During this pandemic, we have watched television more than ever: movies, documentaries, opera from the Met, and, perhaps not surprisingly, cooking shows. Indeed, ever since we “cut the cable” and turned to streaming, I’m amazed at just how many television chefs there are. And although we’ve discovered a few new channels like Tastemade and Bon Appetit, none has in my opinion provided higher quality than good old PBS.
A recent episode of America’s Test Kitchen on PBS provided the source of today’s recipe: “Tuscan Shrimp and Beans.” As many Tuscan dishes, it features beans and is relatively easy to prepare. Yet I’m not so sure how authentically Tuscan the recipe is. Indeed, the only Tuscan shrimp dish that I’m familiar with is “Gamberi alla Viareggina”. That also combines beans (cannellini) and shrimp, but it’s usually served as an appetizer or a salad.
Moreover, I had to question how many Tuscan home chefs would follow a couple of steps in the recipe: brining the shrimp in sugar and salt and making a shrimp stock from the shells. I must admit, however, that these two techniques added so much flavor to the dish that they outweigh any digression from tradition.
Despite all my reservations, this recipe yielded an outstanding seafood entrée that I’m sure would please almost any Tuscan I know. The shrimp were tender and succulent, subtly sweet and lightly spiced. The beans absorbed the rich flavors of the sauce, enhanced in flavor from the shell stock and in texture from the canning juices of a portion of the beans. Finally, finishing the dish with lemon zest and juice together with some shredded basil and a drizzle of oil elevated the dish even more. Best accompanied by thickly sliced, crusty Italian bread.
Tuscan Shrimp and Beans (from America’s Test Kitchen, Season 18, “Italian Seafood Suppers” on PBS)
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper
1 pound large shell-on shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined, and tails removed, shells reserved
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans (1 can drained and rinsed, 1 can left undrained)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
¼ cup shredded fresh basil
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
1. Dissolve sugar and 1 tablespoon salt in 1 quart cold water in large container. Submerge shrimp in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove shrimp from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shrimp shells and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn spotty brown and skillet starts to brown, 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Remove skillet from heat and carefully add 1 cup water. When bubbling subsides, return skillet to medium heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
4. Strain mixture through colander set over large bowl. Discard shells and reserve liquid (you should have about 1/4 cup). Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
5. Heat 2 tablespoons oil, onion, garlic, anchovies, pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in now-empty skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
6. Add 1 can drained beans, 1 can beans and their liquid, tomatoes, and shrimp stock and bring to simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
7. Reduce heat to low, add shrimp, cover, and cook, stirring once during cooking, until shrimp are just opaque, 5 to 7 minutes.
8. Remove skillet from heat and stir in basil and lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
9. Transfer to serving dish, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and serve.
Wine Pairing: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vermentino