The Passion Fruits

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From the Dept. of Sick Days: Shrimp & Fennel Stew

Merf. Today I am feeling unaccountably barfy and, since the snow day that was foretold did not, helas, materialize, I stayed home and slept most of the day. I did, however, manage to sklathe myself out of bed just long enough to accomplish one thing; I took a few snaps of this shrimp stew while the sun tried to shine. Why? Because this simple dish is so ridiculously good I couldn’t wait any longer to share it.

Seriously, this is shockingly tasty, particularly for something that involves little more than a quick chop and simmer. I was quite blown away by its robust and warming deliciousity. Mr. T, too, was unusually effusive in his praise.

The depth of flavor is remarkable; everything–from the pungent onion and anise-y fennel to the acid tomato and briny shrimp–seems to stack together into a greater whole rather than cancelling each other out. In thinking about it now, it may be the backbone of subtle sweetness that those primary ingredients all share that brings it all together.

Oh, and if you’re worried about the fennel and it’s licorice-y taste, two things: one, you’re wrong, it is delicious; and two, it’s very mild and background-y by the time the dish is complete. Try it anyway. It’s a perfect gateway for the delights of fennel.

I would be happy to serve this for company with some good bread and a salad of soft lettuces. It’s perfectly cockle-warming, a good thing now that it seems winter has finally decided to arrive.

And now, back to bed with me.

Shrimp & Fennel Stew
Yield: 4 servings

1 tbs butter or oil
2 medium onions
2 medium fennel bulbs
3 small garlic cloves
2 medium waxy potatoes
1 bay leaf
1 48 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 c dry white wine
1 lb peeled, deveined shrimp
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
~1 tsp Pernod, arrack or other anise liqueur (optional)

Peel and dice the onion. Combine in a heavy stock pot with the butter and put over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally. Remove the tops from the fennel bulbs, reserving some lacy frondy bits to add later. Rinse the bulbs and if necessary, remove the outer layer. Halve and remove the core. Dice the fennel and add to the pot with the onion and continue to cook over medium low heat till tender and translucent, about 10 min total. If you start to see browning, turn down the heat and/or add a splash of water.

Scrub and dice the potatoes and peel and mince the garlic, adding both to the pot and stirring till the garlic is fragrant, about a minute more. Reserving the liquid, remove the tomatoes from the can and roughly quarter them. Add the tomatoes, their liquid, the bay leaf, wine, a tsp each of salt and pepper, and about four cups of water. Bring to a low boil and continue to cook till the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Mash a bit of the stew (potatoes especially) to thicken the broth a bit. Stir in the shrimp and cook through, about 5 minutes longer if they’re fresh (not frozen). Remove the bay leaf and taste. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve hot.

Notes & Variations
This would be easily multiplied, and could accommodate any number of other fish and/or shellfish as well. Langoustines or mussels would be particularly nice here, in replacement or addition to a portion of the shrimp.

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