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Jar of Calabrian chili paste
Spicy Calabrian Shrimp

Have you brought Calabrian chili paste into your kitchen? If you like Sriracha, Tabasco, or other spicy additives, you really should try this condiment. I recently made a delicious shrimp recipe with it after trying to find it for quite a while.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

After last week’s book review, I’ll show you the dish I cut my kitchen basil to make. It’s a delicious Italian recipe to add to your repertoire that’s anything but boring. Plus a couple of updates.

From The Last Blog

Since last week’s edition, I had a couple of email exchanges with Christopher Crompton of Pelargonium Press regarding Apartment Kitchen Gardening. He enjoyed my blog and loved the paint buckets, too. I sent him a few pictures, including the little plants that are now on the windowsill and will be planted soon. I have several tomatoes growing, and two strawberries, one of which will be ripe shortly. He suggested trying to plant the chickpeas, even after all this time. I’ll be doing that soon, too.

Christopher was surprised to find out that in the US, SNAP recipients can buy seeds and plants to grow their own food. Inspired by this info, he wrote a letter to the UK’s environment minister to suggest doing something similar there to help reduce the strong reliance on food banks. I don’t know if they have a program like SNAP there, but that would certainly help UK folks, too, especially if they could learn to grow in apartments. If it happens, I’m glad I could help, just a little.

Inflation

In a subsequent email, Christopher said that the “food front” in the UK also has a long road ahead. There is an effort to increase the standing of cooking classes in schools, as well as encourage people to grow their own food. He said that in time, there could be a shift in the UK’s culture. They are also experiencing a crisis with the higher cost of living now that will require a solution with multiple factors.

The man isn’t kidding. BF and I talk about this often. Inflation is getting worse with no end in sight, and it happened quickly. Public discourse can bring about needed changes, such as more people growing their own gardens. In example: on Sunday, I bought a box of 5 dozen eggs at Walmart that have gone up to $15. The price normally goes between $6 and $9, maybe $10. But after paying $13.33 for the last box just one week prior, it’s now over $15. I need to start looking for local chicken folks who sell their eggs, even if they’re the same price. I bought more white rice—yes, plain white rice, which I only restarted eating when I moved here. We’ll be getting more of that sort of thing in the coming months.

On a nicer note, I showed Christopher the blackberries that are growing here now, and I even picked four yesterday morning.

Four ripe blackberries on a tablecloth

Aren’t they beautiful? More to come soon.

He said he has some type of cultivated berries growing, but after a few jars of jam and giving away many little baskets, he’s done with them. Our berry season is short, so I pick as many as I can until they’re gone. Maybe I should learn to make jam too.

He also picks wild sloes to make sloe gin for the winter. Sounds like Amy’s basil pesto obsession, doesn’t it?

Christopher was also surprised that I prefer the British brands of tea, and I’ll be talking about that in an upcoming blog post. I may have omitted the fact that I generally drink them from a cup with the Texas flag. Separately, I’ll be chatting with him again soon one day about the next book they’re planning.

The New Addition

This weekend, BF got a text message from one of his car-guy friends. The man and his wife were out somewhere and came across a scrawny little kitten. Unfortunately, the man is horribly allergic to cats, to the point where he has been hospitalized twice. So, knowing I love the cats (or at least, I did), he texted BF, who brought it up to me. He showed me the pictures of the fluffy orange and white cat.

Remembering our experience with the Christmas kittens five years ago, I was not thrilled with the idea of another cat in here. This kitten is a little bigger than the previous rescues, and of course, BF couldn’t say no. Well, I couldn’t either. I tried.

Dirty, scrawny, starving, and scared, they put her in a little carrier and brought her over. After some food and water, she didn’t waste any time making herself comfortable in the Casa de Rurale, either.

Cat resting on cloth

There she is.

She likes sitting on the sewing machine table, but pretty much anywhere she likes. I was trying to work.

Cat on my arm

Do you think she likes me?

She didn’t take long to discover great places to nap:

Tiger Cat on futon

Where Catmandu and Kismet have gone before

Just make yourself at home, why don’t you?

Tiger Cat sleeping on bed

Awwww. . . .

We did give her a bath, which went about as well as you think it did. BF has a few scratches on his back despite the claw clipping prior to the washing.

Unfortunately, Tab E. Cat isn’t as thrilled with the new addition and let us know about it:

Tab E. Cat on dog cushion

He asserted his feline dominance, and left his “scent” behind on the dogs’ cushion, too.

Just as Broccoli Stirfry is starting to learn how to dog, Tab E. Cat restarted his antics. Thank heavens for Angry Orange, that’s all I’m saying.

The pit bull tried his favorite “get to know you” move, chasing her into a corner of the bathroom, and requiring me to pull him off by his collar. Earlier in the day, he and the now-30-pound puppy took off running after two people minding their own business on horseback. An 85-pound pit bull decided he was going to defend the homestead against horses. I’m sure the horses were laughing to themselves. It could have ended badly, but thankfully another neighbor saw it and stopped his Ford F150. The incident was mostly annoying and embarrassing.

I’m thinking of starting a GoFundMe page for the beasts.

