At a conference of women chefs in Mexico City, I tasted a perfect shrimp dish prepared by Monique Andrée Barbeau, the chef of Fullers in Seattle. The shrimp were saturated with flavor, but still mysteriously tender. The trick, she explained, was to first simmer aromatic ingredients in oil, then to cook the shrimp over low heat, all the while keeping them completely submerged in the flavored oil. In this recipe, fennel, hot red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic, and lemon zest create the first level of flavor, followed by a long simmer of artichoke quarters. Only then do the shrimp enter the pan for their own slow cooking.
Makes 4 entrée servings
1. Combine the olive oil, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, oregano, red pepper flakes, garlic, onion, and lemon zest in a large sauté pan. Season generously with salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, so the seasonings flavor the oil.
2. Add the artichokes, lower the heat if necessary (the oil should be barely bubbling), and cook until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the artichokes to a bowl.
3. Add the shrimp to the oil and cook at the same low simmer, turning once, until done, about 10 minutes.
4. Remove the shrimp from the oil and let cool on a plate. Pour off 1 cup of the oil from the pan, strain, and refrigerate for another use. (The oil is delicious and can be used in vinaigrettes or for sautéing another dish.) Leave the pan over low heat.
5. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, remove the leaves from the artichokes and save for another use. Chop the artichoke hearts and stems into 1-inch pieces and return to the bowl. Add the shrimp and toss with the lemon juice.
6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Add the penne and stir constantly until the water returns to a boil. Cook until the pasta is tender but still offers some resistance when you bite into it, about 10 minutes. Before draining the pasta, use a measuring cup to scoop out ¼ cup of the pasta water; reserve. Drain the pasta in a colander and add to the sauté pan with the oil.
7. Add the artichokes, shrimp, herbs, and feta and toss until heated through. Taste for seasoning. Depending on the saltiness of the feta, it may not be necessary to add additional salt. If the pasta seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water as needed.
8. Divide among four warm bowls. Garnish each portion with a sprig of mint and serve.
To trim large Artichokes
1. Scrub 2 lemons, then cut them in half. Combine the juice of 1½ of the lemons with 2 quarts cold water in a large bowl. Add the squeezed rinds to the water. Save the remaining lemon half to use during trimming.
2. One at a time, lay each artichoke on its side. Using a chef’s knife, make a straight cut across the “crown,” or top of the artichoke. Don’t be shy: The top quarter of the artichoke is mostly prickly leaf ends, and you’re not sacrificing anything by whacking it off. Depending on the size of the artichoke, this can amount to an inch or two. Rub the trimmed leaves with lemon.
3. Gently snap back the tough upper portion of each outer leaf, leaving the meaty part of the leaf still attached. Continue working around the artichoke until all the tough leaves have been snapped and the remaining leaves, leaves are pale green and tender.
4. Trim the tough skin around the base of the artichoke. Pare the skin off the stem and trim the tip (leave most of the stem intact). Rub the entire artichoke with the lemon.
5. If the recipe calls for artichoke quarters, cut each artichoke lengthwise into quarters and remove the choke. Rub the quarters all over with the lemon.
6. As you finish each artichoke, place it in the bowl of lemon water Trimmed artichokes can be stored, refrigerated, in acidulated water, for 24 hours.
To trim baby Artichokes
1. Prepare a bowl of acidulated water with lemon as directed above.
2. One at a time, trim ½ inch off the crown of each artichoke and snap off any tough or scarred outer leaves, until only pale green leaves remain. Trim away the tip of the stem and peel the stem itself. As you finish each artichoke, rub the cut spots with the lemon half to prevent the flesh from turning brown or cover with acidulated water until ready to use. The choke of a baby artichoke is edible after cooking, so you don’t need to remove it.