Friday, March 22, 2024

Coconut Shrimp


Having just returned from a dreamy vacation in Hawaii where I ate coconut shrimp a couple of times, I wanted to keep the tropical spirit going a little longer. We may not have swaying palm trees in New Jersey, but we do have great beaches and delicious shrimp, so I recreated the dish at home to bring back some memories from our wonderful trip to our 50th state.

But before I get to the shrimp, just a few thoughts about Hawaii - a state I last visited nearly 25 years ago. I revisited one of the places that holds sad memories for Americans -- the solemn memorial at Pearl Harbor, where so many lost their lives, propelling the U.S. to enter World War II in 1941.

While on Oahu, my husband and I also hiked up the extinct volcano at Diamond Head and got a fabulous view of Honolulu. This photo of Diamond Head's crater was taken from the plane as we were departing.

The island of Maui was next on our itinerary, where one could get used to waking up to this view of swaying palm trees and the Pacific Ocean every morning.

And seeing a huge humpback whale breaching right before our eyes was a huge highlight of the trip.

We spent the last six nights on Kauai, known as the Garden Isle, for its lush growth and dramatic beauty. You have to look no further to see that drama than at Waimea Canyon, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific."

There were lots of other fun adventures too, and plenty of good food and drinks, including an unnamed number of mai tais.

But back to those shrimp. They're quite easy to make, and I have to say, they tasted every bit as delicious as those I ate in Hawaii. I started out with good quality, large, fresh shrimp, wild caught in the U.S. My husband helped with the deveining and butterflying. It's simple to do. Just take a sharp knife and make a slit down the back, but don't slice all the way through. Remove the black vein (the intestinal tract), then rinse the shrimp, and press flat on a paper towel to dry. Continue with the rest of the shrimp and you're ready for the coating.
To coat them, you mix an equal part coconut and panko bread crumbs. First dredge the shrimp in flour, then in beaten egg, and finally the coconut and panko mixture.

Place some oil in a frypan -- just enough to submerge the bottom of the shrimp -- and bring to a sizzle. Then fry the shrimp on one side till golden.

Flip them after a couple of minutes and cook until golden and crunchy on the other side. It doesn't take long.
Serve with lemon or a sweet/sour chili sauce as we ate them in Hawaii. They'd make a great meatless meal for Good Friday or any day really, or as an appetizer that'll wow your friends and family.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Coconut Shrimp

printable recipe here

1 lb. large shrimp

1 1/2 cups shredded coconut (I used sweetened coconut)

1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs

1 egg, beaten

1 cup flour

oil for frying (peanut, safflower or any non-flavored oil)

sweet chili sauce for dipping (optional - I purchased this)

Remove the shrimp shells but leave on the tail. Devein the shrimp and butterfly them, by making a slit through the backside, but not all the way through. Remove the dark vein (intestinal tract) and discard. Flatten the shrimp, give it a rinse and pat dry on a paper towel.

When all the shrimp are clean, mix the coconut and bread crumbs together. Have three separate bowls ready - one with the flour, one with the beaten egg and one with the panko/coconut mixture. Dredge the shrimp light in the flour, then dip into the beaten egg and then the panko/coconut mixture, making sure the shrimp is well coated.

Heat some oil and test with the end of a wooden spoon (or drop in a piece of bread) to make sure it is sizzling but not too hot. If it's too hot, it will burn the coating and not cook the shrimp all the way through. If it's not hot enough, the shrimp won't brown properly and will be greasy.

Drop the shrimp carefully into the oil and fry until golden on one side (it should take only a couple of minutes) then flip over to cook the other side.

Serve with lemon or a sweet/spicy chili sauce.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Amarena Cream Tart

If you've eaten torta della nonna, this tart may look familiar to you. Torta della nonna is made with two layers of pasta frolla (like a pie crust but enriched with egg), pastry cream in the center and pine nuts on top. Aside from substituting almonds for pine nuts, this tart also features amarena cherries punctuating the cream. Amarena cherries are nothing like the sweet, bright red maraschino cherries you see on ice cream sundaes, but are bitter cherries (amaro means bitter in Italian) that are soaked in a sweet syrup, giving the burgundy colored cherries a complex flavor that's a combo of bitter and sweet.

I always use the delicious amarene made by the Italian company Fabbri, although there are other manufacturers. They are easy to find where I live, (I got these at Costco) but if not, you can find them online. They're great over ice cream or in desserts like this one and they come in a beautiful container too -- a plus in my book. 

