Salad Days (Are Here Again).

I have a fantastic memory.  This isn’t a grandiose statement, not in the least.  It’s plain fact.  I can describe what I wore to the first day of class for all four years of high school, I can recall conversations from months ago in great detail, I can remember not only passages from my favorite books but also where those words lie on a page, I can tell you about the various culinary tasks assigned to me as a child by my mother in order to keep me occupied and out of trouble.  Popping canned chick peas out of their individual translucent skins, for example, or picking parsley leaves off of their stems, or tearing the legs and shells off of shrimp.

That was a particular favorite of mine, denuding shrimp.  I believe the first time I was made to do this, strip shrimp from their shells, was when I was in the first or second grade. My mother emptied a bag of oyster-colored shrimp into the colander she had placed inside the stainless steel basin of the sink, then set our gray-and-black plastic footstool at my feet.  I’ve always been short, and the footstool’s added few inches allowed me to almost tower over the small mound of shellfish.  My mother showed me how to remove the slippery spindly legs and the smooth sectioned skeletons, and how to make sure each shrimp’s tail remained intact without its husk.  I made a game of this, giving myself points for each entire tail I shucked, though I quickly lost count; I’ve never had a head for numbers.

Ripping the legs from the pleasantly slimy and surprisingly firm shrimp bodies was highly satisfying, even to my grade school self.  There was something simply rewarding about grasping the five sets of legs in my stubby child’s fingers and giving them a sharp pull.  I was also kind of blown away by the fact that my mother had given me permission to basically destroy something, to literally tear something apart.

When I found the following recipe in the pages of Cooking Light, the first thing I thought was about how similar-yet-different it sounded to the avocado salad from Bon Appétit that Keith and I so often enjoy.  The second thing was I want to tear the legs off of some shrimp, and my mind simultaneously conjured up a physical memory: the feeling of those miniscule legs, gently bent like the willowy branches of a tiny tree, between my finger and thumb.

I felt the need to shell shrimp as keenly as a craving, and so I set about gathering the ingredients for this salad.   I can’t tell you what pleased me more: the end result — which was quite spectacular — or learning that breaking down a pile of shrimp still makes me ridiculously happy.

Don’t bother making this salad if you can’t find fresh tarragon at your local market.  Its licorice-y flavor is integral to the dish, and you’ll be doing everything involved — the rest of the ingredients, your taste buds — a great disservice by trying to substitute dry for fresh.  And if you have the good fortune of living with a dog, consider giving him or her the tarragon stem to nibble at.  This does two things: freshens his or her breath, and gives you something cute to look at while you segment your citrus fruit.

Shrimp, Avocado + Grapefruit Salad, from Cooking Light
Makes four courses

2 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 grapefruit (I used two navel oranges, since Keith doesn’t like grapefruit)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped shallots
6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 peeled avocado, cut into 12 wedges (I used two, and chopped them into a rough dice)

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 ½ teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle shrimp with ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add shrimp to pan; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done, stirring frequently. Remove from pan; keep warm.
  2. Peel and section grapefruit over a bowl, reserving 3 tablespoons juice. Combine grapefruit juice, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper, tarragon, brown sugar, and shallots in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add lettuce; toss. Arrange 2 cups lettuce mixture on each of 4 plates. Top each serving with 3 avocado wedges; divide shrimp and grapefruit sections evenly among servings.
Salad Days (Are Here Again)” by Procol Harum.
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On Books + Slicing Onions.

This is how I spent the day: lolling in bed, stocking up at the grocery store before The Big Storm, then lolling on the sofa.  Oh, it was tiring.  I’m being half-serious here — I was lolling with the latest book club selection:  Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir, which is such an involving read that I couldn’t bear to be away from it for too long.  It also got me incredibly emotional; I was about a gasp and a half away from bawling my eyes out, something I very rarely do.  Honestly, the crying was so bad that at one point I turned to Keith and said, “If we had a puppy, I would be hugging it right now.  Will you be my puppy?”  And so he patted me on the back while I left an imprint of my tear-soaked face on his shirt, quite similarly to what Chuck Palahniuk‘s narrator does to Bob’s T in Fight Club.  Minus the testicular cancer, chaos and commentary on consumerism.

caramelized-onions1After I calmed myself down a bit, I headed to the kitchen to start caramelizing the onions for dinner tonight and for another meal later in the week.  Here’s a handy little trick I discovered:  if you want to avoid tearing up while slicing an onion, it helps to be crying already.  Don’t get me wrong — there’s no way that crying is going to prevent the burning sensation you’re going to feel behind your eyes the moment after you put your knife to an onion.  You’ll just be feeling so terrible already that you won’t mind the extra tears.

Okay, maybe that’s not necessarily the truth, but it kinda worked for me.

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll be making mejadara but tonight we’ll share with our friend Melissa a very unseasonal pizza, since it features fresh basil.  Though summer is months away, this is an incredibly light, easy-to-make meal that will make you feel as though its at least fifty degrees warmer outside.

pizzaA few notes about this dish…

In order for a pizza to be a pizza, it requires a bready, doughy crust.  Thing is, as I have said repeatedly, I am terrified of yeast.  Therefore, I buy my doughs or use a pre-made shell.  If you don’t have the same hang up, good for you — I’m sure your pizza will be indescribably fantastic.  If you too are frightened by yeast, rest assured that you won’t have to face your fear in order to enjoy a sweet and tangy dinner.

You can, of course, make your own sauce — and should! — but only when tomatoes are in season in order to get the fullest flavor.  When buying bottled, I like Enrico’s All Natural.

Lastly, the recipe calls for oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes.  The oil really does make all the difference, otherwise you’ll end up with tomato-flavored bark encircling your pizza.  That said, it is extremely important to drain the oil, otherwise you’ll have in your hands an utterly greasy mess.

(Unrelated:  I finally have a camera again and am in love.)

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza, from Cooking Light.
Makes six to eight portions.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 thinly sliced onion, separated into rings
1 pre-made pizza crust
½ cup pizza sauce
¼ cup oil-packed julienned sun-dried tomatoes, drained
2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

  1. Preheat oven to 450°.  Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover and cook for 11 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently.
  2. Place the pizza crust on a baking sheet. Combine the sauce and tomatoes. Spread sauce mixture over pizza crust. Top with onion and cheese. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with basil. Cut into wedges and serve.