I have collected cookbooks for many years. Some are first editions, some antique, many are brand new, but they are all loved. Many pages are splattered, others well worn. I read each one cover-to-cover, learning from them, getting ideas, and expanding my knowledge. Each book has its own personality, from the photographs to the choice of recipes, the headnotes above each recipe tell us snippets about the lives of the authors. They are glimpses into their childhood experiences, family histories, trials and errors in the kitchen. I dream of one day writing my own and who knows, maybe this blog is the beginning of that dream.
One of my favorite activities is to decide on a type of meal to make and then find recipes in six or seven cookbooks. I go from recipe to recipe, reading the different techniques, gathering the various ingredients, and then I close all the books and start cooking. I never know exactly how it will turn out; I follow my instincts for ingredient combinations and seasonings, and create something new. Occasionally I have failures, but more often something wonderful comes out of my imagination.
One time a friend of mine was teasing me about always reading the recipes without making any of them. He told me he couldn’t remember ever seeing me make something from a cookbook. He challenged me to make an entire meal with nothing but brand new recipes. And boy was I glad he did because I discovered four recipes that turned out to be some of my favorites of all time!
One of those four is the inspiration for today’s recipe. In music a Mashup is a blending of two or more songs, overlaying the vocal and instrumental tracks. This one is a Mashup of two of my favorite recipes, blended to create a new and fun way to make each!
For their size, shrimp are packed with protein and nutrients. They are a great source of selenium, tryptophan, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, iron, phosphorus, omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin B3 (niacin), zinc, copper, and magnesium. They are naturally low in fat and calories, they are a perfect protein for a healthy dinner.
If you want, you can also add some very lightly steamed vegetables. Asparagus, broccoli, peas, carrots, even green beans would be good additions. Add to the sauce along with the shrimp and bake as directed. Covering them with this amazing sauce is a good way to get reluctant children to eat more vegetables!
When you are shopping for shrimp, look for firm meat with a sweet, lightly briny aroma. Any with discolored shells or an ammonia smell should be thrown away. It’s a good idea to ask to smell the shrimp prior to buying. Do you watch cooking programs on television? The chefs always smell everything before they buy it – and in the case of fruits and vegetables, usually taste it too. If your grocer doesn’t want you to smell the shrimp before you buy them, they may have something to hide and I wouldn’t shop there.
Shrimp are one of the few seafood options that do not suffer from being frozen – as long as they are handled properly. Always look for transparent packaging and avoid any that have ice crystals inside the bag or shrimp with discolored spots which may be a sign of freezer burn. Defrost them in the refrigerator overnight, or if time is tight, leave them in their sealed plastic bag and submerge the whole thing in a bowl of cold water on the counter. They should be ready in less than an hour. Don’t soak them in water or they’ll lose a lot of their flavor.
While I would rather eat a smaller portion of something delicious than use chemically-laced ingredients, if you are looking for a lower calorie version of this dish, you can substitute low-fat evaporated milk in place of the half and half. You can also use olive or canola oil for part of the butter. Using whole grains for the starch will give you plenty of nutrients and fiber.
This casserole is perfect for family dinners or parties. Rich and creamy, it is very filling. You won’t need huge servings, making this an economical meal perfect for these challenging times. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
- 1-1/2 cups half and half (or 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup heavy cream)
- 5 tbsp butter, divided
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp very finely minced shallots
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup dry white wine, dry vermouth, or dry sherry
- 2 tsp finely minced fresh dill or 1 tsp dried dill weed
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- A few drops of Sriracha, Tabasco or other hot sauce, optional
- 1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers, drained well and cut into strips
- 2 lb medium raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 6 cups lightly cooked pasta, brown rice, or other whole grain (such as farro or bulgar) (it will finish cooking in the oven)
- Fresh dill sprigs for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a shallow 3-1/2 quart baking dish or individual ramekins. Place on a baking sheet to catch any drips while baking.
- Heat half and half in a nonstick saucepan over medium heat until it is just below a simmer, stirring often to keep the milk from sticking to the bottom. There will be small bubbles around the edges of the pan.
- While the milk is heating, in a skillet, melt 3 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and whisk until smooth. This paste is called a roux (roo) and is used to thicken sauces. Pour the hot milk into the roux and whisk vigorously until thickened and smooth. Season lightly with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low, and keep warm. You have just made a white sauce, otherwise known as Bechamel!
- In the saucepan, melt remaining 2 tbsp butter and saute the shallots and white parts of the onions until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining green onions, stir in the wine, and cook for another minute or two until slightly reduced and concentrated. Stir in the dill and lemon juice. Combine this with the white sauce, whisking until smooth. If you want a spicy note, add some of the hot sauce. Add the pepper strips, shrimp, and pasta and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
- Place in preheated oven. Bake until it is bubbling around the edges and shrimp are cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Garnish with fresh dill sprigs and serve immediately.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
- Make Ahead: If you want, you can make the sauce and assemble this up to several hours ahead or even overnight and keep covered in the refrigerator. Let casserole sit out at room temperature 20 minutes before baking.