Thursday, February 28, 2013

February: Glad that's over

Guys, the sun was shining after work this week. Did you see it?

Did you see it?

Do you feel alive?

I feel alive.

I hereby declare that spring is here, mostly because I want it to be. I have had about all the darkness and hibernating I can handle this winter. We've spent one too many Saturday nights buying vacuums at Kohl's. I am ready for barbecues and bare feet. I want to ride my bicycle.

Thank God the tide is turning.

Cabin fever is hitting me hard lately. I'm starting to feel like a hamster in one of those plastic balls, circling the baseboards of a tiny room looking for an exit. My skin has barely seen the light of day since last November, when the sun started setting in the afternoon long before I piled on layers and shuffled my way out to the bus (except for that glorious week in January). My freckles are so far gone; these days, I'm just a blur of pale, pale skin.

So you can understand why a glimmer of sunlight after 5 p.m. was enough for us to throw open the curtains, pull on our boots and set out for a walk. We wandered away from our apartment, stepping over puddles and reveling in the sunlight. About 20 minutes into our walk, we popped into Whole Foods to grab what we needed for dinner. When we came out, the sun was down.

But we saw it!

Fleeting, yes, but at least there was a sign of better times ahead. Lawn chairs and wheat beers can't be too far away - maybe even with a plate of fresh tomato bruschetta on the side. It can't come fast enough.

For now, we're still dealing with the dearth of fresh produce that Minnesota winters plague us with, so I'm trying to be creative in the vegetable department. I came across this sassy little recipe on Epicurious one cold night when we were looking for something outside of the usual chicken and roasted root veggies. It's a light shrimp pasta that packs nutrients and color with arugula and (canned) tomatoes - both among the few acceptable options this time of year.

It's bright and soft, nicely saucy, and just the tiniest bit indulgent - a little white wine and a touch of cream never hurt anyone. Adam declared this a 4.5 star recipe - one of his new "go to" requests when I ask what we should have for dinner (the list looks like this: "Pot roast. Shrimp pasta.") I would call this a bit subdued to be a showstopper of a meal if you were, say, entertaining the queen or something. But, it comes together in not much more time than it takes to boil the pasta, making it a great option for a weeknight meal. Especially if you've got better ways to spend your time, like chasing after the sun.

Pasta with Shrimp, Tomato and Arugula
Adapted from Gourmet, December 1993 (found on Epicurious)

Note: The original recipe calls for one bunch of arugula, washed, stems discarded and chopped; this would be great, but to save time, I bought a tub of pre-washed baby arugula and used a few handfuls of that instead. Three handfuls will look like a ton at first, but it cooks down to nothing.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried hot pepper flakes
1 onion, chopped
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 handfuls baby arugula
1/3-1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Quickly add the shrimp. Cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes, until the shrimp is pink on the outside, but not quite cooked through (you'll finish cooking it later). Remove the shrimp to a bowl using a slotted spoon, taking care to leave as much of the garlic in the pan as possible. Set shrimp aside.

Add another glug of oil if the pan looks dry; add the onion and cook, stirring often, 3-4 minutes until it begins to soften. Pour in the white wine and the can of tomatoes with their juices; raise heat to bring to a boil,  then reduce heat back to medium, and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring often, to thicken the sauce. Stir in the cream, then the shrimp and arugula. Cook 1-2 minutes more, until shrimp is cooked through and arugula has wilted down. Just before serving, stir in the basil.

Serve spooned over hot pasta, topped with a dusting of Parmesan.

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