For one thing, this dish is not photogenic. Fennel, shrimp, white beans…all in the white/beige family…don’t exactly pop for the camera. But, oh how they do pop on the palate! For another, this comes together so easily and so fast that I may have just gotten too excited about eating to take many photos.
Have you ever wondered about the moment in history, the “Clan of the Cave Bears” moment when some person somewhere saw this ugly root thing and figured out how to make it into this:
“The Clan of the what?” you are asking if you are under 45, but not to worry, here’s the cheat sheet: the Clan books were a series of novels about prehistoric times, in which the heroine always seems to be on the scene exactly when major breakthroughs for humanity, like the wheel, or cutting your toe nails, are suddenly made. So, I’m wondering about that moment when carmelizing lowly roots into heavenly, sweet, melty magnificence was conceived. Surely there was an angels chorus–a bolt of lightning–sacrifices made to the God of Maillard Reactions, (formerly known as BRAHW-NING),…but really, who cares? It’s magic as far as I’m concerned, and I’m grateful to those ancients who risked there lives ingesting weird and possibly poisonous roots, and playing with fire, so that I could know how it’s done.
And the patient caramelization of the fennel is the longest part of this recipe…maybe 10 minutes. The rest of the ingredients spend a fleeting time in the pan, and before you know it, you are pulling your browned crostini slices out of the oven, piling a spoonful of this, simple-yet-complex-in-flavor mixture on each one. and serving a warm, hearty, delicious appetizer or light supper. Or, you can toss this with a pasta shape that will cradle the juices into your mouth, like a cavatelle, fusilli, or orecchiette. (See notes below for adding to pasta) Or, if you don’t want any carbs or grains (gluten intolerant or just dieting) you can eat this all by itself as a satisfying one-pan meal. Cave person or not, you’ll be glad you discovered it!
Shrimp, Fennel, White Bean & Arugula Crostini
Thinly sliced Ciabatta bread or baguette
4 T. extra virgin olive oil (high quality, fruity, dark)
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2-4 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 pound, shelled and deveined shrimp, raw (jumbo/14-16 count/lb)
1 cup rinsed cannelloni beans (or other white beans)
1 heaping cup of baby arugula ( or more if you like)
1/2 C. white wine
2 teaspoons Kosher salt, zest of one small lemon, pepper, fennel fronds (the leaves off the tops of the fennel bulbs..kind of look like dill)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the slices of bread on a baking sheet. Place 1-2 tablespoons. olive oil in a small bowl and snip some fennel fronds into the oil, crusing them lightly with a fork to impart their flavor to the oil. Using a pastry brush or teaspoon spread the oil across the top of each slice. Lightly toast in oven, approximately 8 minutes, watching closely. They will seem like they are not toasting, then when you turn your back they will burn! Remove from oven and set aside. (You can quickly reheat the crostini before serving, or toast the crostini closer to serving time, it’s up to you, but they are just fine made ahead and cooled down.)
2. Zest one lemon using microplane. Mix the zest thoroughly with the kosher salt. Cut shrimp into bite-sized pieces, discarding tails. Season with the lemon salt, and freshly ground pepper and toss to coat well.
3. Heat 2 T. olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel slices in a single layer and cook until lightly golden and slightly softened.
4. Reduce heat setting to low. Add garlic when pan is cooled down. Simmer 30 seconds. Do not let garlic burn. Add shrimp and stir for one minute. Shrimp will cook quickly, turning pink. Before the shrimp is fully cooked add white wine and beans. Turn heat up to medium and stir continuously for another minute or so allowing the wine to bubble and burn off it’s alcohol. Add greens and stir until just wilted. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl.
5. You can serve two ways…in a bowl with crostini on the side and allow guests to make their own crostini…or you can spoon the shrimp mixture directly on to crostini and serve immediately. The mixture serves well at room temperature as well as hot off the stove.
To use as a topping with pasta:
1. prepare your pasta according to package directions, cooking to “al dente” or until the pasta is cooked but still has a “bite” to it, because we are going to continue cooking it for a minute or two with the shrimp mixture and you don’t want too soft pasta.
2. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta. Return drained pasta to the pot, add 1/4 cup of the pasta water (or more as needed), and a teaspoon of olive oil to coat over medium-low heat. Add the shrimp, fennel mixture to the pasta and gently combine with a large spoon or rubber spatuala, taking care not to mush the beans. Do this for about 1-2 minutes over the heat. Remove from heat and serve immediately.