A goal for this year was to pull a different cookbook down from the shelf each month and actually cook out of it versus just drooling over all the beautiful photography. So far I have tackled a VERY complicated, but delicious, soup recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home and last month I created a much simpler recipe from cheftestant Fabio Viviani’s Café Fírenze.
For March I chose Take 6 Ingredients by Conrad Gallagher (the complete antithesis of any recipe by Thomas Keller by the way). The premise of the book is simple – he counts on there being three basic ingredients in the pantry – salt, black pepper and olive oil. Otherwise, no recipe contains more that six additional ingredients nor takes up more than one page of preparation instructions. Now granted there are a fair share of ingredients not found in many home cook’s kitchens – or even the nearby store for that matter – such as veal sweetbreads, caviar, fois gras, fresh truffles and exotic mushrooms, so that ruled out a few options but there was still plenty of others to choose from. And I have to say I really like the idea of picking just a few nice ingredients and showcasing them well.
I selected this recipe because frankly it just sounded really interesting. I don’t know that I would have ever paired vanilla with potatoes but being an Idaho girl, I’m always up for a new way to approach my state’s hottest commodity.
Vanilla Potatoes with Tiger Shrimp & Lemon Syrup
2 vanilla pods
1/3 cup olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp
4 tsp sugar
4 small Idaho® potatoes (ok… so the recipe didn’t specify Idaho potatoes, but I am from Boise after all), peeled and each one cut into 7 slices, 1/2˝ thick, ends discarded
20 large raw tiger shrimp, peeled and cleaned
28 sprigs lambs lettuce
Cut the vanilla pods in half and using a teaspoon, scrape out the pips, Place in a bowl with 1/3 cup of the olive oil, stirring to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 48 hours to allow the flavors to infuse.
Pare the rind from the lemon and then cut into fine julienne strips. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze out the juice; set aside. Place the strips in a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil, then remove the julienne with a slotted spoon and refresh under cold running water.
Return the julienne to the saucepan that still has the water in it and stir in the sugar and lemon juice, then bring to a simmer and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until you have achieved a syrup-like consistency. Allow to cool completely.
Place the potatoes in a small saucepan and pour over the infused olive oil, then cook over a very low heat until al dente. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the oil.
Heat a non-stick skillet. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and then add the shrimp. Cook for 20 seconds on each side until just tender. Season to taste.
To serve, drain the potatoes from the oil, reserving the oil. Arrange the lambs lettuce and drained potato slices alternately in a circle on serving plates – you’ll need about seven slices of potato per portion. Place the tiger shrimp in the center and drizzle over the lemon syrup and garnish with drops of the reserved vanilla olive oil. Serve at once.
I couldn’t find lambs lettuce so I substituted in arugula – which I know is nothing like lambs lettuce but in my world, pretty much everything is better with a little arugula.
It happened that a chef friend, Jay, popped in for dinner this night. I was a bit nervous as I placed the plate in front of him – afraid that it was going to be too floral with both the concentrated lemon syrup and the vanilla. And I realized that the downside of having only six ingredients in a dish is that there’s no where to hide. Everything needs to be spot on. It’s all part of my experiment with food though – sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Luckily tonight it did. We all agreed that the subtleness in both aroma and taste was a lovely complement to the other components. And who knows, maybe we’ll see this unlikely pairing on one of Jay’s menus sometime soon.