I always wonder why more pizzeria operators don’t do more with shrimp. Yes, I know adding any type of seafood to the operation poses a few issues –– buying, storage and cooking — that might be more than some operators want to deal with. But using shrimp on pizza, in a pasta dish or as part of a salad expands your repertoire of offerings and gives your place a forward look. Let’s examine the possibilities.
Ordering and buying shrimp is known as the “count.” For example, 21/25 means that there are 21 to 25 of that particular size of shrimp in one pound. The rule of thumb on this is that the smaller the number, the bigger the shrimp. For example, a five-pound bag of shrimp with a 10/12 count means that there are about 50 to 60 shrimp in that bag; an 11/15 count means that there are about 55 to 75 shrimp in that five pound bag. Further help in deciding how much shrimp to buy (the count) goes like this: 16/20 suggests extra-large shrimp; 21/30 suggest large shrimp; 31/35 suggests medium and 36/45 means small shrimp.
When buying shrimp, keep in mind there should be no aroma to them at all. If you detect the smell of ammonia, that batch of shrimp just might be over the hill.
With few exceptions, all shrimp comes to market frozen. The shrimp is harvested, cleaned and frozen before the boat hits the dock. Raw frozen shrimp will last six months; frozen cooked shrimp should be used within two months.
To thaw frozen shrimp, put the shrimp in a colander under cool running water. Pry the shrimp apart as the water runs. In about 15 minutes, the shrimp will be thawed. Rinse the shrimp thoroughly and blot it dry with paper towels.
You might be wondering whether you should work with frozen cooked or frozen raw shrimp. For me, that choice should be made based upon your intended usage. I favor frozen raw because when precooked is used in a dish or on pizza, it has to go through the cooking process and could result in a tough, chewy shrimp. On the other hand, there are times when you might not have a choice. But if you follow the recipes I give here, you should come out just fine.
Before we get to those, though, here’s a fast and easy pasta dish that uses frozen cooked shrimp: In a large sauté pan, sauté garlic in olive oil. Add some tomato sauce and crushed red pepper flakes. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Stir in the shrimp and cook for only two to three minutes. Serve the shrimp and sauce over cooked pasta. Garnish with flat-leaf parsley or fresh basil. Serve.
Fettuccine with Shrimp and peppers //////////
Yield: 4 servings (scale up in direct proportion)
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup each red, green and yellow bell peppers cut into ¼-inch strips
8 ounces fettuccine pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium shrimp (31-35) shelled, deveined and butterflied
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup torn fresh basil
In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the pasta after it has been cooked, warm the olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the bell peppers. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 to 3 more minutes to soften the peppers.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is barely al dente. Drain, reserve and keep warm.
Add the garlic and the shrimp to the sauté pan with the peppers. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp just begins to turn pink (the shrimp should be barely done). Add the red pepper flakes and basil. Add the reserved pasta to the sauté pan. Cook and stir for 1 minute to incorporate the flavors. Portion into heated pasta bowls and serve at once.
Shrimp pizza //////
Yield: one 14-inch pizza
14-inch pizza shell
8 ounces large uncooked
shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 garlic cloves, pressed
¾ cup shredded provolone
Brush the rolled out pizza crust with olive oil. Scatter
the garlic evenly over the olive oil. Cut each shrimp into
2-3 pieces. Scatter the shrimp over the crust and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake.
Chef’s Note: A different way to make this pizza is to devein, butterfly and broil (or grill) extra-large shrimp. Toss the shrimp in olive oil. Brush the pizza crust with olive oil. Add crushed garlic and provolone.
Bake. When the pizza comes out of the oven arrange the shrimp over the cheese. Sprinkle on some chopped flat-leaf parsley and serve.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
2¼ cups blanched whole almonds, plus more for garnishing
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
15 glazed cherries or other fruit
Lightly oil two large baking sheets; line with parchment paper. In food processor, combine almonds and 1/3 cup sugar. Process until finely ground, scraping down sides once or twice. Set aside. In electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt at high speed until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to medium and gradually add remaining sugar. Return speed to high; beat mixture until stiff, shiny peaks form. Gently fold in ground almond mixture; add almond and vanilla extracts. Roll mixture into one-inch balls, place two inches apart on baking sheets; flatten slightly. Top each with cherry or almond. Bake in 350°F oven until cookies are golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on sheets 5 minutes; transfer to racks to cool completely. Store, wrapped in walk-in for several days or freeze up to three weeks. For service, re-crisp in warm oven.
