Saturday, 6 April 2013

Shaving the Monk & Feeding Him Shrimp & Lemon

Insalata di Barba di Frate, Cedra & Gamberi
"Monks Beard", Cedra Lemon & Shrimp Salad

Now, that's a strange title for a post about food, huh? Well not really- actually it describes this dish pretty accurately! The greens you see, looking like natural green spaghetti, are called "Monks Beard", from the Italian "Barba di Frate", also known as Agretti and are currently in season here- so how could I resist whilst at the market hall today? 

Paired with a delicious and refreshing "Cedra" lemon, from the old country of Sicily, a handful of shrimp to make it richer, more decadent and delicious, and a scattering of lemon zest and cracked red pepper- this dish was a sheer delight! So- if you notice that the monk has indeed shaved his beard and is selling it at your farmers market- snap it up! He only does it once a year in the Springtime- so don't miss out!

This is a quick and easy one again- yay! To make it, I first prepared the cedra, by peeling away the outer, yellow peel and then scooping out the actual fruit with a tablespoon- it's the best tool for this! These big, "eating lemons" are great... well, at least the white "pith" inside, which is what we are going to eat is. It is very mild, with a hint of a lemon flavor and  a slightly chewy texture. Once the fruit has been removed, using a sharp knife or indeed, if
you have one, a gizmo to cut the cedra into paper-thin slices. Next step is to save 1 strip of peel and to blanch it with boiling water for 20-30 seconds to eliminate any harsh bitterness, and then to chop that up very finely, so that it can be scattered over the finished salad in just a few minutes...

Next- back to the Monks Beard, which I popped into a saucepan of boiling water, along with the shrimp for just 2-3 minutes. Make sure to cut away the roots and any thick stems of the Monks Beard... we want it to be tender and delicious and not like chewing rubber! As it tends to be naturally salty (it grows near the sea), there is no need for any seasoning.

After 3 minutes, I drained everything off and then transferred them to a frying pan, added a little olive oil, a sprinkle of Old Bay spice mix and tossed them for 2-3 minutes, until they had a nice glaze and the flavors were well mixed.

I served them stacked up in layers with the cedra and added a generous sprinkle of cracked red pepper corns, the finely chopped zest, a drizzle of olive oil and a little squeeze of the lemon itself... perfect! A light, refreshing and very different starter for you... and one that I hope you will enjoy!

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