Friday, December 30, 2011

Easy Decadence: Creamy Meyer Lemon-Shrimp Penne

It happens every year about this time, like clockwork. Between Michael's birthday, Christmas prep, and then our anniversary? I don't get to spend much time in my kitchen cooking in late December. However, once things begin to wind down a bit, I'm chomping at the bit to get back in my the familiar routine of chopping and stirring. That's exactly what I did last night. I knew that I wanted something comforting and just a bit decadent...but I also wanted to be in and out of the kitchen in about 45 minutes.

I started thumbing through cookbooks and came up with just the thing: a creamy pasta dish with shrimp and lemon. Then, I worked some Weekend Gourmet magic on it and made it my own. The original recipe calls for making a quick cream sauce with chicken broth and cream cheese.  Which sounded really good...but I decided some garlic, shallots, and bacon would make it that much better. I also subbed less-tart Meyer lemon since I had one on hand. This dish was creamy, comforting, and full interesting flavors. And two kinds of cheese: parmesan and mozzarella.

Creamy Meyer Lemon-Shrimp Penne
adapted from Spread a Little Joy

Step 1:  Heat a pot of generously salted water to boil and add 2 cups penne pasta. While it cooks, assemble the sauce. Add 1 tbs. olive oil to a deep saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 chopped shallot, 2 finely minced cloves of garlic, and two slices crumbled bacon. Saute for about five minutes, until the bacon has crisped and the shallot is soft.

Note: You can use leftovers from breakfast if you want, but I keep a package of pre-cooked bacon in my fridge for just this type of recipe.

Step 2:  Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and 4 ounces softened cream cheese to the pan. Whisk until completely combined; it will be nice and smooth. Add the zest of one Meyer lemon and the juice of 1/2 the lemon. Stir to combine, then add 1 lb. medium shrimp and 1-2 tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley. Combine and reduce heat to med-low. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through.

Note: If you've a bit of time to spare, I find that my shrimp always have the best flavor and texture if I brine them in salted water for 15-30 minutes after peeling.

Step 3:  Add the drained cooked penne and 1/3 cup grated parmesan to the pan. Toss to combine and top with 1 cup shredded mozzarella. Turn off the heat and let the dish set for a few minutes...this gives the penne time to soak up some of the sauce and lets the mozzarella melt just a bit.

Dish into bowls to serve...feel free to sprinkle with a bit more parmesan or parsley if you like. I served this pasta with a simple salad and hot garlic bread. We really enjoyed this dish. For something so simple to whip up, it was really flavorful. 

The creamy sauce was just a bit smoky from the bacon, and the shallots were a nice compliment as well. The lemon flavor was very subtle. If you're a bit citrus fan, feel free to add the juice of an entire Meyer lemon. Or just do what we did: squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the top of each serving for a little extra zing.

Hope y'all have a fantastic New Year!! We're planning a low-key celebration. We plan to grab some dinner using some of the many restaurant gift cards we received for Christmas. Then we'll come back to Casa Garcia to ring in 2012 with a champagne toast and watching the ball drop in Times Square. I'll be back on Sunday to share a couple of fun appetizers that are suitable for game watching, Oscar parties, etc. 

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