Kristine Kidd

Cabin Life, Cooking, Improving Lives

May in the Mountains
Shrimp Sauté with Creamy Polenta, Peppers and Zucchini

Reading outside on a sunny afternoon, shiny green leaves appearing on the Aspen trees, the season’s first wild flowers, deer napping in our yard, 17°F mornings, hiking through deep snow drifts, and even snow flurries. May is a time of change in the High Sierra.

We arrived at the cabin on a sunny, 70°F afternoon, thrilled that our favorite Welcome to the Sierra trail was finally clear of snow. The one-mile drive to the trailhead had been closed off since the storms of early December, but at long last we could start off our stay in the mountains the way we like to, getting out walking. Each breath of the fresh alpine air was invigorating, especially after 5 weeks in the city, and the sky was the bluest blue we’d seen in over a month. The dogs raced up and back, following every scent the awakening spring put forth.

At the cabin, a peaceful band-tailed pigeon was nesting and cooing in the eves in full view from our dining nook, and five deertwo yearlings and three pregnant doessettled down daily for an after-lunch nap in our yard, barely visible, nestled among the trees and brush.

At dinner, we planned out hikes we’d like to take this trip, happy to be on the trails, but also with the goal of building strength for a challenging ascent we’ve planned for July. Two days later we met up with LA friends Kathleen and Chris for our first back country outing in months. The goal was Tyee Lake #4, up at 11,587’, with an elevation gain of 2,262’ over about 3½ miles. As we scaled the mountain, temperatures dropped and snow drifts across the trail were deeper and deeper, until finally I called it quits when I sank in all the way to my hips and needed an assist getting unstuck. We all returned to the cabin to warm up in front of a fire with mugs of hot chocolate.

The weather was cold for the remainder of our stay, so we moved to lower trails, well below the snow line. There we found early wild flower bloomslike scarlet Indian paintbrush and extravagant prickly poppiesmixed with views of distant snowcapped mountains and flamboyant Sierra Wave clouds.

We craved warming food for dinners, and one of our easy mountain favorites was just right for après hiking: Shrimp Sauté with Creamy Polenta, Bell Peppers and Zucchini. To keep shopping time to a minimum on these getaways, I keep the cupboards and freezer stocked with what I call mountain staples- EVOO, cornmeal, both canned and dried beans, chicken and vegetable broth, pasta, lots of dried herbs and spices, nuts for trail mix, Kind bars for a quick blast of energy, frozen shrimp, fish, chicken, and pizza crusts. There is always a variety of cheeses in the fridge and chocolates in the pantry. From LA I bring long-lasting produce like onions, potatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, fresh herbs from my garden (enclosed with air in a plastic bag, they generally keep fresh for a week), and apples. As this blog continues, you’ll see how I turn these ingredients, supplemented with fresh produce from a local organic farm, into terrific meals. For today, here is the very easy, satisfying, and of course delicious shrimp and polenta recipe.

Shrimp Sauté with Creamy Polenta, Peppers and Zucchini

Kristine Kidd
In just 10 minutes in the microwave, cornmeal cooks into a marvelously creamy polenta. Prepping the veggies and seasoning the shrimp before starting to cook the polenta will ensure everything comes together at the same time. I love the full corn flavor of Bob’s Red Mill’s medium grind cornmeal and corn polenta. This time I flavored the polenta with fresh thyme I’d brought up to the cabin from my LA herb garden, but other excellent choices are minced fresh basil, Italian parsley, cilantro or marjoram. A big pinch of dried herbs is also good, and a tablespoon or two of pesto (added at the end with the cheese) is another tasty option. I love the texture and flavor of large shrimp, but use whatever size you prefer. The one trick to great shrimp is to not overcook. I pull the skillet from the heat before they are cooked through, allowing their residual heat to finish them perfectly.
Makes 2 servings
Servings 2

Ingredients
  

Polenta

  • 1½ to 1¾ cups water
  • 6 tablespoons medium grind cornmeal or corn polenta
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Vegetables

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red bell pepper, trimmed, seeds removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 large zucchini, trimmed, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shrimp

  • 10 oz large, 16 to 20 count shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine or red wine

Instructions
 

  • For the polenta: In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the water (1½ cups for medium grind cornmeal, 1¾ cups for polenta), cornmeal, 1 tablespoon olive oil, thyme, salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Microwave for 5 minutes. Stir. Microwave 5 more minutes. If not yet creamy, cook about 1 minute longer. Stir in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If shrimp are not yet ready, leave the bowl in the microwave to keep the polenta warm.
  • For the vegetables: In a heavy large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the peppers and sauté 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are crisp tender, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
  • For the shrimp: Pat the shrimp dry and place in a small bowl. Add the smoked paprika, Aleppo pepper, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper and toss to distribute the spices. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same skillet and warm over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until they begin to curl but are not quite cooked through, about 1 minute on each side. Add the wine and boil to reduce slightly.
  • Divide the polenta between 2 warm plates, spreading in the center. Spoon the vegetables over. Top with the shrimp and pour the pan juices over. Serve right away.
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