Cook’s note: For Amarettini cookies (mini versions), make into ½-inch balls; reduce cooking time to 15 minutes.
Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Bruschetta
Yield: about 30 bruschetta (scale up in direct proportion)
4 cups canned plum tomatoes, drained of liquid
2 cups of fresh basil leaves, washed and dried (use paper toweling) and torn
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2 large French or Italian baguettes, sliced about 1-inch thick to make 30 pieces
6 cloves (about) garlic, peeled
1 ½ pounds fresh mozzarella (fior de latte), sliced a little less than ¼-inch thick
Put the tomatoes in a large bowl. Crush by hand to create a rough puree. Drain off any excess water. Add the torn basil, the olive oil, salt and pepper (can be prepped well ahead and held).
On a baking sheet, arrange the slices of bread. Toast the bread in the oven until golden brown. Rub some of each of the garlic cloves on the toasted side of the bread.
Lay a thin slice of mozzarella on each slice of bread. Spread some of the tomato/basil mixture over the mozzarella. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
To speed up the process or for a volume situation, slice a baguette or small loaf of Italian or French bread through the middle (horizontally) to form two long pieces. Toast or grill each piece, rub with garlic cloves and set aside. Brush each piece with olive oil. Set aside. To order, top each long slice with tomato/basil/cheese. Cut into individual serving portions (about 2 inches by 2 inches).
Artichoke and Smoked Bacon Pizza
Recipe courtesy of The Loop Pizza Grill
8-inch dough ball
1/3 ounce pesto
1 tablespoon Parmesan/Romano cheese blend
¾ cup mozzarella
7 Roma tomato slices
1/8 cup smoked bacon, cooked and diced
1/8 cup Portobello and white mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
¼ cup quartered artichoke hearts
1/8 cup Kalamata olives
1/8 cup roasted fresh garlic
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper blend
½ teaspoon basil chiffonade
Roll out dough ball. Top with pesto and all ingredients listed above except for basil.
Bake in a 550 F degree conveyor oven for 5 to 6 minutes.
Top with basil. Serve.
Yield: 4 servings
1¾ cups heavy cream, divided
6 tablespoons unsalted butter?
8 ½ ounces grated Parmesan cheese?
1 teaspoon kosher salt?
Cracked black pepper to taste?
Combine 1¼ cups cream with the butter in a large sauté pan. Heat over a low flame, whisking until the butter melts and the cream comes to a slow simmer. Remove the pan from the heat. Boil the pasta until slightly undercooked (it will continue to cook while you finish the sauce). ?Drain the pasta and add it to the pan (do not rinse it). Add the remaining ingredients. Heat the pasta and sauce over a low flame, tossing gently, until the cheese melts and incorporates into the sauce and the sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. If holding, right before service, add a touch more cream to loosen.
There are some vegetables that you simply must peel to consume. The beautiful eggplant however, can be eaten, skin and all. It boils down to personal preference. Once you realize the health benefits from the eggplant’s skin, your peeler may never make another appearance again.
Eggplant actually ranks among the most popular edible vegetables of the world since it is enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean, the Far East, the Americas and practically in all Latin American countries. Undoubtedly, its popularity stems from the pleasantly bitter and vibrant taste, agreeable texture and endless versatility. It can be prepared in a variety of ways; pan-fried, breaded and deep-fried, stewed, baked, pureed and grilled.
When purchasing eggplant, look for plump, heavy, unwrinkled eggplant that feels quite firm to the touch. There should be no external blemishes or signs of bruising and decay. Reject any that are wilted or soft. It’s harvested ripe and best eaten soon after purchase. It can be stored for several days, unwrapped, in a refrigerator at 40 F. When cutting or chopping it, use a stainless-steel knife, since carbon-steel utensils can cause discoloration and a bitter aftertaste.
