Shrimp in Alfredo Sauce over Crispy Polenta with Greens

DSC_0030(Becky, the Mama.)

I love it when a plan comes together, when a dish in your imagination turns out as delicious as the actual experiment.  This is one such meal.

Last night I  put a little gourmet Italian twist on southern-style Shrimp n’ Grits, then added a serving of smoky-garlicky greens as a side. The results?  Not only was the presentation gorgeous, it tasted heavenly.  As in I would absolutely put a this recipe in the category of “the perfect bite” and serve it up in a spoon to Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain on the show “The Taste”.  Then step back and wait for them to swoon and hand me the prize without further debate.

In place of  the traditional grits, I pan-fried thin slices of ready-made polenta, often used in Italian recipes.  I used Trader Joe’s brand, which comes in package shelf (not refrigerated), usually near the Italian section of the store.  It looks like moist, cooked cornmeal made into a log and wrapped in plastic.  That is because, well, it is.   It is not the most appetizing looking food when you open it up for slicing. (Think yellow corn grits that may have been left too long in a pan.) However, once you’ve pan-fried them in olive oil and butter, with a little salt and pepper…. Look out, Louise.   They turn into crispy-edged, buttery disks of corny decadence.

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polenta skilletI made a quick n’ easy, creamy Alfredo sauce for the shrimp and paired it side dish of greens–  a mixture of kale and some wonderful fresh greens, a gift from our neighbor’s garden.

I can’t wait for you to try this recipe, a Taste of Tuscany meets South in Your Mouth.

Bon appetito, Ya’ll!

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Shrimp Alfredo with Crispy Polenta and Greens

Serve’s 2

Ingredients

For Polenta:

½ log of pre-made polenta

1 T. butter

1T. olive oil

Dash salt and pepper

 

For Shrimp and Alfredo:

20 pieces of raw medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled, tails removed

1 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup cream

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Dash salt

 

For Greens:

1 T. Olive oil

2 cloves garlic minced,

½ red onion, diced fine

2 slices pork or turkey bacon diced fine

4 cups loosely packed, rough chopped  kale and/or other greens,  thick stems mostly removed

½ cup water

1 t. smoked paprika

1 T. vinegar, your favorite

1 T. brown sugar

Salt and Pepper (or Grill Seasoning or Cajun Seasoning) to taste

Tabasco or Frank’s Red Sauce or Red Chili Pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Start the greens first, so they can simmer on the back burner.  In your largest deepest skillet, saute olive oil, garlic, red onion and bacon, until bacon crisps. Pile the greens on top of this mixture in the skillet, cover with ½ cup of water, cover, and let the greens cook down about 5 minutes over medium heat. Take lid off and stir in paprika, vinegar and brown sugar, add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste.  Cover again and simmer while you make the shrimp and sauce.  (Adding water if needed to keep from scorching, but no more than necessary.)

In another skillet (I like my iron skillet) let oil and butter melt and get hot while you slice the polenta into ¼ inch or so rounds.  Place the rounds in the skillet and turn heat up to medium high so that the polenta starts to pan fry.  When it is golden brown in places, turn it over and brown the other side.  Sprinkle the tops very lightly with salt and pepper.  Remove to a paper towel to drain any excess grease, then cover with another paper town to keep warm.

Wipe out the iron skillet with a paper towel, and then put in oil and garlic and shrimp.  Cook for just a minute or two until shrimp just turns pink on both sides.  (You can add a little water to the pan if the shrimp starts to stick.)  Add cream and parmesan cheese.  Stir and heat until cheese is melted and the shrimp and sauce is heated through.  Season lightly with salt to taste, if needed.

Put about 5 or 6  rounds of polenta on each plate.  Pile with shrimp and sauce.  Sprinkle with smoked paprika.  Serve with a side of the greens.

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Marinated Portobello Pizzas

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(Becky, the Mama.)

As long as I can remember I have wanted to be Italian. I look Italian. I FEEL the inner, fiery passions of an Italian. I love the way every little word in Italian sounds like music, or a romantic flirtation.

I met a beautiful grandmother from Sicily a few years ago, at a friend’s house in Denver, and after chatting a bit, she asked me if I was Italian. Be still il mio cuore (my heart).

I said, “No, but I really, really want to be.” What I didn’t say, but what I wanted to say was, “I want to live under the Tuscan sun by day, and I want the moon to hit my eye like a big pizza pie at night. I want to eat gelato and drink café in a piazza.” (And I want an excuse to use words “gelato,” “café” and “piazza” in a sentence every day.)

This lovely lady, immediately recognizing my Inner Sophia Loren said, with a wave of her hand, “No worries, I will make you Sicilian.”

“You will?”

“Yes,” she said, and then she ceremoniously took my face in her two cupped hands, looked in my eyes and said, “Now you are Sicilian.”

Poof!

So there ya go.

In honor of my bestowed-upon Sicilian-Italian-ness, I offer these beautiful little marinated Portobello pizzas for your eating and snacking pleasure today. You can fill them with anything you have on hand that you enjoy, the possibilities are endless: mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil; goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto; chopped veggies and lentils in a marinara sauce with vegan cheeses; humus and olives and red roasted peppers; chicken, asparagus and Alfredo sauce. I could go on and on, as we Italians are prone to do.

I filled these Portobellos with a rich home-made marina sauce I mixed with some leftover diced roasted veggies. Then I sprinkled them with mozzarella and Parmesan and topped with a few slices of turkey pepperoni.