They're also wonderful in cocktails. After one of our granddaughters was born, we celebrated one night by concocting a pretty pink drink using gin, tonic water, amarenas and some of the syrup, dubbing it the eponymous "Izabela."

The recipe is the same as torta della nonna, except after placing the pastry cream inside the tart shell, you stud it everywhere with the cherries.

Place the second layer of pastry on top, beat with an egg wash, and sprinkle with slivered almonds. If you prefer, you can use pine nuts instead, as you would for torta della nonna.

Bake till golden brown.

Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.
It would be perfect for your Easter table.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Amarena Cream Tart
printable recipe here

Pastry - pasta frolla

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 t. vanilla or almond extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 or 3 T. ice water, if needed

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl or food processor, add the butter and mix until it looks like coarse sand. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the water) and mix only until it holds together. If it's too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of cold water until the mixture comes together. Do not over mix or your dough will be tough. Bring together into a ball.

Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
zest of one lemon (if you prefer not to use lemon, scrape the seeds from one vanilla bean into the milk or add 1/4 t. almond extract)
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Put the lemon zest and the milk into a large, heavy saucepan and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl or mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the flour and whisk until well combined.

Remove the lemon zest from the saucepan and slowly add the hot milk into the egg mixture, a tiny bit at a time. If you add them too quickly, you'll scramble the eggs. Then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens and starts to boil. If it gets lumpy, use a whisk, or even a hand-held stick blender to smooth it out.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, against the surface of the pastry cream, so it doesn't develop a "skin."Cool in refrigerator.

To Assemble:

3 dozen amarena cherries (or more if you like)
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Cut the dough in half and roll out one half into a disk shape. Fit it into a tart pan with a removable bottom. Place the pastry cream over the dough. Place the amarena cherries into the pastry cream.
Roll the second half of the dough into a disk and cover the pastry cream. Brush with a beaten egg that's been mixed with a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle almonds on top and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes until browned on top. 

Note: You will have extra dough after trimming the tart. Don't throw it out. Gather it into a ball and freeze for another use. I like to roll out the leftover dough into a small disk and freeze it that way. Then when I feel like making a one-shell tart quickly, I take it from the freezer, let it thaw, and add some jam, or ricotta mixed with sugar and chocolate chips, bake it and you have a quick dessert.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Pasta alla Gricia


Pasta alla gricia is one of those pastas that should be more well known, but is rarely found on menus in Italian restaurants in the U.S. It's one of the iconic pasta dishes in Italy's Lazio region, especially Rome, along with bucatini all'amatriciana (almost like gricia but with tomatoes) or pasta alla carbonara (similar to gricia but with eggs) and cacio e pepe (no guanciale, just pecorino and pepper).  It's a simple dish to put together with only a few ingredients -- guanciale (pork cheek), olive oil, black pepper and pecorino cheese. If you can't find guanciale where you live, do an online search and you're sure to find a source that can mail it to your door. Start out by cutting the guanciale into small batons with some fat and meat on each piece. 

They have a tendency to burn if cooked too quickly, so take your time and slowly cook them until crispy. 

Remove the guanciale pieces and set them aside, but keep the rendered fat in the pan.

Add the boiled pasta (I used calamarata, but rigatoni is the traditional shape used with this dish) and swirl in the rendered fat, adding some of the pasta water. Stir everything quickly to create an emulsified sauce. Remove from the heat and add the grated pecorino cheese, mixing everything together quickly.

Serve with additional pecorino on the side. 

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Pasta Alla Gricia

1/2 lb. pasta (rigatoni, paccheri or calamarata)
1/2 lb. guanciale, cut into batons
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
hot pasta water, as needed

Add the olive oil to a saucepan along with the guanciale. Cook the guanciale batons over low to medium heat until crispy, taking care not to burn them.
Remove the batons and set aside but keep the rendered fat in the pan.
Cook the pasta and drain, keeping some of the pasta water.
Place the pasta into the pan with the rendered fat, and grind the fresh pepper all over the pasta.
Stir the pasta into the rendered fat, along with enough pasta water to make an emulsified sauce.
Put the guanciale batons back into the pan and remove from the heat.
Add the grated pecorino and stir until everything is mixed together and creamy.
Serve with additional pecorino if desired.