Shrimp with Romesco and Wilted Spinach

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

Romesco:
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
Salt

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
Salt
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.

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

48 Comments

  1. angiesrecipes February 12, 2024 at 7:13 AM - Reply

    What a mouthwatering and healthy meal! I gotta try this romesco sauce recipe as it’s a bit different than what I have been making. The prawns look really succulent.

    • Chef Mimi February 12, 2024 at 9:21 AM - Reply

      Thanks, this was good – just a bit on the bland side for me!

  2. ajeanneinthekitchen February 12, 2024 at 8:41 AM - Reply

    YUM! :)

  3. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen February 12, 2024 at 8:53 AM - Reply

    Oh boy, those shrimp look luscious!

    • Chef Mimi February 12, 2024 at 9:22 AM - Reply

      I am very good at cooking shrimp. I really hate any protein overcooked!

  4. David Scott Allen February 12, 2024 at 11:22 AM - Reply

    Love Judy — but never made it to Zuni. She is so creative. I love romesco — such a versatile sauce. Looks absolutely perfect with the shrimp. Really nice.

    • Chef Mimi February 12, 2024 at 12:13 PM - Reply

      I prefer more roasted red peppers in my romesco. Hers was bland. So I just spiced it up.

  5. Charlie DeSando February 12, 2024 at 11:59 AM - Reply

    I’m sure the romesco pairs well with the shrimp

    • Chef Mimi February 12, 2024 at 12:13 PM - Reply

      It was a very nice combination!

  6. petra08 February 12, 2024 at 12:38 PM - Reply

    What a dish! It sounds absolutely delicious and what a treat!

  7. sherry February 12, 2024 at 6:56 PM - Reply

    this looks amazing Mimi but I don’t think i have the patience to make it :=) Yes it’s odd how so many recipes are rather bland. I guess they write them to cover a lot of different tastes. I’m always happily sloshing in extra spices and herbs to most dishes.

    • Chef Mimi February 13, 2024 at 8:15 AM - Reply

      I agree with you. But I like most all dishes spiced up!

  8. Ben | Havocinthekitchen February 12, 2024 at 7:29 PM - Reply

    This looks seriously delicious and comforting! I’m not too familiar with Romesco, but it sounds fantastic, too.

    • Chef Mimi February 13, 2024 at 8:15 AM - Reply

      Well my recipe has mostly roasted red bell peppers. This one was definitely different. I do like the nuts in the sauce.

  9. Tandy I Lavender and Lime February 12, 2024 at 9:48 PM - Reply

    I love reading your opinion on a dish as that really makes me decide whether to try it or not. I may use this as inspiration for tomorrow night, even if I don’t follow the recipe.

    • Chef Mimi February 13, 2024 at 8:17 AM - Reply

      I like most everything I cook, most because, like you, after cooking for so many years (I’m way older than you so I’m not comparing our years of experience…) I can usually tell what the flavor will be by reading the recipe. This one really surprised me.

  10. BERNADETTE February 13, 2024 at 5:24 AM - Reply

    I have an old copy of th Zuni Cafe Cookbook and you have inspired me to dust if off and explore again.

    • Chef Mimi February 13, 2024 at 8:17 AM - Reply

      I bookmarked a bunch of recipes. Definitely check it out!

      • BERNADETTE February 13, 2024 at 8:31 PM

        Will do.

  11. terrie gura February 13, 2024 at 5:33 AM - Reply

    I’ve never seen such a detailed approach to romesco! All the extra attention to each ingredient was very promising, but even over here, I was thinking there could have been more peppers and fewer tomatoes. I’m like you— give me that big flavor! Still, it looks really good. Nice meal for a special occasion.

    • Chef Mimi February 13, 2024 at 8:19 AM - Reply

      Exactly. I should have altered the recipe for myself, but I trusted the chef and her recipe. It was still good, though. Just not flavorful enough.

  12. cookingwithshy February 13, 2024 at 6:52 PM - Reply

    Loving all the flavours in here;))

    • Chef Mimi February 14, 2024 at 8:42 AM - Reply

      Plus I’ll eat shrimp with just about anything!

