Despite living in what feels like the restaurant capital of the world, Tim and I eat dinner at home most nights. I usually give him a choice between two or three things I’m thinking of making, I start cooking when he gets home from work, then we eat together in front of the TV with a glass of rosé or iced tea and an episode of Game of Thrones or, um, Futurama.
I think I like these nights best. Sure, I love tasting what the chefs have to dish out at fancy bistros, but what I like better is feeding people I love. Cuddling on the comfy couch with something hot and delicious, knowing I’m doing that most basic of things, providing sustenance for my loved one, feels intensely fulfilling.
When I think about people who seem to subsist solely on food purchased at restaurants or to-go places, I get a little sad lump in my throat. It seems to me that a life in which you never consume made just for you by someone with love in their heart seems like a terribly grey life indeed.
Which is to say: do what you can to banish the greyness. Invite your friends over for dinner. Make something hot and rich and comforting, share some wine, watch a movie. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: when we cook, we do not only fill up stomachs, we shore up hearts.
Paprika Shrimp with Cheesy Polenta
Makes four servings.
2 cups broth (chicken, vegetable, or mix)
2 cups water
1 cup polenta
1 cup cheese (goat cheese, brie, or other soft cheese), cut into small chunks
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces bacon
1 tbsp butter
1 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined, and cleaned.
3 tsp paprika
2 small cloves or 1 large clove garlic, minced fine
1/2 cup roasted tomatoes (optional)
small handful flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
In a medium-sized pot, combine the water and stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisking constantly to prevent lumps, slowly add the polenta. Lower the heat to low, and simmer until water is absorbed, about eight minutes (cooking times vary, so follow the directions on your package of polenta). When it’s thick, remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese and cream. Add pepper, taste, and add more salt if necessary.
While the polenta is cooking, fry the bacon in a skillet. When it’s crispy, remove to a paper towel-lined plate and drain the bacon fat from the pan. Reserve it for another use. When the bacon has cooled, crumble it into small pieces.
Over medium-low heat, melt the butter in the same skillet. When it’s completely melted and bubbling slightly, add the shrimp and paprika. Cook the shrimp until it’s almost pink, then squeeze the lemon over everything and add the garlic, crumbled bacon, tomaotes (if using) and half of the parsley. Let it cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the shrimp is cooked through.
Spoon portions of the cheesy polenta into bowls, then top with the shrimp mixture. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley over the shrimp and polenta.
You can use almost any smooth-melting cheese here. I used chèvre and Brillat-Savarin, but try it with aged cheddar or parmesan and romano to give the dish a completely different personality.
If your polenta finishes before your shrimp, you can add a touch more water and keep it on very, very low heat with the lid on (the simmering liquid burbles and pops, occasionally sending a boiling-hot polenta-blob your way), stirring occasionally, until everything’s ready.
Music to cook by: Pretty Melody [Butch Walker // I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart]