"....Wasn't that a dainty dish, to set before a king!"
This dish, baked Greek shrimp, with tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese, is one of my husband, Dan's, favorite dishes. I had made it for him a couple of months ago, and recently bought some frozen shrimp and all of the other ingredients listed in the recipe, in order to make it for him again. Frozen shrimp, because they are not farmed shrimp, and are of good quality from safe waters. The shrimp were unpeeled, and I put them in a bowl and ran cold water over them for fifteen minutes, before peeling and cleaning them. While I did this, I first let the onions and garlic cook in extra virgin olive oil, until the onions became translucent. Then I added the can of diced tomatoes and allowed them to simmer for about five minutes. After that, it was time to add the spinach, let it wilt down, then turn off the heat, and add the shrimp. I transferred everything into a baking dish, crumbled the feta cheese on top, and put the dish in the oven to heat, uncovered, for twenty minutes. The last words to "four and twenty blackbirds" ran inside my head. "Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king." Not pie, and not a king, but a fine meal to set before my husband for today's lunch.
Dan's love of this dish goes back to the years, when we would travel by car on a Saturday or Sunday, to visit my mother in her apartment in Hackensack. My father had passed away, the day after we visited to celebrate Father's Day, in 2002, and my Mom was now living on her own for the first time in her life. Our visits to Mom consisted of taking her to a movie, at the Cedar Lane movie theater, in Teaneck, New Jersey. My mother insisted on paying for our tickets, and would shoo us away from the counter. She would then tell the person selling the tickets of admission, that she wanted three senior citizen tickets, despite the fact that she was the only senior among us. When our son joined us on these weekend visits, he entered the movie theater with a senior citizen pass that mom had purchased for him, as well. As the years went by, and my mother grew older, she would often stand up at the end of the movie, wave her arm at the movie screen in a dismissive gesture, and would declare the the movie we had just watched, "was a real stinker." A.I. Artificial Intelligence, by Steven Spielberg was such a movie, and in this case, I am somewhat in agreement.
Afterwards, we would drive elsewhere, take my mom out to eat, and engage in a lively discussion of the film we had just seen. Sometimes we went to the Bloomingdale's mall off of Route 4, and ate at P F Chang's China Bistro, where the meal ended with their multi-layer chocolate cake, notably named, "The Great Wall of China." What was really great about it, was the calorie count of that wall of cake. Thankfully, we would then divide the wall between us, sharing the one dessert.
One of the most adventurous places we ate lunch in, was at the tiniest diner I have ever seen, called White Manna, located in Hackensack. Their specialty is hamburgers that have onions mixed into the the burger.
They can be ordered by the sack full, with toppings of grilled onions, and melted cheese, and of course, don't forget to order the fries to be eaten with lots of ketchup. We may have been the oddest couple in the joint that day, but the workers were friendly, helped us place our order, and treated us as if we were regulars. We pulled up stools and joined the rest of the customers at the counter, and then dug into our meal. Hamburgers were never tastier, nor the atmosphere finer than at this tiny little diner!
Some of our favorite places to eat after the movies were in Englewood, the next town over from Teaneck. Most notably was Baumgarts, a retro cafe with homemade ice cream, and a skylight over the dining area which let the sun light joyfully filter throughout the room. Saturday nights the menu was strictly Chinese food. But during the days, you could get anything from a curried chicken salad sandwich to sushi, both items which we would often choose to share. My mom loved the house dumplings as an appetizer, or would most often have a cup of soup to start her meal. She often indulged in an order of French Fries, and always insisted upon splitting a dessert. I enjoyed making her happy during our short weekend visits, and was willing to share any food she desired. Though I did have my limits, The Teaneck Diner, being one of them.
It made me sad in later years, when dementia made its presence known, and she could not make a choice for herself. Eventually it became clear that she could not understand the menu. Ultimately we toured an assisted living residence that was right in our own Brooklyn neighborhood, and mom agreed to move. She was a twenty minute walk away from our house, and we continued to share weekend meals with her, in the dining room of the residence at One Prospect Park West. Most assisted living residence apartments are tiny, but mom's fifth floor one bedroom apartment was a sunny, corner apartment, with windows all around. It overlooked the Saturday farmer's market on Grand Army Plaza, a joyful, lively sight to see.
Where Dan first fell in love with a baked Greek shrimp dish...
While mom still lived in Hackensack, our other favorite restaurant in Englewood was called "Its Greek to Me." The decor was light and airy, reminiscent of a Greek isle, with the colors of white and turquoise filling the restaurant. My husband always liked going here the best, as they had his favorite dish, shrimp, with diced tomatoes, and feta cheese decorating the top, and giving a salty, tangy accent to the flavors of the dish. We three, or four when our son joined us, always enjoyed sharing this dish. We would mop up the sauce created by the diced tomatoes mixed with the juices of the cooked shrimp and the melted cheese, with the pita bread provided for the table.
The recipe included here, for baked Greek shrimp, takes the dish found at "Its Greek to Me," one step further, as it has Popeye green spinach in it, as well. I like the the health benefits the spinach adds to this already flavorful dish. And too, the spinach adds visual delight, accenting the diced tomatoes with colorful bits of green. Do try this recipe, dear reader. It is the next best thing, to being on one of the Grecian isles. We can always eat this, and dream, can't we?
Some of the movies we saw with mom, from about 2002 through 2010 (except for Toy Story, and maybe a couple of others, which were earlier):
Eyes Wide Shut
The Sixth Sense
The Cider House Rules
Being John Malkovich
I Am Sam
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
Meet the Parents
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Lost in Translation
Little Miss Sunshine
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Pirates of the Caribbean
A Beautiful Mind
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Bridget Jone's Diary
The Shipping News
My First Mister
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Catch Me If You Can
Bend It Like Beckham
About a Boy
Something's Gotta Give
Under the Tuscan Sun
Girl With a Pearl Earring
The Station Agent
Meet the Fockers
The Manchurian Candidate
The Motorcycle Diaries
Pride & Prejudice
Memoirs of a Geisha
Dan in Real Life
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Baked Greek Shrimp With Tomatoes, Spinach, and Feta
- 1 pound large peeled and deveined shrimp uncooked, I use frozen, you can use fresh
- ½ cup feta or more or less if you like
- 2-4 cups fresh spinach or however much you like
- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (plus juice)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or cooking oil of your choice
- medium yellow onion chopped
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- pinch of sugar
- pinch or more red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375.
In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and a few pinches of salt until onion is translucent, careful not to burn the garlic (about 3-4 minutes).
Add tomatoes (including juice) and a pinch of sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until slightly thickened (5 minutes or so), stirring occasionally. Fold in spinach and heat until just wilted (about 1 minute). Turn off heat. Stir in raw shrimp.
Transfer to a shallow baking dish and top with feta. Bake until golden brown and shrimp is just cooked through (about 20 minutes). Turn the broiler on for a minute or two if feta has not browned.
Top with chopped fresh dill and pinches of red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you prefer it).
Serve with warm crusty bread.