  13. Anonymous February 14, 2024 at 6:43 AM - Reply

    Thanks for introducing me to Judy Rodgers, her restaurant Zuni Cafe, and the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Mimi. And, for sharing this recipe. Your photos make this look so inviting and comforting, the perfect combination of ingredients to get cozy with. Thank you!

    • Chef Mimi February 14, 2024 at 8:43 AM - Reply

      You are so welcome! I’m glad I discovered her, although a bit late…

  14. Raymund February 14, 2024 at 1:39 PM - Reply

    This sounds like an interesting culinary adventure! It’s fascinating to learn about the history and evolution of those dishes. your photos do made me hungry now, love those prawns

    • Chef Mimi February 16, 2024 at 7:30 AM - Reply

      This was a very nice dish. The sautéed spinach was a great addition as well.

  15. Frank | Memorie di Angelina February 14, 2024 at 2:55 PM - Reply

    It’s been a very long time since I was last in San Francisco, but I do remember eating very well there. Didn’t get to Zuni Café, sadly… Anyway this sounds delicious. Going to give this a try because I’m sure it’d be a big hit in this household!

    • Chef Mimi February 16, 2024 at 7:32 AM - Reply

      San Francisco used to be my favorite American city. I can’t even imagine what it’s like now. Hope you enjoy the shrimp dish!

  16. Jeff the Chef February 15, 2024 at 6:58 AM - Reply

    What an interesting list of ingredients. And a whole lot of winning!

    • Chef Mimi February 16, 2024 at 7:32 AM - Reply

      Great comment!

  17. spicedblog February 16, 2024 at 6:32 AM - Reply

    Holy cow, this sounds amazing, Mimi! I’ve also heard of Zuni, but I (like you) thought it was more Southwestern cuisine. What an interesting switch in flavors. I’d love to give this recipe a try – it looks like it’s packed with flavors I love!

    • Chef Mimi February 16, 2024 at 7:33 AM - Reply

      I think I would have changed the name of the restaurant if I took over as chef as created a more Eurocentric menu! But nobody asked me!

  18. Thao @ In Good Flavor February 16, 2024 at 2:23 PM - Reply

    The dish sounds amazing and the shrimp look succulent! I’m surprised at was lacking in flavor. I would love to give it a try but follow your lead and add more flavor.

    • Chef Mimi February 16, 2024 at 4:08 PM - Reply

      The sauce was just kind of flat, even though its ingredients were all good.

  19. thatskinnychickcanbake February 17, 2024 at 3:05 PM - Reply

    It makes a beautiful presentation!!! I’m glad you could add to the recipe to make it more flavorful!!

    • Chef Mimi February 18, 2024 at 7:04 AM - Reply

      Thanks. It is a pretty presentation.

  20. Velva-Evening With A Sandwich February 18, 2024 at 9:48 AM - Reply

    This would make a beautiful entree for entertaining-I am already thinking of the wine that would pair beautifully.

    As always, thank you for always sharing your delicious dishes with us.

    Velva

    • Chef Mimi February 18, 2024 at 5:56 PM - Reply

      You are so welcome Velva!

  21. Ronit Penso Tasty Eats February 18, 2024 at 10:58 AM - Reply

    I haven’t made romesco in ages, but will definitely make one soon, taking all your notes into consideration. :)

    • Chef Mimi February 18, 2024 at 5:57 PM - Reply

      I thought my recipe (I forgot the source) was better than what was part of this recipe. Oh well!

  22. Elena Bourke February 19, 2024 at 11:03 AM - Reply

    Looks absolutely divine!

    • Chef Mimi February 19, 2024 at 11:37 AM - Reply

      Thank you!

  23. Gerlinde de Broekert February 22, 2024 at 10:34 PM - Reply

    I ate dinner at the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco a few months ago. The chicken was outstanding. I saw the book and almost bought it. The restaurant changed hands but still has some of the old dishes. This shrimp dish looks great. It has a different romesco sauce but I love the hazelnuts in it. San Francisco has changed. It’s so sad to see my favorite city loose its charm .

    • Chef Mimi February 23, 2024 at 7:27 AM - Reply

      San Francisco was always my favorite city also. I’m glad I haven’t seen it recently.

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