Making it up as I go

This week has been INSANITY.  Sheer, near-unmitigated insanity.  So, instead of something eloquent and carefully-crafted, here’s a soup I made up.

This is the perfect example of what happens with a bunch of odds and ends and a lot of time on my hands.  I had shrimp shells in the freezer, left over from my last lemon-caper experiment. I had a powerful hankering for a bowl of soup with pesto on top. And I had a germ of an inspiration, thanks to a video about Tex-Mex chowdah.

So here’s what I did. I took the shells from the freezer and made a quick stock.  I grabbed a bunch of cilantro and made a batch of pesto.  I picked up some veggies and a half-pound of the cheapest shrimpmeat I could find.  Then I grabbed a bunch of spices, plunked a soup pot on the stove, and started cooking.

It looks like a terrifying monstrosity in recipe form, with zillions of ingredients and scads of steps.  But the reality is much more streamlined: a vibrant, seafood-inflected soup, both long-simmered and crisp.  It’s just a lovely little meal, that I give you from the depths of my own brain.

So there.

Spicy Shrimp Soup with Cilantro Pesto (serves 4)

1/2 lb. medium shrimp, with shells (or, 1/2 lb. shrimp meat and 1/2 lb. leftover shells)

1 quart (4 cups) water

1 bunch of cilantro (or parsley, if you’re a cilantro hater)

1 head of garlic

A couple handfuls of grated parmesan cheese

Grated zest of half a lime

1 large shallot or 1/2 small onion, minced

1 large red potato, diced

1 small poblano pepper, seeded and diced

1 smallish red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 small chayote squash, diced

1 ear of corn

Pinch of red chili flake

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp olive oil

2 tsp flour

1 tsp tomato paste

Salt to taste

Shell the shrimp, cut off the stems of the cilantro, and pull 4-5 cloves off the head of garlic (set these aside for pesto). In a pot, combine the shrimp shells, cilantro stems, and the whole rest of the garlic head, along with a drizzle of olive oil. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer about 45 minutes, or until the water has turned into stock. Strain and discard the solids and set the stock aside. (This can be done in advance–stock freezes very easily.)

While the stock is simmering, make a batch of pesto, substituting cilantro leaves for the basil and adding in the lime zest along with the parmesan cheese. Set aside. (This can be done up to a week in advance, and makes more pesto than you need for the soup–save the rest for another time.)

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot or onion, red chili flake, smoked paprika, and cumin, and saute for a couple minutes, until the shallot is translucent and the spices are fragrant. Add potato and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes have started to soften. Add poblano pepper, bell pepper, and chayote squash, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until all the vegetables have softened. Add the flour and stir just until the veggies are lightly bready and golden, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute or two.

Add the shrimp stock and stir to incorporate everything. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until all the flavors have married nicely and the soup has thickened a touch. In the meantime, cut the kernels off the ear of corn, and cut the shelled shrimp meat into bite-size pieces (if it’s not already bite-size). Stir in the corn kernels and simmer another 3-5 minutes, just until the corn is cooked. If the shrimp is raw, add it with the corn; if it’s pre-cooked, add it in at the very end just to warm it up.

Adjust the seasoning as needed, and serve with a dollop of cilantro pesto in each bowl.

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