Saturday, July 28, 2012
A Single Serving of Tuscan Shrimp with White Beans
The question hovers above us as I consider how to answer, my mind flashing back to all the times I've answered it before. To the well-meaning friends who just can't believe a "cool girl like me" doesn't have a boyfriend. To the drunk uncle at a wedding who corners me by the bar, sloshing the contents of his glass of scotch on my strappy sandals. To the stranger at the bar who can't figure out "what's wrong with me" beyond my reluctance to go home with the first thing that buys me a drink (him).
I find myself shrugging my shoulders (a challenging thing to do while lying down), and mumbling something about being "busy" and "picky." It comes out something like, "I'm bicky."
He seems to understand.
I tug at a loose thread on my sundress as I listen to his reasons for being unattached.
He just moved here. He works a lot. It's hard to meet people in LA.
The cliches pile up next to us like a stack of neatly folded t-shirts at the Gap. They make sense. They are easy to say. They are easy to hear. They don't make either of us want to leap for the door and see what else is out there sipping a Habanero margarita by the pool.
It's a silly question and the answers we give are equally moronic and uninteresting. I know what I want to say, I know what's idling on my tongue like a motorcycle stopped at a light.
"I haven't met the right person yet."
It stays there on my tongue as we move on to talk about our favorite movies (he likes "Last of the Mohicans," I favor "Good Will Hunting"), tattoos (neither of us have one), and our morning rituals.
I don't know why I can't say it. I don't know why I can tell him that I like to eat quinoa with strawberries for breakfast and that I go to church on Sundays and that I actually like top 40 music and not in an ironic way, and not let myself be the other kind of vulnerable. The vulnerable that admits that I haven't found the right person, giving air to the underlying clause that accompanies it. That I'm secretly hoping he might be right -- if even just for four dates before we go our separate ways into the Los Angeles ether.
And so it goes unsaid. Left for the next time I'm accosted at a wedding by a drunken uncle, hounded at a bar by Cro-Magnon man, or pitied by the guy at the Whole Foods seafood counter when I request only four wild shell-on shrimp to make this dish.
Adapted from Michael Chiarello via Food Network
Notes: The beautiful thing about this dish is that it can be easily adapted to make however many servings are necessary - even a single serving for the gal who can't commit to making more than enough for one meal. I made quite a few changes to the original recipe, adding kale, using dried beans rather than canned, and changing up the procedure and quantities to my personal tastes. The integrity of the flavors, however, remains intact - a beautiful marriage of earthy beans with sweet summer tomatoes sharpened by the salinity of the shrimp.
Feel free to improvise as you see fit - with sausage instead of the shrimp, or topped off with a poached egg for a vegetarian entree. I do have to insist on the use of dried beans, fresh basil and in-season tomatoes. Because it is a simple dish, the quality of the ingredients are key in making it shine.
1/4 cup dried Great Northern white beans
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 vine-ripened tomato
1 cup chopped kale
4 wild, shell-on shrimp
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Soak white beans in two cups of water and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to even 24 hours (change the water if you plan on soaking that long!). Soaking the beans will not only reduce the cooking time, but also allow for more even cooking and some say noticeably less stomach discomfort after consuming. Drain the beans and rinse well.
Bring two cups of water to a boil in a small pot, add the beans, then cover and simmer until the beans are just starting to soften. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, then continue cooking until tender. Drain any leftover liquid and set aside. (Note: Cooking time will vary depending on how long you soak the beans -- it took around an hour and a half for mine to cook after soaking them for 8 hours.)
Heat a frying pan (I used my cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the onion and saute for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until lightly browned and tender. Add the chopped tomato, half the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Simmer together for 5 minutes, then add the white beans, kale and half the basil, and continue simmering over low heat while you prepare the shrimp.
Clean and de-shell and de-vein the shrimp. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the shrimp, remaining garlic, lemon zest, salt to taste, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Saute for 1-2 minutes.
Heap the bean mixture in the center of a rounded plate/bowl, then place the shrimp around the edges. Garnish with the remaining basil.