Monday, March 5, 2007

Deconstruction: Pineapple & Shrimp

No, not together. Although, pineapple shrimp is really good. Especially with a cream coconut sauce. Just sayin'.

I happen to like Giada De Laurentiis's show, Everyday Italian. I don't like every recipe and sometimes Giada's a little annoying, but I like her ideas. She had a good eye for taste and most of her recipes are easy enough to throw off on a weeknight, yet still contain enough complexity that I don't get bored.

The two recipes I'm going to deconstruct I've had lying around for months. I've made them both several times and everyone seems to like them.

Grilled Pineapple w/Nutella
Source: Everyday Italian
Chef: Giada De Laurentiis
Disclaimer: Not my recipe, not trying to claim it's my recipe. Belongs to Food Network and the chef.

If I had to rate this dish from one to five stars, I'd give it a three. Honestly, I'd prefer the pineapple by itself. But everyone else I've fed it to has loved it, so maybe I'm just weird. I prefer to use high quality milk chocolate melted down with cream instead of Nutella.

Now, you will notice that it says "grilled" in the title. I've done it grilled and I've done it pan-seared. Go with grilling on this, trust me. If you don't want to break out the barbecue, just get a nice little grill pan (like so) that sits over burners on your stove. You want it to get those black lines. The sugar caramelizes and it's much, much better than just plain old pan searing.

Food Network categorizes the recipe thusly:
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Yield: 10 - 12 servings
Difficulty really is easy and the prep time is around 15 minutes. Cook time is longer, if you don't have a giant grill pan like Giada does. Also, I've done this in rings (as the recipe suggests) and in chunks and the rings are better. For one, it's faster to cook them that way. And for two, it's easier to get the chocolate and mascarpone distributed equally when the pineapple is ringed.

2 pineapples, peeled, cut crosswide into 1/2-inch-thick slices and core removed
2/3 mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup Nutella
6 tablespoons whipping cream
Olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped, toasted hazelnuts

Grill the pineapple, however you're grilling. Make sure you leave them alone so they'll get the pretty stripes and that they're heated all the way through. Depending on whether you're using fire, an electric stove, or a gas stove and what kind of pan you're using on the latter two, it's anywhere from 2 - 5 minutes per side.

While that's cooking, whisk the mascarpone and vanilla in a bowl, then set aside.

Combine Nutella and cream in a small bowl and stir to combine. Unless you're me, in which case, you've already melted some high quality milk (or dark, or equal parts of both) chocolate with some heavy cream on your stove. It's not that I don't like hazelnut and chocolate, it's that I find the Nutella chocolate to be sub par. If you're me, you can skip ahead to the next paragraph. Otherwise, put the Nutella-cream mixture in the microwave and heat on high for about 2 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds. Make sure the end result is smooth and easy to pour.

Transfer the pineapple slices to a large platter and drizzle with the Nutella-cream mixture. Dollop the mascarpone mixture on top. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts.

The mascarpone really cuts the chocolate and gives it an interesting, creamy, not-to-sweet edge.

On the other hand, my aunt prefers it without the cheese, just chocolate and pineapple.


Jumbo Shrimp w/Basil & Mint Pesto
Source: Everyday Italian
Chef: Giada De Laurentiis
Disclaimer: Not my recipe, not trying to claim it's my recipe. Belongs to Food Network and the chef.

I know Giada is all about Italian food, but this recipe is everything I love about Vietnamese food. If you cooked the shrimp and layered it with the mint leaves and some Vietnamese basil leaves and wrapped them in rice paper with some vermicelli, carrots, lettuce, and cucumber, then served it withhoisin-peanut sauce, you'd have the perfect spring rolls. Vietnamese food, for me, is all about the mint and basil combination.

Food Network classifies the recipe thusly:
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
They're right, it's easy. It's ridiculously easy. In fact, if you make the pesto beforehand and buy shelled and cleaned shrimp, you can throw this together in a matter of minutes and everyone thinks you're a domestic goddess.

Prep time I suppose could go to 20 minutes. It could go longer, too, depending on how you buy your shrimp. I, personally, am lazy and buy it peeled and de-veined. The meat department at your local market should have something for you. This recipe uses jumbo shrimp, but I've made it with not mutant-sized normal-sized shrimp, too. I prefer the jumbo, but I live in Arizona, USA, and seafood can be expensive in the desert.

Cook time is, indeed, six minutes. But they lie on the 6 servings. Lie. Or maybe I eat with greedy people. Anyway, I find it's around 4 servings, especially if you're serving it as the main dish. It would be good over pasta or rice, too.

Now, I am very allergic to pine nuts. But I'm also very partial to pesto. Whatcha gonna do? Suck it up, is what. Pesto kills my head (I also happen to be allergic to basil), but it's completely worth it. And with the mint, it's more than worth it. That's how good this is. (Although, I did cut out the pepper. Not only am I allergic, I genuinely dislike it.)

Last comment before the recipe. The best way to use fresh herbs is to...well, have fresh herbs available. My mother keeps basil plants and I usually steal some from her garden. I used to keep an herb garden when I was a child and I killed it by planting mint, so if you want to keep that on hand, do it in a pot. Most herbs really do taste better when you can just turn to the side, snip it off a branch, and rinse it off.

Barring that, you can buy "fresh" herbs in the market now. I don't know how fresh they really are, but they're still alive, so that's better than dried. They're usually over in the section where they have the mushrooms and the refrigerated dressings and the bagged salads. Don't buy those stupid tube herbs. You know, the pastes? Not only do they taste very little like the real thing, they're full of nasty stuff and chemicals.

Honestly, making your own pesto is as easy as basil, mint, pine nuts, oil, blend, cheese. That's it. Don't give in to consumer laziness!

3/4 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 garlic cloves (her recipe calls for 1; I suspect she does not like garlic enough; all her recipes call for too little)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Parmesan
2 pounds uncooked jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined (and de-tailed!)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Blend the mint, basil, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add 1/4 cup of olive oil, processing until well-blended. Or you can be me, who is foodprocessorless, at the moment. It takes a little more blending and some working with a spoon, but you can do this with a blender. Put the oil in first if you're using a blender. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and mix in the Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss the shrimp with the extra-virgin olive oil in a large bowl to coat. Sprinkle with salt and toss again.

Heat a heavy large skillet over high heat. Working in two batches, add the shrimp and saute until just cooked through (about three minutes). Or you can have the Pan Of Doom like me and work in one batch....

Then, toss the shrimp with the pesto and sprinkle with more Parmesan.

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