I recently went to see a man about some chickens. No I’m not speaking euphemistically here, I mean actual chickens; hens to be exact. I’m kicking around the idea of perhaps keeping a few in my backyard. Oh what lovely fresh eggs we could have! I’m sure to some of you this seems like no big deal, what’s so strange about having a couple of hens or maybe even a pigmy goat? But the rest of you are probably laughing too hard to even be able to continue reading this. In case I haven’t mentioned it before I live in Northern New Jersey, roughly 11 miles outside of New York City. So close that I imagine if you stood on my roof and looked East you would see midtown Manhattan— not exactly farm country! But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to make the most of my little plot of land. (My mother, who actually does live in the country, gets the biggest kick out of my urban agriculture and refers to my yard as “Green Acres.”) Anyway, I currently have two raised bed gardens filled with veggies (with plans for a third dedicated to garlic, leeks and onions) and a half-dozen or so containers overflowing with a variety of herbs. The kids and I water, tend and harvest something wonderful from our backyard nearly everyday.
While last months heat wave had some dire effects on my cucumbers and squash, the remainder of my garden seems as happy as ever. My cherry tomatoes, jalapeño and cayenne peppers and corn are all ready for the picking, my basil is huge (but has started acting like it wants to start flowering) and my leeks have grown big enough to rival store-bought. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I thought to myself, “if I could make something delicious with this bounty from my garden. Something simple that would let each homegrown ingredient shine.” I started flipping through some cookbooks for inspiration and decided pretty quickly that Ina Garten was the way to go. I love the Barefoot Contessa for her relaxed unpretentious style, her simple, delicious and totally accessible food and the way she seems to enjoy the process of planning and executing a meal the same way I do. I would channel my inner Contessa and come up with a sensational meal.
The dish I ended up making was a sautéed cherry tomato, leek, roasted shrimp and feta cheese combination— and holy cow was it good! I used every ripe vegetable my garden had to offer, some lovely fresh herbs as well as sweet shrimp and salty feta. Served over a little orzo with some crusty bread and a glass of white wine, it was summer perfection in a bowl.
And as for those chickens, I’ll keep you posted…
Roasted Shrimp with Tomatoes, Leeks & Feta
This combination of garden fresh veggies and herbs, sweet shrimp and zesty lemon is fantastic as a first course, entrée or even spooned over thick slices of grilled bread as an appetizer.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups leeks, sliced thin (about 3 medium)
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 fresh cayenne pepper, chopped (optional)
1 cup white wine
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato sauce
1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. medium shrimp (36/40 count), peeled
6 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup panko
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
5 large basil leaves, julienned
the zest of 1/2 a lemon
the juice of 1 lemon
- Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large ovenproof skillet heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, garlic and hot pepper and sautee for 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Add the cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
- Arrange the shrimp in one layer over the tomato mixture and sprinkle the crumbled feta evenly over the shrimp.
- In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, panko, parsley, basil, and lemon zest with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle generously over the shrimp.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the shrimp and top with additional fresh basil. Serve over orzo, rice or on grilled bread.