Yes, the cherry tomatoes are still coming strong, and this dish is a perfect accompaniment to shrimp atop a lovey batch of polenta, otherwise known almost affectionately as cornmeal mush in New England!
First, the cornmeal
The cornmeal is definitely half the main act here. Creamy and full of corn flavor, polenta makes a wonderful base for countless toppings. Look for stone-ground meal, a medium grind for this use, and always organic to avoid roundup-ready genetically modified corn! I buy my cornmeal in bulk at the co-op, and it is high quality and quite reasonably priced.
A quick stock makes the difference
To intensify the shrimp flavor in the polenta, make a flavorful stock with the shells from your shrimp. It takes just 20 minutes of simmering, almost no hands on work, and is worth that extra step.
The anchovies are important to this dish, so don’t leave them out. They will disappear into the sauce, but enhance the flavor of everything else.
Invite some friends
Quick, easy, and very satisfying, but delicious and pretty enough for company, so make a double batch and invite some friends!
Make a little extra polenta, place it in a buttered loaf pan, and in the morning cut it into squares and fry it up for breakfast! Mom used to cook it in her cast-iron frying pan in bacon grease, but you can use any oil you like.
If you want to make this without the wine, just substitute shrimp stock and a teaspoon of white wine vinegar.
Polenta with Shrimp and Cherry Tomatoes
- 1 cup medium-grind organic stone-ground cornmeal
- 1 quart shrimp-shell stock (you’ll create)
- 1 lb. medium wild-caught shrimp, save shells for stock
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 shallots, sliced thin
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 4 or 5 oil-packed anchovies, finely minced
- 1 tsp. crushed fennel seed
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¼ cup roughly torn fresh basil
- 1 cup light coconut milk, gently warmed
- Parmesan or vegan Parmesan to garnish
Peel and devein shrimp. Place the shrimp in the refrigerator, and the shells in a stock pot with five cups of water, a bit of salt, a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain.
In a large saucepan, bring one quart of the shrimp stock to a boil. Sprinkle the cornmeal in a little at a time, whisking all the while so it does not clump. Once all the cornmeal is whisked in, reduce the heat and whisk every now and then to keep it from sticking. This will take between 25 and 40 minutes to cook depending on the variety and coarseness of grind. If it starts to get too thick before it is cooked (smooth in texture and not gritty) add a bit of water. Taste for salt.
While the polenta is cooking, heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the shallots, garlic, anchovies, and fennel seed and stir until fragrant, just a minute or so. Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half, then dump in the cherry tomatoes and basil.
Continue cooking until the tomatoes just start to burst, then add the shrimp. Cook for about five minutes, or until the shrimp is pink and just cooked through. Correct seasoning. Remove from the heat.
Once the polenta is ready, remove from the heat and add the coconut milk. Blend well, then plate on a large platter.
Top with the tomato-shrimp mixture, sprinkle with Parmesan if desired, and garnish with a bit more basil.
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