Giada’s Italy: My Recipes For La Dolce Vita

This is Giada’s cookbook released in 2018, prior to her newest book, Eat Better, Feel Better. I bought a “signed copy” of Giada’s Italy at the Barnes & Noble in Mandeville one evening in April of 2018.

Ok, it was an “unauthorized purchase,” just something I wanted and there it was. It’s not something I do often (especially now), but I’m still a fan of Giada’s, so I bought one. However, I didn’t stand in line as I had before with a couple of her previous books—it was already signed, but likely not by Giada herself. That’s OK.

When I had the time, I read through the book and the recipes. It’s a marked departure from the previous formats of her books. After filming a couple of seasons of Giada in Italy in Positano and Florence instead of the usual California settings, there are plenty of pictures from both cities. One thing hasn’t changed: pictures of Giada, her daughter Jade, locals, and a few other family members enjoying the Italian seaside.

The Shrimp Recipe

Spicy Calabrian Shrimp is a recipe on page 41 of the book. Giada’s description says:

My version of a shrimp cocktail has a lot more kick than the steakhouse standard, thanks to the Calabrian chili paste. I use this spicy condiment in many of my recipes; it’s kind of like the Italian version of sriracha. If you can get your hands on fresh Thai basil, which has a slight licorice flavor, it’s really nice here, but if not, regular basil is just fine.

When BF saw the picture on page 40 of the shrimp, he said, “Oh, make that for me!” Sure, honey!

There was just one problem: Calabrian chili paste.

Remember, I now live in Central Louisiana, 300 miles away from Houston. Here, people get upset when you put salsa on cooked eggs as if you’ve committed a felony. Remember BF’s reaction years ago when I told him I needed allspice to make apple pie spice. Pointing at a huge rack of different local spice blends in Winn-Dixie, he said, “here’s all the allspice you need!” He didn’t know what I was talking about, and if he’d made that mistake in the Navy, he would have been thrown in the brig.

Nobody Had Any

Now, that link above will take you to Amazon’s entry for the condiment, but that wasn’t always the case—when they carried it, the site was always out. I literally couldn’t find the stuff.

A search turned up one brand on Nonna Box, a website that offers Italian ingredients shipped straight to your door, including the Calabrian chili paste. It’s currently out of stock, as it was before, but to buy it on this website would have been about $25 with taxes, shipping, and handling. OUCH.

I called the local outlets I thought should have such a thing, but nobody knew what I was talking about. (This was pre-pandemic.) Surprisingly, Rouse’s didn’t have it, considering their focus on Italian foods. I both visited Martin Wine & Spirits (formerly Martin Wine Cellar) in Metairie on one of my monthly jaunts and called the Mandeville store to no avail. I also called Red Stick Spice Company in Baton Rouge, they didn’t know what it was either.

My last resort: Phoenicia Foods in Houston. I sent an email, thinking, surely, they would have it, right?

Nope. And they still don’t, but they do offer to ship to addresses outside of Houston. Maybe I should take another look at their website. I so miss being able to shop in that huge place on Westheimer on the west side of town. They have the most interesting things imported from nearly everywhere.

Calabrian Chili Paste-Finally!

BF has not forgotten this recipe, and occasionally asked when I would make it for him. I reminded him that I still couldn’t get the chili paste. The look on his face made me think I think he didn’t get that part. He says I was just telling him a story to get out of making it, but that’s not the case.

One irony was that Ree Drummond used this hot stuff on her own TV show one day. In Pawhuska, Oklahoma, famous for its “middle of nowhere” vibe. And then she makes a comment about how easy it is to find now. Sorry, what?

Jar of Calabrian chili paste

There it is, the magical stuff.

Y’all, I’m in the middle of Louisiana. When you talk about shrimp, they are either fried or boiled and only grilled if you ask for it specifically. Most people don’t know what cumin and coriander are used for, much less something like chorizo. Calabrian chili paste is just not something anyone knows here, and that became obvious quickly, even with many alleged “gourmet cooks.” (Yes, I’m still writing legal copy.)

A few weeks ago, The Giadzy, Giada’s online magazine and brand, published this article on her love of Calabrian chili paste. I saw it on Facebook. They even sell it on their website. Hmmm. . .OK, should I look again on Amazon?

BINGO! It was the same brand Giada uses, and it was finally in stock.

I needed something else from Amazon, so I ordered the paste along with the other item to get free shipping. (And why not?) The order arrived a few days later. We bought a bag of frozen shrimp at Winn-Dixie and made our dinner plans.

When I was getting ready to cook, BF said, “so we’ll have this with pasta, right?” Say what? No!! I read him what Giada instructs to cook with it, but. . .well, let me get to the making of this dish.

Shrimp For Dinner

Here’s the recipe to print.

Spicy Calabrian Shrimp

Amy
Giada de Laurentiis' version of shrimp cocktail, made spicy with Calabrian chili paste. From Giada's Italy, c.2018.
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tbsp olive oil extra-virgin
  • 2 tsp Calabrian chili paste
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest from one-half lemon
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined tails intact
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped basil or Thai basil

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 425F
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, chile paste, lemon zest, oregano, and salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Allow the shrimp to marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature.
  • Spread the shrimp evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and opaque all the way through. Sprinkle the lemon juice and basil over the shrimp. Serve warm.

