Sometimes, I’m a little late to the game. Usually it’s because I’m stubborn, but that’s not the problem this time. I’d always heard of Judy Rodgers and her restaurant Zuni Cafe, but why I never looked into her further is beyond me. I actually thought her food was primarily Southwestern, and the restaurant in New Mexico. Boy was I way off. The Zuni Cafe is in San Francisco, California, and it offers vibrant offerings of French and Italian specialties.
The more I looked into the history of the Zuni Cafe, however, I learned that originally it was decorated a Southwestern design by the original owner of the building and “named Zuni, one of the indigenous Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.” Back then the cuisine was Mexican. But the restaurant has always been in California!
When Judy Rodgers joined the restaurant, she created, in her words, a kitchen that was “more Eurocentric and adventurous, an evolving hybrid of the cuisines that I love.” Because she’d trained both in France and Italy, it all made sense. Soon the restaurant gained serious international acclaim.
In 2002, Judy published The Zuni Café Cookbook. In 2003, the book won the James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year and Zuni Café won the award for Outstanding Restaurant in the country; in 2004, Judy won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef; and in 2018 Zuni Café won the award for Outstanding Service.
Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve bookmarked so many recipes than in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I’m so glad I bought this book.
The recipe I chose to make is Catalon in origin, a fantastic mixture of romesco sauce, made in a completely different way than I’ve made before, along with shrimp and spinach.
Shrimp Cooked in Romesco with Wilted Spinach
1/2 ounce raw almonds, about 12 nuts
1 ounce hazelnuts, about 32 nuts
1/2 cup coarsely chopped drained tomatoes
About 1/4 cup extra-virgin oil
1 ancho chile
About 1 cup mild-tasting olive oil
1 1/2 ounces chewy, white, peasant-style bread
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon l’Estornel brand red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon mild paprika
To finish the dish:
1 cup chicken stock, shellfish fumet, or a combination
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup diced yellow onions
About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
About 1 1/2 pounds shrimp
3/4 pound spinach, washed, dried
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Drop the almonds into a small pot of boiling water and leave for about 10 seconds. Drain, slide off the skins, and rub dry. Set aside.
Roast the hazelnuts on a small baking sheet, until the skins darken and start to split, 10 to 15 minutes. While they are till hot, bundle them in a towel beanbag-style, then scrunch and massage them to rub off most of their skins. Pick out the nuts and set aside. (I used de-skinned hazelnuts.)
Turn the oven to broil. Spread the tomatoes 1/2 inch thick in a small, shallow baking dish. Trickle with a little of the olive oil and place under the broiler about 4 inches from the element. Cook until the tomatoes char slightly and bubble, a few minutes. Remove from the broiler.
Reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees F.
Meanwhile, pour a few cups of boiling water over the chile and leave to swell for a few minutes. Drain, then stem and de-seed the pepper.
Pour mild-tasting olive oil to a depth of 1/2 inch into an 8-inch skillet and set over medium-low heat. Test the temperature with the edge of the slice of bread; when it barely sizzles on contact, reduce the heat slightly and add the bread. (You may need to cut the bread into pieces so it fits into the pan in a single layer.) Check the underside at 1 minute; it should just be beginning to color. Fry until it is the color of corn flakes 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain and cool on a paper towel.
Thickly slice the garlic, then pound to a paste in a mortar. Scrape into a processor and add the chile, fried bread, almonds, and hazelnuts. Grind to a fine moist paste, scraping the sides frequently. Scrape in the tomato and process to a paste. Add the vinegar, paprika, the remaining extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste. Taste; it should be bursting with flavor, although not overly spicy. The flavor of the paprika will come out over time.
Spread the paste in a thick layer in a small shallow baking dish and bake until the surface has turned dark orange with occasional flecks of brown, about 8 minutes.
To finish the dish, bring the stock, fumet, and the white wine to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir in the romesco base. Taste for salt. Cover and set aside for about 30 minutes. As this brew cools, the crumbs will begin to swell and soften, which will give the sauce a nice texture.
Place the onions in a 3-quart saute pan with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Cook over medium heat until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the romesco and warm through. Add the shrimp and turn the heat to medium. Cook gently, turning each one over once in the thickening sauce, until the shrimp are just firm and opaque. This should take no longer than 4 minutes, but depends on the size of the shrimp.
Meanwhile, warm another 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and sprinkle with salt. Gently turn and fold leaves until they are uniformly wilted and bright green. Taste for salt and add another trickle of oil if the spinach seems lean.
Divide the spinach among warm plates. Arrange the shrimp on top of the spinach. Spoon the sauce over all.
This dish was good, but surprisingly on the bland side for me. I added more salt and lots of cayenne pepper flakes. I also think I’d just use chicken broth next time, no shellfish fumet; it really affected the flavor negatively.
I served a pinot grigio, but a light red would also be excellent.