Thursday, June 16, 2011

The yin and yang of food

I love chocolate--the dark earthy aroma, the complex hints of coffee/spice/fruit/herbs that are characteristic of the cacaos of different regions of the world,the seductive sensation as it melts in the warmth of your mouth. But could I live on chocolate alone? At first thought, that sounds like a vision of Heaven, but in time I'm sure I would want something more, something different.

After surgery or illness have you ever been restricted to a bland diet? You end up eating food that is all the same texture and color. My cat is perfectly content to eat the same kibble day in and day out. But we humans are always looking for some excitement in our meals. It's that lack of "sameness", the contrasts, that make our foods interesting.

Yesterday I assembled one of those yin-and-yang meals, and it happened quite by accident. It all started with bacon. I had fresh shrimp and some fettuccine--always a good platform with which to start. I love shrimp because it cooks quickly and can be taken in so many different directions--with a bit of soy sauce and spices you have an Asian-inspired meal, with cardamon you are dining in Morocco, or with chilies and tomatillos you are south of the border.

But yesterday I had some bacon in the frig that would soon be past it's prime. I also had a few mushrooms about to expire. So I started to think about combining bacon and mushrooms and shrimp. Yes, you can always wrap bacon around shrimp and toss them on the grill, but I wanted to do something in the kitchen. So here's what happened:

Fettuccine with Bacon and Shrimp
1/2 pound pasta of your choice

4 slices honey-maple cured bacon, diced
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced

2 large cloves garlic
parsley (about 1/2 cup fresh tops)
1/2 cup walnuts
zest from 1/2 lemon

1 pound shelled, deveined raw shrimp
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese

Fill a large cooking pot with water and set over high heat to bring to a boil to cook 1/2 pound of pasta. (I used fettuccine, but you could use whatever type of pasta you have on hand.) Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside. Save 1/2 cup of the pasta water. 

Place the bacon in a large saute pan, and cook it until it is crisped. Remove it from the pan and set aside. Add the mushroom slices and cook over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Place the garlic, parsley, walnuts and lemon zest into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the garlic is pulverized and the walnuts are finely minced.

Heat a large saute pan to medium-high heat. Add shrimp to pan and cook until pink, about 4 minutes. Return cooked bacon and mushrooms to saute pan. Add garlic/walnut mixture and stir together over medium heat. Add cooked pasta to pan. Stir in 1/2 cup reserved pasta-cooking water. Season to taste with salt and/or pepper if desired. If you like a bit more heat with your meal add a pinch of red pepper flakes.


So, why is this recipe different? There's the sweet shrimp juxtaposed against the salty taste of the bacon. Acidic lemon vs. the bite of garlic. Toothsome pasta vs. crisp parsley. Crunch of walnuts vs. the creaminess of romano cheese.

The point isn't to use these specific ingredients. Just think about complements and contrasts in your every day meals. If you don't have shrimp, substitute chicken. If you don't have parsley, use another fresh herb. No romano? Any other firm cheese would do. No bacon? What else is hiding in your frig that might impart a smoky taste? Perhaps a bit of sausage or kielbasa?

My husband all but licked the pan. I hope you can find a way to make this dish your own and enjoy it too!

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