Use this warm fall’s last tomatoes
Polenta with Shrimp and Cherry Tomatoes

Use this warm fall’s last tomatoes

Tomatoes are a perfect accompaniment to shrimp and delicious served atop a lovey batch of polenta

BELLOWS FALLS — It's October, and we still haven't had a frost in the Connecticut River Valley. This means our tomatoes, especially the cherries, are still producing their sweet little fruits, as tired as their foliage looks.

While we can tuck these tomatoes whole and unprocessed in the freezer to enjoy in soups and stews next winter, using them fresh in this dish is quick and tasty. If you don't have cherry tomatoes, just chop up larger fruits.

Tomatoes are a perfect accompaniment to shrimp and delicious served atop a lovely batch of polenta, otherwise known as cornmeal mush in New England!

The cornmeal is definitely half the main act here. Creamy and full of corn flavor, polenta makes a wonderful base for countless toppings. Look for a local, stone-ground meal, medium or fine for this use, and always organic to avoid Roundup Ready, genetically modified corn!

To intensify the shrimp flavor in the polenta, make a flavorful stock with the shells from your shrimp. It takes just 20 minutes of simmering and is worth that extra step. If you have no shrimp shells, use a fish stock or plain water.

The anchovies are important to this dish, so don't leave them out. They will disappear into the sauce yet enhance the flavor of everything else.

Make a little extra polenta, place it in a buttered loaf pan, and in the morning cut it into squares and fry it up for breakfast! Mom used to cook it in her cast-iron frying pan in bacon grease, but you can use any oil you like.

And, since the gardens are generous this year, if you still have local corn, add a cup of the cooked kernels to the finished polenta for added sweetness and texture. Even better!

Polenta with Shrimp and Cherry Tomatoes

Peel and devein:

¶1 lb. large wild shrimp

Place the shrimp in the refrigerator, and the shells in a stock pot. To the pot, add:

¶5 cups water

¶1 bay leaf

¶Pinch of salt

Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain.

In a large saucepan, bring 1 quart of the shrimp stock to a boil. Sprinkle in:

¶1 cup fine or medium cornmeal

Continually whisk while adding so it does not clump.

Once all the cornmeal is whisked in, reduce the heat and whisk every now and then to keep it from sticking.

The polenta will take between 25 and 40 minutes to cook depending on the variety and coarseness of grind. If it starts to get too thick before it is cooked - you'll know because it will have turned from gritty to smooth - add a bit of water. Taste for salt.

While the polenta is cooking, heat a large skillet and add:

¶{1/4} cup fruity olive oil

Once hot, add:

¶4 cloves garlic, finely minced

¶4 or 5 oil-packed anchovies, finely minced

¶1 tsp. crushed fennel seed

Stir until fragrant, just a minute or so, then add:

¶{1/2} cup white wine OR

¶{1/2} cup shrimp stock and 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

Cook until reduced by half, then dump in:

¶1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

¶{1/4} cup rough torn basil

Continue cooking until the tomatoes just start to burst, then add the shrimp. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp is pink and just cooked through. If your shrimp are small, they will probably be done in 3 minutes. Correct seasoning. Remove from the heat.

Once the polenta is ready, remove from the heat and stir in:

¶1 cup gently warmed light coconut milk

Blend well, then plate on a large platter. Top with the tomato-shrimp mixture, sprinkle with Parmesan if desired, and garnish with a bit more basil.

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