Italian cuisine has always been a big influence on my cooking over the years. Each region of Italy has inspired many dishes served on my table.
Italian food makes perfect sense to this Southern-born chef, where backyard ingredients often end up on the dinner table. So many dishes have evolved out of times of struggle, hunger and self-sufficiency, it's easy to draw parallels between rural Italian and rural American cuisine.
I think this is why polenta is one Italian creation I truly love. Because basically, it's grits. And I love some grits.
Polenta is astonishingly flexible. You can cook it thick and make into cakes, drizzled with raw honey, or serve it in place of pasta, layering it with roasted veggies or grilled meats. But the most comforting version of polenta is a creamy, almost soupy version, laced with cheese and cooked slow, absorbing all the flavors of your ingredients.
One of my favorite polenta dishes is my own Italian-Creole hybrid. It's a Southern, low-country dish, Shrimp and Grits, blended with a coastal Italian dish, Schie con Polenta. It's sophisticated, yet simple, and it's all cooked in one pot.
Creamy Shrimp and Tomato Polenta
- 2 cups Bob's Red Mill gluten-free polenta
- 1 lb. fresh shrimp, shelled
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 cups water + 1 cup
- 6 cloves chopped garlic
- ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 6-7 Campari tomatoes, quartered
- 4 basil leaves, chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeño, diced
- 4 tbs. olive oil + 1 tbs.
- ½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano
- 1 tbs. Creole seasoning
- 1 tsp. Crystal hot sauce (or your favorite)
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- 1 tbs. freshly ground black pepper
- 1- 5 or 6 qt. Dutch oven
1. Begin by heating your Dutch oven on medium high for about five minutes.
2. Add in your olive oil, then your garlic and holy trinity - onions, jalapeños and celery. Let these sear for quite some time, creating a little sauce. Once they are clear, add in your shrimp.
- For those unfamiliar with the term, "holy trinity" refers to the chopped onions, bell peppers and celery. It's the base that's used for many Creole and Louisiana dishes such as étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya. I've substituted jalapeños in this recipe for the bell pepper to give it a little more of a kick.
3. Cook your shrimp , stirring occasionally, until they turn pink and spring back when pressed.
4. Add the tomatoes and basil, stirring a bit then the Creole seasoning, salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium low and cook this down a bit, adding your wine to create thin gravy.
5. After about 8-10 minutes, pour in your 2 cups of water and your cream. Stir quickly, and then add the polenta.
6. Bring the heat up to medium high again and let the polenta come almost to a bubbling boil. Just as it starts, turn the heat to the lowest setting and stir in your cheese.
7. Cover and let this cook for about an hour, checking occasionally to stir or add water. Don't be surprised if you end up adding all of the water by the end of cooking.
8. Serve with a basil garnish, Crystal sauce and a drizzle of olive oil. Pair with a light, crisp white wine.
Twinkle VanWinkle has over 20 years of professional cooking under her apron strings, feeding thousands of friends, family and other folks. She baked apple pies for the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and has appeared on Food Network's "The Best Of..." Along with producing dynamic lifestyle content for LIN Media, she is a mother, urban gardener, chef, musician and social media fanatic.