4 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

3. Meanwhile, warm another 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and sprinkle with salt. Gently turn and fold leaves until they are uniformly wilted and bright green. Taste for salt and add another trickle of oil if the spinach seems lean.

4. Divide the spinach among warm plates. Arrange the shrimp on top. Taste the sauce, and correct the salt. The romesco should be fluid but thick; reduce briefly or add a splash of water if it seems either watery or pasty. Spoon the sauce over all.

~Citizen Chef

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