Monday, June 25, 2012

Shrimp Po' Boys Made Easy

Looking for a hot sandwich for a summer day? Let’s take a trip to New Orleans. Yes, I know they have luxurious restaurants, but more humble fair, even street food, is excellent there, as well. One of the most basics is a po’ boy shop, serving red beans and rice, jambalaya, and shrimp po’ boys.

A Po’ Boy (poor boy) is a traditional submarine sandwich of Louisiana. They almost always consist of meat or fried seafood, stuffed in a baguette or similar crusty bread. The bread is an integral part of the sandwich, using a crusty bread similar to a baguette. It’s so popular, there’s a po’ boy festival each year. I don’t want to wait until late fall, though, so I thought I’d get an early start.

There are many stories relating the origin of the po' boy sandwich. One popular theory sayd that "po' boy" was coined New Orleans restaurant owners Benny and Clovis Martin, who were former streetcar conductors. In 1929, during a four-month strike against the streetcar company, the Martin brothers served the strikers free sandwiches. The Martins' restaurant workers referred to the strikers as "poor boys", and the sandwiches took on the name.

 A “half po’ boy” is six inches long, and about the right size for me. Baguettes can vary in size. I used one that was about 2 feet long, and 2 1/2 inches in diameter. All kinds of meat and sausage can be used, but this version features fried shrimp. Sort of.

As many of you know, I like to cook, but I don’t always like to cook from scratch. You’re more than welcome to make your own breaded and fried shrimp for this, but I used frozen breaded popcorn shrimp, cooked in the oven. Some days the extra work is worth it. Some days it’s not.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Paring knife
Serrated knife
Rimmed baking sheet
Chef’s knife

1 pound frozen breaded popcorn shrimp
1 long baguette
1 large tomato, cored and thinly sliced
1 large dill pickle, finely diced
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
4 green lettuce leaves
Cooking spray

Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread the frozen shrimp evenly on the sheet. Sprinkle with the Cajun seasoning and bake according to package directions.

In the meantime, cut the baguette loaf into four 6-inch pieces. Slice each piece crosswise to open the sandwich like a hot dog bun, being careful not to cut all the way through. Use your fingers to hollow out the inside of the baguette pieces, removing some of the inside crumb from both top and bottom crusts. Save the removed bread crumb for making fresh breadcrumbs, later.

Spread the mayonnaise evenly and liberally inside each hollow crust. Sprinkle with lemon juice and season with a bit of salt and pepper. You can add more Cajun spice at this point if you like it spicer.

When the shrimp is done cooking, spread the pickles and shrimp into the bottom crusts. Top each sandwich with tomato slices and a lettuce leaf and fold the sandwich back up to make it whole.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Baked Ziti

Baked ziti is a perfect example of how versatile pasta can be as a base for casseroles. In this recipe, mozzarella provides the binding agent. Fresh mozzarella is preferred for moisture and creaminess, but regular block mozzarella can be used. If ziti can’t be found, other kinds of  short, tubular pastas such as macaroni, rigatoni, or penne will work nicely.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press (optional)
Box grater
Rasp grater or micro-plane
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or large pot
Large skillet
9” x 13” glass baking dish
Large spoon

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon salt, for boiling water
4 quarts water
1 pound ziti
2 tablespoon olive oil, separated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, for sauce

Placing a rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Begin bringing the water to a boil in a Dutch oven or large cooking pot to cook the pasta.

In the meantime, make the sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the canned tomatoes, crushed and diced, along with their canning juice. Cook until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove from the heat.

When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and the ziti. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the ziti is mostly tender, but still a little firm, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and return to the Dutch oven. Stir the tomato sauce into the ziti, tossing to coat.

Grease a 9” x 13” glass baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Spread half the ziti mixture evenly into the dish. Sprinkle half the mozzarella cheese and half the Parmesan cheese evenly over the pasta layer. Repeat, layering with the remaining ziti and cheeses.

Bake until the cheeses turn golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.