I love unexpected (good) surprises in the kitchen, like when I use one-third the sugar called for in a muffin recipe and the muffins turn out delicious and plenty sweet. Or when I throw together something at the last minute, expecting it to be uneventful and perhaps even barely edible and it comes out surprisingly tasty.
I tried this dish only recently even though I had noted the recipe many months ago. The first time I made it, I expected it to be somewhat bland, a little too rich for my tastes and rather uneventful. Instead, this dish boasted an incredible mix and balance of flavors and felt remarkably light. (Note: I did use less cream and butter than the original recipe, courtesy of Martha Stewart Living, called for.) I just made it again for a friend, and found it equally delicious.
You could serve this dish as the first course of a long and somewhat decadent dinner, or offer it as the main course accompanied by a simple salad. Either way, it’s sure to please.
Now here you might be thinking, hmm, a cream-based soup doesn’t seem to fit with her healthy food preachings. It’s true, I don’t normally make or share recipes for particularly rich foods. However, I occasionally post a cream-based recipe–such as a strawberry tart, and unless you’re lactose intolerant or have such high cholesterol levels that you feel you can’t afford to indulge yourself even once in a while, then you’d be missing out not to give this recipe a try.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 lbs large shrimp, peeled (shells reserved) and deveined
6 sprigs of thyme
1 cup dry white wine
12-16 oz clam juice (from canned clams)
2 cups water
1/4 stick unsalted butter
2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced crosswise and washed well
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced (fronds reserved for garnish)
1 tsp whole fennel seeds, finely ground
Coarse sea salt and fresh-ground pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp shells and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shells are plenty brown, about 10-12 minutes. Add the thyme sprigs and cook another minute or two. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add the clam juice and water and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour the broth through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding the solids.
Melt the butter in a pot over medium-high heat and add the leeks, fennel, and fennel seeds. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables just start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp broth and cream, and cook until warmed through.
Stir in the shrimp and cook until the shrimp are just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Season with a little more salt and pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice (this is essential!). Divide the stew among 4-6 shallow bowls and garnish with a few fennel fronds.