Italian Style Shrimp and GritsFebruary 21, 2017 By Cathy — 6 Comments
You’re going to love this Italian spin on a southern classic. Creamy polenta is topped with cornmeal crusted shrimp in a zesty tomato sauce.
This dish is my version of shrimp and grits, with an Italian spin. I pair cornmeal crusted shrimp and creamy polenta with a rich tomato sauce flecked with pancetta. Not technically grits (it’s polenta) but it is inspired by one of my favorite southern dishes. I am fully aware that grits and polenta, while similar, are not the same, but the idea of grits, or grit, is very much on my mind today.
Grit, defined by Merriam Webster: firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.
Grit is a quality or part of someone’s character that is often hard to define, but to me, perhaps one of the most important. Sure, if you ask someone what they seek in a partner or friend, you’ll hear honesty, kindness, sense of humor…and yeah, of course I’m totally on board with those! But grit….well, the older I get, I might just list that first.
If there’s one thing you begin to realize as you mature, is that everyone faces some type of adversity in their lives. The spectrum is wide, the peaks and valleys expansive, but we’re seldom immune to some type of crazy curveball that life will throw our way. It may be health, love, work. It may be simple, it may be traumatic, it may be unjust, but it will be yours.
I bring this up because I’m coming off of a discussion that I just had with my older son. He’s dealing with a bout of hives, one of many that he’s experienced over the past few years. One that, on this particular round, has lasted off and on since October. It’s uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing, and it’s incredibly frustrating. There’s been no known cause and up to this point, no real treatment. And he’s pissed off. He deserves to be, but then he needs to move on.
Of course that’s easier said than done, especially for a 12 year old in his first year of middle school. Sure, we can go down the path that there are a million people that have it worse. That he’s incredibly fortunate in so many other ways. But, this is his life, his situation, and he needs to know that he has every right to feel his feelings. He should be pissed off. I am for him. But…and here’s the big but…he will persevere. He is fortunate, he is healthy and ultimately the way he navigates through this hurdle will make him stronger.
He has to dig deep. He needs to stiffen up and maybe learn to laugh off a comment that’s hurtful or embarrassing. He needs to put himself out there at the time when he would rather grab his bag and go.
Grit. It’s about facing what’s uncomfortable. For yourself. For others. It’s about not giving up and not running away. It’s about taking a moment to yourself to feel really crappy, but then choosing to move through it.
Grit. Let me tell you, he has it. I’m just not sure if he knows it. He’s been dealing with this off and on for years and frankly he’s been far more steely than I imagine I would ever be. He’s dealt with the unknown and the possibility that he may never know. But last night he had one of those moments when he just had enough. He was uncomfortable and itchy and so, so mad. So we talked for a while about it. I don’t have all the answers and I didn’t pretend to, but I tried to really listen and let him know that I heard him. And then I hugged him and gave him the only answer I have. It sucks, but I know that he’s going to come out on the other side of this. This is one of those defining moments in his life when he needs to decide if it’s chin up or head in the sand. And yeah, that was a lot for an itchy 12 year old to take.
The good news is we just learned about a possible treatment. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks if he qualifies and fingers crossed, it will help. But in the meantime life has taught him a pretty valuable lesson. He’s learned how to push through a tough spot, to not rush to judgment of others because you never know what they might be going through, and that he’s stronger than he thinks. Life isn’t perfect and no one promised it would be, but that’s part of what makes it worth living. It’s like getting out and appreciating the warm, sunny weekend we just had after a stretch of cold gray days. It was especially sweet because we’d been without it for so long.
So (and I appreciate the leeway)…I bring you shrimp and “grits” today, Italian style. The creamiest, most gorgeous (yes, gorgeous) polenta is topped with a flavorful tomato sauce and tender shrimp coated with crunchy cornmeal. It’s as if my Italian grandma lived in the south! The richness from the tomato paste in the sauce is balanced with the saltiness savoriness of the pancetta and the shrimp are impossibly tender and tasty thanks to a quick soak in a well-seasoned marinade. And since we’re talking about grit, let me tell you…there was no one that had more of it than my grandma. I think she would be proud of this dish and of her great-grandson’s grittiness if she were alive to meet him today. I know that I am.
- Creamy Polenta
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Shrimp and Sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1½ cups yellow cornmeal
- Canola oil for frying
- 2 oz pancetta, small diced
- 1 large shallot (1/4 cup), minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1½ Tbsp tomato paste
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
- 2 scallions, chopped
- Creamy Polenta: Combine milk, stock and salt in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat and slowly pour the cornmeal in while steadily whisking. Cover and cook over very low heat, for about 40 mins, stirring frequently.
- Stir in the butter and cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Shrimp and Sauce:Make the shrimp and sauce while the polenta cooks. In a medium bowl whisk together the sugar, salt, paprika, garlic powder, lemon zest, cayenne, black pepper and olive oil. Add the shrimp and toss well to combine.
- Let the shrimp sit in the marinade at room temperature for about 20 mins. Remove the shrimp from the marinade, gently shake them off before tossing them into the cornmeal. Evenly coat the shrimp in cornmeal and set aside.
- Place a large saute pan over med/high heat and cook the pancetta until browned. Remove the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate, but don't remove the grease from the pan.
- Add the shallot and garlic to the pan and cook for about 3 mins until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for about 2 mins, then add the tomato paste and continue to cooke another 1-2 mins while stirring.
- Whisk in the wine and then the stock. Season with salt and pepper and allow the sauce to reduce by a third. Whisk in the butter and stir in the reserved pancetta.
- Keep the sauce warm over low heat while you cook the shrimp.
- Heat the canola oil in a large non-stick skillet until shimmering. Add the shrimp, but don't crowd the pan. Cook it in two batches if necessary.
- Cook the shrimp until golden brown on one side, about 2 mins, then flip. Cook on the other side until golden brown, an additional 2-3 mins.
- To serve: Spoon the polenta into a bowl and top with a couple spoonfuls of sauce. Top with shirmp and sprinkle with parsley and scallions.