Fennel, Feta, and Shrimp

     Inspiration can come in many different ways and from so many different things.  Thanks to this blog my mind is often thinking of food, new ideas for combinations, and what to make that would be interesting to write about.  Thinking of dishes I could make for my mom also inspires me.  We haven’t had my parents over for a while, everyone has been so busy.  The kind of busy that leaves your head spinning and leaves you wiped out on the couch eating takeout.  I wanted to break that cycle before it became a vicious one, so last wednesday I broke out a new recipe and we had my parents and brother over.  Read on to hear about all my inspiration.

     I decided on baked shrimp with feta.  The idea of this dish was lodged in my mind for reasons I cannot explain.  My whole family including Eric and I are seafood lovers so I knew it would be a hit. I wasn’t really sure what ingredients I wanted to use so I set out doing some research. I am a tactile person and first turned to my cookbooks.  After searching through a few of them, flipping paper pages with my index finger and realizing I did not have the recipe at home, I turned to the web.  I did a few online searches checking out foodgawker and google .  Baked shrimp with feta yielded quite a few results between the two.  I really loved the picture of this dish at Girl Cooks World, showcased on foodgawker.  Plus after looking through the site I wanted to save it to share it with my mom, it is a great resource for anyone going gluten free.
    Google gave me some fine results and my favorite was this one from Fine Cooking. It also combined fennel into the dish. I have avoided this beautiful vegetable in the past, never using it,  due to its odd shape and its often described anise flavor.  I never quite knew what to do with it and always pictured it tasting like licorice, which I hate.  Including fennel in this recipe was a challenge to me and I wanted to try it.  Most of the reviews were positive with only one review that mentioned the dish was bland.  This concerned me and I remembered that later.  List in hand I was off to the store.
     Once at our local grocer, I picked up a beautiful fennel bulb fronds intact and all.  I purchased shallots, one of Eric’s favorite ingredients.  I usually steer clear of these too, due to the $4.99 a pound price tag, however for 3 nice sized shallots I only spent $1.75.  Shrimp was on sale which made me extra happy as I was buying 2 lbs.  We recently had a fresh fish counter installed at our store.  We are so thankful for it and are doing our part to support it so it will remain!
     Next I headed over to the wine section.  Several of the recipes called for dry white wine so I picked up Thorny Rose Chardonnay.  I wanted to get another wine to drink with dinner and since my Dad’s favorite varietal is Riesling I looked over that section.  The Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling popped off the shelf at me, it was incased in an orange and red box which said, Riesling is on Fire. Printed on the box was a recipe and of great interest to me a tiny spice packet. The blend of spices included garlic, fennel seed, coriander seed, red pepper, salt, cumin seed, caraway seed and paprika.  I realized I could spice up the dish using a similar spice blend of my own making and that would solve the problem of the dish possibly being bland.
     Here is my version of Baked Shrimp with Feta and Fennel.  It was a joy to make, a pleasure to eat, and my whole family enjoyed it which was the greatest pleasure.  The shrimp was perfectly cooked, the fennel mild and slightly sweet.  Eric felt the black olives overpowered the delicate fennel flavors but I loved them, so use your own judgement.  Please if any of my readers try this dish leave me a comment! I also have a question: What inspires your favorite recipe or to be creative in the kitchen?

Baked Shrimp with Feta and Fennel print

serves 6

2 lbs 31-40 count shrimp peeled and deveined
1 lb feta crumbled
2 shallots chopped
4 cloves garlic diced
1 yellow onion 
1 large fennel bulb 
1/2 cup dry white wine
28 oz diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 cup pitted oil cured black olives cut in half
olive oil
     Preheat oven to 425º F.  Prepare vegetables. Cut onions in half and slice onions thinly.  For the fennel: remove tops where the stalk meets the bulb and set aside stalks and fronds. Cut bulb in half, remove core and then slice thickly approximately 1/2 inch.  (If you are a visual learner there is a great tutorial on how to prepare fennel on Serious Eats.) Chop stalks as well if you desire, these are very aromatic and are great added to the dish.  Add olive oil to 12 inch skillet and heat over medium high heat.  Sauté in olive oil shallots, 2 cloves garlic, onion, fennel slices, and stalks seasoning with salt. Cook until softened and slightly brown.  Remove from skillet into roasting pan making a thin layer of vegetables over the bottom of pan.

     Deglaze skillet with 1/2 cup wine, reduce wine by half.  Add last 2 cloves of diced garlic, 28 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice, 1 cup crushed tomatoes and 2 Tbsp spice blend.  Simmer, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens slightly.  Chop some of reserved fennel fronds and add to sauce.

     Add half of italian parsley, and black olives. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pour sauce evenly over vegetables in roasting pan.  Layer shrimp over sauce in single layer, followed by crumbled feta evenly over top of shrimp.  Generously drizzle olive oil over top and garnish with remaining italian parsley.  Place in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Serve with rice.


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