We spent the late afternoon at the playground, the one that overlooks the ocean. It was unusually warm and many families were lingering as the sun dipped down like a Eucharist into the cup of the sea. No one wanted to go home on this last day of being outside without a sweater; we may not see another like this until May. Finally the parents, reluctant, looking to the horizon, rounded up their children and went home.
The girls played swimming pool in the living room by dragging every quilt and throw pillow into a pile beneath the sofa and jumping in, pretending to dive. I put on some music and started the dance, boiling water, preheating the oven. The windows steamed up and we turned on lights and music against the darkness. This is our home, we say as we cook in our kitchens by imaginary hearths; this is our refuge from the wilderness.
In here we are safe and well. As I cook for my family I feel, in that bracket of ordinary time, like I am finally doing something right. All of my energy is poured into the act and I am entirely present, chopping, stirring, tasting from the wooden spoon. Even if all the day was chaos this magic hour gives a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Nourish, converse, blow out the candles, dry the dishes with a flour sack cloth.
I had a strong vision for this dinner and it turned out exactly as I’d hoped. The single poblano pepper makes the sauce good and spicy. It wasn’t simmered for hours, but almost fresh, very bright. Polenta – or maybe just grits? – feels so homey to me, the quintessential peasant fare to warm the soul and bones. Corn goes so well with shrimp and bacon. Don’t overcook the shrimp. Don’t make too few, because you will eat some before you even get to the table.
Served with roasted cauliflower (not pictured). Spinach also would have been nice. Feeds 2 adults and 0 children because “polenta is gross baby food and ew shrimps look like sea creatures.” Mangia!
- 4 strips bacon
- 1 cup polenta (corn meal)
- 3 cups water
- Dash salt
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 poblano pepper, diced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup diced canned tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 12 large shrimp, peeled, deveined
- Preheat oven to 400
- Cook bacon strips for 20 minutes on a cookie sheet
- Remove from oven, pat with paper towel, roughly chop
- In a medium cooking pot over medium-high heat add olive oil, onion, and pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Add bay leaf and garlic and cook until translucent. Stir in the tomato paste and pour in diced tomatoes. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered.
- Slowly stir polenta into salted, boiling water. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring in butter.
- Heat butter in a cast iron (or other, heavy -bottomed) skillet. Cook the shrimp on high until sizzling and pink, turning once, 3-4 minutes, depending on size. Season with a bit of salt.
- Plate with a scoop of soft polenta, a ladle of spicy sauce, 6 shrimp and crumbled bacon on top.