Muah! Easy, pretty and delizioso! If you think ahead, try to pop the mushrooms into the marinade as soon as you bring them home from the grocer. The longer they marinate the better they taste! I ended up marinating these for almost 3 days. They were so juicy and flavorful.

This recipe has almost no carbs, is gluten free, and can easily be adjusted to be vegan or vegetarian. If you have lots of people over for a party who are all on special diets (and who isn’t these days? ) you can even make them to order. (Or let your guests make their own.)

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Marinated Portobello Pizzas

Makes 2 Portobello Pizzas

Ingredients: 

1/3 cup of your favorite Italian or balsamic salad dressing

2 large Portobello mushrooms

½ cup of your favorite marinara or spaghetti sauce (mixed with any chopped leftover veggies you like)

2 T. grated mozzarella cheese (or a slice of fresh buffalo mozzarella)

2 T. Parmesan cheese

6 to 8 slices of turkey pepperoni (it has 70% less fat that regular pepperoni and the same amount of flavor)

Directions:

Marinate the mushrooms in the dressing for at least four hours or up to several days in a tightly covered container. (Put in fridge if you are marinating more than 4 hours. Otherwise you can leave the mushrooms to marinate on the counter top.)

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Next, broil or grill the mushroom on both sides until the get grill marks or start to brown. Turn stem side up and carefully cut off the stem. (I chopped the stem and added it to marinara.) Place a generous spoonful of chunky marinara sauce on the mushrooms (about 1/4 cup each) then sprinkle each with a tablespoon of mozzarella and Parmesan. Finally top with pepperoni. Bake or Broil (about 6 inches from heat) until cheese is melted and pizzas are heated through. Now THAT’S amore!

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Pesto Parmesan Chicken


(Becky, the Mama.)

I was famished after a gym workout this week, and decided to grab a bite to eat on my way home. Cruising through the drive-through lane at Taco Bell, I placed my order for a taco. The voice on the intercom sounded confused, so I repeated my order again, louder and with more clarity. And that is when I actually looked at the menu and realized…. I was in line at Starbucks.

One of my Facebook friends quipped, “So did you ask them to make you a Taco Frappucino?”

Granted, there is nothing appealing about the thought of a Taco Frappucino, but you’d be surprised at how many of my favorite recipes are created because of accidents. Or because I am hungry for a particular something, but out of an ingredient or two, so try to make due with substitutes. Time and again, the substitute often proves to be an improvement on the original recipe.

Such is the case with today’s recipe. Typically, when I make Chicken Parmesan, I use thin cutlets. What I had on hand was a couple of monster size breasts (Yes, my husband could not keep himself from making a few jokes about that) and I was in too much of a hurry to pound them thin.

Secondly, I often dip the cutlets in egg whites and grated garlic before rolling in Panko crumbs and Parmesan. Alas, nary an egg or a clove of garlic anywhere in the house.

That is when I spied a large jar of pesto that I’d purchased at Sam’s Club (it is surprisingly tasty, some of the best purchased pesto I’ve tried). One thing led to another and I ended up covering the breasts with pesto, then rolling them in Panko and grated Parmesan cheese. What we ended up with, eventually, was the best Chicken Parm I’ve ever made. In fact, it was the best Chicken Parmagiano I’ve ever eaten. The chicken inside stayed incredibly tender and when you cut through it, you could see the pretty layer of green pesto, golden Panko, red marinara and white cheese. Now that’s amore.

Pesto Parmesan Chicken

Serves 2 people (with big appetites)

Ingredients

2 large boneless chicken breasts

Salt & Pepper (to taste, to sprinkle lightly on chicken)

2 cups marinara sauce (your favorite bottled brand or homemade)

¼ cup fresh or grated mozzarella

1/4 cup olive oil

1 T. butter

1/2 cup Pesto

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Heat Oven to 400 degrees

Instructions:

Heat the marina in a saucepan until hot.

Put olive oil and butter in a large oven proof skillet and heat to medium high.

Rinse and pat boneless chicken breasts dry. Sprinkle both sides lightly with salt and pepper. Put pesto in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl mix Panko and ½ c. Parmesan cheese. Lay chicken breasts, one at a time, into pesto first, coating both sides of breast and edges thoroughly, and then in Panko-Parm mixture, coating both sides and edges of breasts thoroughly again.

Saute the breasts on both sides until the coating is crispy and golden. You may have to add a little more oil depending on size of breasts and your pan.  (Drain off excess oil, if there is a lot of it, before putting in oven.)

Then put the entire skillet into the oven and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and ladle each breast with ¼ cup marinara, 2 T. mozzarella and 2 T. Parmesan cheese. Place back in the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes or until cheese is melted and chicken breast is cooked but not overly so. (A meat thermometer is helpful here, but if you don’t have one, just cut through the middle of one of the breasts to check for doneness.)


Before serving ladle each breast with more marinara and sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese. This dish is excellent served with a side of angel hair pasta that has been tossed in a little pesto.

Variation:  Use thinner chicken breasts or pound smaller chicken breasts thin.  Put sauce and cheese on immediately after pan frying, and cook in oven only until cheese melts.

Vegetarian or Vegan Variation:
Use a vegan chicken patty (such as Gardien brand frozen chick’n scallopini), tofu, tempeh or seitan instead of chicken breasts. Use or make a vegan pesto (omit the parm cheese in most pesto recipes). The cooking time in the oven following pan-frying may not be needed at all, or just cook for a few minutes with tomato sauce and cheese. Vegans can serve without cheese, or use vegan versions of mozzarella and Parm on top.

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