Sometimes, an eggplant can be a little more bitter than usual. One trick is to slice or dice your eggplant and then lightly salt it. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. This will remove the bitterness and extract quite a bit of water, so you’ll need to rinse then pat the eggplant dry.
There are literally hundreds of ways to prepare eggplant, but eggplant Parmesan, ratatouille and moussaka are easy to prepare and loved by many!
Eggplant Parmesan can be prepared a couple of different ways. Home cooks will slice the eggplant, lightly bread and fry it and then layer it in a casserole with sauce and Parmesan cheese then bake it like lasagna. This is my personal favorite! In restaurants, however, we will usually fry our breaded eggplant, then sauce and cheese it to order. Many restaurants today will purchase their eggplant already breaded and frozen. This is called a value-added product and eliminates the time of preparation as well as waste. Most frozen, breaded eggplant has already been partially fried. This gives the pizzeria operator some alternatives during final preparation. Deep-frying is certainly the easiest way to finish cooking the eggplant, but you can also finish cooking it on the flattop grill or in your pizza oven, if you don’t have a fryer. (As a side note, breaded eggplant can be offered as a pizza topping or on an eggplant Parmesan sub.)
Cutting eggplant into sticks instead of circles allows you to offer fried eggplant as an appetizer alternative.
A healthier choice when offering eggplant would be to drizzle it with olive oil and a dusting of salt and pepper, then grill it. You can do this with eggplant circles or planks. By cutting the eggplant into planks, this allows you to stuff and roll your eggplant or layer it with a ricotta cheese filling, sautéed spinach, roasted red peppers or whatever else you may like. Top it with tomato sauce and cheese for a wonderful dish.
Here is an eggplant dish called Moussaka that is found in many Greek restaurants and pizzerias:
2 pounds lean ground lamb
1 minced onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 large can diced tomatoes in puree
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 large or 2 small eggplants
2 cups vegetable oil
1 stick butter
1/3 cup flour
3 cups milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Place the onion, garlic and lamb in a saucepan, then cook for 4 to 5 minutes until browned.
Add the tomatoes in puree, wine, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, fry the sliced eggplant in batches in the oil for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper and set aside.
Melt the in a saucepan, then add the flour and cook for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk.
Return to the heat and cook, stirring continuously until thick and smooth. Add salt and pepper and half the cheese.
Layer 1/3 of the eggplant in an oven proof casserole and spoon over 1/2 the meat mixture. Repeat the layers, finishing with a layer of eggplant.
Spoon the white sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes until golden brown.
On some levels of taste and interest, you could call a ricotta pie the Italian version of American cheesecake. The good news is that a ricotta pie can be just as versatile as cheesecake when it comes to flavors and add-ins. And more good news is that a ricotta pie, to my way of baking, is a lot easier to make than cheesecake. There’s nothing easier than these two recipes, so give it a shot. Just think how great these ricotta pies would be as a special dessert, one that you can proudly point out on your menu that it is made in-house!
Makes a 9-inch pie
1 pound ricotta, drained of any excess water
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
One 9-inch pre-baked pie crust (store-bought is fine)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, sugar, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract and cream or milk. Beat well with a spoon. Pour the filling into the baked piecrust. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
Set the pie on a cookie sheet and bake on the center shelf of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the center is just set and the pie is golden brown. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Now here is another ricotta pie, one that takes a little more work, but one you should consider, too, as a must try. In this version, you will make your own crust, forming it into a 9 -inch x 1 1/2 - 2-inches deep non-stick layer cake pan.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup unsalted melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
In a mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and the sugar (alternatively, you can use the food processor). Lightly grease the cake pan. Press this mixture into the pan evenly across the bottom and up the sides. Chill for at least 1 hour.
1 1/2 pounds ricotta, drained well
3/4 cup sugar
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup diced candied fruit (optional)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Combine the ricotta, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon. Beat lightly to combine. Fold in the candied fruit if you are using it, then the chocolate chips.
Bake the pie in a preheated 350 F oven for 35-40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let pie cool. Refrigerate, covered.
Slice into wedges and serve with a berry fruit sauce or fresh fruit like strawberries or blueberries. You can also dust the top and the plate with cocoa powder just before serving for added interest.