Here's my latest thought about overcoming the seeming impossibility of the weekday dinner: do one thing in the morning. Okay, it's really two things.
1. Decide, roughly, what you're going to make.
2. Do something about it. Take chicken thighs out of the fridge. Take down the box of cous cous and put it on the counter. Make a list of what you'll pick up on your way home from work.
It's not much but it puts you on the road to dinner. You don't have to stress about it at 3:30 — you already know what you're making! Of course, you still have to do it but it's jus that much easier to face if you take the decision element out of it. Brilliant, isn't it? I really do think it's brilliant and sometimes I don't do it. You'd think an hour and a half would be long enough to get four humans fed and out the door in the morning but some days it is simply not. And on those days I'm lucky to walk out the door with combed hair and matching socks.
For those days you need a recipe that requires zero prep or planning. This is it. If you keep a box of polenta in the cupboard and frozen shrimp in the freezer, that is. I used to be all uppity about fresh seafood but Ben has worn me down to accepting that most of what I buy marked as fresh has been flash frozen, so in fact.… so now, when it comes to shrimp, I buy frozen. And peeled, and de-veined because if I've taken the step toward buying frozen I may as well got the whole way. They're fastest things to cook and my kids are obsessed with them.
photos by Maya Visnyei
Shrimp & Polenta
1 cup instant polenta
4 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup bacon, chopped
2 garlic clove, minced
2 good glugs of olive oil
1 28 oz. can of tomatoes
1 lb frozen or fresh shrimp, peeled, de-veined, washed
1 small handful of parsley
Bring the water to a rolling boil and slowly pour into your polenta. Bring the heat right down, right away. The polenta will thicken up right away and it will pop and spit at you if you keep the heat on high. Most packages recommend taking it off the heat after one minute. Marcella Hazan says keep cooking and I'm going to listen to Marcella. Lower the heat and keep stirring for 3 to 5 minutes. Take it right off the heat and cover.
In a large-ish pot, warm up the olive oil then add bacon and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the bacon gets brown but not crispy. Add the tomatoes and break them up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher. Let that simmer for about 10 minutes.
Now, about the shrimp. If I hadn't been cooking this dish for a picture I'd have taken the tails off. Who wants to dip into a sauce-y dinner and either cut or bite the tails off? Not me. But for a photo the tails really do make it. Toss them in with or without tails and stir. They'll cook really quickly — 3 minutes tops.
Give your polenta another stir and maybe even add a splash of water to loosen it up. Create a little nest of polenta and then ladle your sauce-y shrimp on top. Garnish with parsley. I served this with a side of peas because they're so quick to make, too. Start to finish, the whole thing is about 20 minutes! What's your go-to fast dinner?