I never thought that eliminating meat from a diet for a few weeks could be a penance, but that’s because I live in south Louisiana. If I lived in Birmingham, say, or Little Rock, it might be a different story. There, I wouldn’t have fresh oysters on the half-shell or crabs and shrimp that slept in the wetlands last night. Not only is succulent seafood surrounding us, but some of the best vegetables on the planet are just coming in season.
As a food writer, I know the frustrations of surviving Lent without meat because cooks want recipes for those weeks without steaks, pork chops and chicken. I suggest a field day with our great wealth of seafood, having a few egg entrées and taking advantage of seasonal asparagus and artichokes – two of my absolute favorites.
I wish that whole fish were more available in the city. If you have a fisherman in the family, you’ve got it made, but there are a few seafood markets around town that carry whole red snapper, redfish and sometimes grouper or amberjack. Unfortunately, they’re expensive but worth an occasional treat.
I have noticed lately that more restaurants are serving whole fish, which is my preference because as the old saying goes, “the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.” Fish can easily be removed from the long bone that runs through the center of the fish, but the flesh near the head must be picked, especially for children. My grandson and I split the tail, one of our favorite crunchy parts.
I like to pick crabs and peel shrimp, but for those busy cooks, there’s nothing handier than the frozen shrimp, peeled, deveined, packaged and sold in grocery stores. In no time at all you can produce a spectacular shrimp-stuffed artichoke for the dinner table. And I’m all for veggie meals, especially with asparagus. Just add cheese as a protein and pasta to fill you up; you’ll hardly miss the meat.
Rotini With Asparagus and Goat Cheese
1/2 pound rotini
1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 4-ounce log fresh goat cheese (not crumbled)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon plus more for garnish
1 can original Rotel tomatoes
1/3 cup capers
1 Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
Cook rotini according to package directions, adding asparagus in the last 3 minutes of cooking. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain pasta and asparagus.
In a large bowl, combine olive oil, goat cheese, lemon zest, tarragon, Rotel tomatoes, capers and seasonings. Add hot pasta and toss. Add just enough of the cooking liquid to make pasta the desired consistency, if needed. When serving, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Serves 3 to 4 as entrée or 6 as side dish
Stuffed Artichokes With Shrimp and Lemon-Dill Sauce
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
4 Tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white wine
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, fresh or frozen
3 Tablespoons fresh dill
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Trim off stem of artichokes and cut off tips of leaves with scissors. Spread leaves and rinse well with water. Turn upside down and drain.
In a medium bowl, mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. One at a time, place artichokes in a bowl and spoon mixture into large leaves, spreading them to hold more. Use up all of the breadcrumb mixture for the two artichokes and sprinkle with garlic powder. Drizzle olive oil over stuffing.
Heat 2 inches of water in a large pot and place artichokes in the pot on a steamer basket. Cover and cook over low heat until artichokes are tender, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, make sauce by melting butter in a medium saucepan. Sauté garlic in butter for a couple of minutes, stir in flour and cook, stirring, over low heat for a few minutes more. Add white wine, lemon juice, shrimp and seasonings. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink. Over low heat, add heavy cream and heat.
Do not bring to a boil. Adjust seasonings and keep warm.
When ready to serve, place an artichoke in each of two bowls. Spoon sauce over artichokes. Serve with hot French bread. Serves 2 as entrées
Roasted Whole Fish
1 3-to 4-pound fish such as red snapper or drum, cleaned and scaled with head on
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup minced green onion tops
1/4 cup minced herbs such as rosemary, thyme and/or mint
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Place fish on a baking pan and make 2 or 3 slices into the fish diagonally across both sides. Rub with olive oil all over. Salt and pepper the fish inside and out, and sprinkle with some of the lemon juice.
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Place fish in oven and roast on one side for 10 minutes. Turn and roast another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, on a chopping board, mince the parsley, garlic, green onion tops and herbs. Place in a bowl and stir in pepper flakes, vinegar, remaining lemon juice and a little more salt and pepper.
Remove fish from oven and spread chopped seasonings under the fish, in its cavity and on top of the fish. Return to oven and continue roasting for 5 to 10 more minutes. Fish should be just done, still moist and flaky. Remove from oven and let set for 6 to 8 minutes before serving. Place on a platter and spoon herbed seasonings from pan over fish.
To serve, slice portions from the top side of fish; turn and slice other side. Give the bony parts and tail to true fish lovers. Serves 4 to 6