On my latest book tour, I had the pleasure of staying at the Hotel Vitale in San Francisco, which is just a crosswalk away from the famed Ferry Building, a food-lover's paradise. If you are going to San Francisco, it is worth staying there to immerse yourself in the local food scene. You can taste coffee, fruits, pastry, roasted chickens, spices, oysters ... the list could go on forever. Plan your trip around the Saturday morning outdoor market -- there is nothing like sitting on a bench underneath the Oakland Bay Bridge, eating breakfast and talking food politics with the locals.
I always try to find out what's cooking with the local chefs, and was thrilled to discover Chef Kory Stewart at Americano Restaurant. There is a vibrant bar scene in the front of the restaurant, and behind a curtain there is a small dining room turning out some sensational dishes. Not only is Stewart an incredibly talented chef, but he also has a thing for candy cap mushrooms; he forages for them on his time off. I was lucky enough to taste ice cream with some of the dried mushrooms -- simply amazing. One dish I couldn't stop thinking about was Bruschetta with Shrimp and Romesco Sauce. It is a sublimely simple recipe made for the home cook.
Bruschetta is thick-sliced bread, grilled and scented with garlic, usually drizzled with fruity olive oil. While we usually think of this dish as topped with tomatoes, actually it is a blank canvas for other savory ingredients. As an aside, let's clear up the pronunciation of "bruschetta." Some people mistakenly say "bro-shetta," whereas it is correct to say "bro-sketta." However you say it, this classic Italian appetizer is a winner.
I think you will appreciate the unexpected topping on this bruschetta recipe. If you can find fresh shrimp, you will be rewarded with a double dose of deliciousness. If not, ask your fishmonger for the best-quality shrimp available (16 to 20 count) and have the shrimp cleaned and deveined. This roasted pepper, garlic and almond sauce is quite versatile, and it beautifully complements the sweetness of the shrimp. Any leftover sauce is also wonderful as a dip for vegetables or a finishing sauce on any grilled fish, chicken or meat.
Grilled Shrimp Bruschetta with Romesco Sauce
Serves 4 to 6.
1 pound peeled, and deveined 16 to 20 count shrimp
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 French or sourdough baguette, sliced in half horizontally and cut into 4-inch long slices
1 clove fresh garlic
Finely chopped parsley, for garnish
Romesco Sauce (recipe below)
1. If using bamboo skewers, soak them in cold water for at least 1 hour. This will prevent them from burning when grilled.
2. Thread the shrimp on individual skewers (4 to 5) on each skewer.
3. Prepare grill for medium-hot grilling. You can use charcoal, wood or gas. Brush shrimp with a light coating of olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Grill over hot part of fire until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Cool and slice the shrimp in half so there are two halves for each shrimp. Set aside.
4. Brush bread slices liberally with olive oil. Place the bread on the grill and grill each side just until marks of the grill appear, about 2 minutes per side. Some minimal charring is desirable, and most of the bread should be toasted golden and crispy. Remove from grill and place on a serving platter. Immediately rub the bread all over with whole garlic clove.
5. Liberally spread bread with romesco sauce; arrange a few shrimp on top of Romesco sauce. Garnish with parsley and enjoy.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
1/2 cup roasted sweet red peppers, peeled and seeded
3 tablespoons Marcona almonds
1 slice white bread, crusts removed and cut into small pieces
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon pimiento de la vera, dulce (dried red pepper) or paprika
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. In a blender combine all the ingredients except for the oil, salt and black pepper, and blend until pureed. Add the oil in slowly and blend until the mixture is emulsified. Add salt and pepper and a little water if too thick. Taste for seasoning. Reserve.
Advance Preparation: May be prepared up to 1 week ahead, covered in an airtight container and refrigerated.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 20 cookbooks, including most recently "Seriously Simple Parties" (Chronicle Books, 2012), and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)