BF was quite happy that I was finally going to make it for him, four years after he first saw the recipe.

It’s simple to make, and Giada even tells you what to serve with it: Veal Saltimboca Milanese-Style on page 198 and Asparagus with Grilled Melon Salad on page 216. A teaspoon of Calabrian chili paste also goes in the salad along with cherry tomatoes, sliced cantaloupe, lime juice, Ricotta Salata cheese, and a few other ingredients. These ingredients are not the stuff of salads in this part of the US, save for cherry tomatoes, even in a restaurant that purports to be “Italian.”

One look at those recipes and I knew a) I would have more trouble finding ingredients, especially a 12-ounce veal chop and Ricotta Salata cheese, and b), he wouldn’t eat either of those anyway.

We’re not talking about the refined palates you see in Houston. No, we’re talking about a guy who spent three tours overseas: one with the US Army and two with the Navy Seabees, eating in chow halls. BF grew up not realizing that mac & cheese didn’t have to come from a box. He’ll eat ravioli from a can, but that little container of cheese tortellini from Trader Joe’s is still in the freezer because he’s not sure what it is or if he’s going to like it.

Spaghetti for him, and cauliflower rice for me.

I also realized I would need some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and might have to head to Rouses to get some. Nope—I already had a quart-sized bag in the big freezer, bought some time ago, and grated for whenever I need some.

Quart freezer bag of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

A delicious cheese, but you don’t need much.

Now you’re cooking with gas.

Making The Recipe

So, once you’ve got your ingredients together—including the hard-to-find chili paste—it all comes together quickly.

Ingredients for Spicy Calabrian Shrimp

The Setup

Preheat your oven to 425F. Then, mix up the ingredients:

Mixing herb ingredients inbowl

Two teaspoons are plenty of chili paste, trust me.

Add in the shrimp, mixing well to coat:

Shrimp in herb cheese mixture

Just like that.

Let them marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature. Then spread the shrimp out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake them for 10 minutes, until they’re pink and cooked.

Shrimp going into the oven

This doesn’t take long

While that’s cooking, chop the basil:

Basil on cutting board

That’s all I had, but I didn’t need much of it, thankfully

Chopped basil

Then just set that aside with the lemon juice

Chopped basil in pinch bowl

Just like that.

When the shrimp are cooked, sprinkle the lemon juice and chopped fresh basil over them and serve warm.

Two plates of spicy calabrian shrimp

Dinner! Spaghetti for him, Cauli-rice for me.

Guess what? He liked it! So now I can make it for him whenever we want, long as I have shrimp, the cheese, and the other ingredients.

Other Recipes In Giada’s Italy

The book has more delicious recipes, and I’ve tried a few:

  • Avocado white bean dip, page 25“smooth & creamy,” as I noted in the book on 4/11/2018
  • Apricot Mostarda, page 38—delicious and sweet with a charge of spice. It’s intended for the antipasto platter, a sweet/hot bit among the meats, cheeses, and olives—much like a charcuterie board, really. It just really looked good to me, and I made some, but only once. BF wouldn’t touch it, so more for me.
  • Zucchini Sottolio, page 226—someone gave us a couple of very large zucchini from their garden, and I wanted to do something different with them. Giada did not disappoint. Made on 6/18/2018, I noted “bold flavors with vinegar tang.” BF doesn’t like anything tangy or a vinegar taste, nor any type of squash, so again, it was just for me. The zucchini is sliced and quickly cooked in water and apple cider vinegar, drained, then added to a mixture of herbs. Put zucchini in a jar and cover with extra-virgin olive oil Add a tight-fitting lid before stashing in the fridge. This helps the zucchini last about three weeks in the fridge. Serve at room temperature as a side dish or other accompaniment.
  • Roasted Parmigiano-Reggiano potatoes, page 219—BF liked this one too, and it was simple. I like the fresh rosemary, but I can’t seem to keep the plants growing here for some odd reason. I haven’t made it in a while but I should make it again, especially if we grow some potatoes.

 

Mind you, when I read this section aloud to him during proofreading, BF began his retching noises.

There are several recipes here I’d still like to try, like the Hazelnut Chicken on page 202. It’s a weekend meal for sure, but again, getting ingredients like Cerignola olives, Frangelico, and skinless hazelnuts requires some searching before I can make the plans. And of course, the question of if BF will eat it—but that’s why we keep cans of ravioli and Wolf Brand Chili around, too.

Until Next Time

I’ve been gifted a wonderful collection of things from across the pond, but not by Mr. Crompton. Pictures and explanations will come later in a blog post, including an explanation of some British biscuits (cookies) called Chocolate Hobnobs. Oh, yes, BF loved those, too.

I also have a couple of updates on some recently made recipes, and will again use the recipe plugin to create them so you can print them for yourself. A guest blog is also coming, as I mentioned last week.

Spring is here, so enjoy all the asparagus, fresh berries, and other delicious things that are becoming available.

Happy Dining!

 

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