I had some sad news this weekend. My 17 1/2 year old cat Harry died a peaceful death. I adopted Harry when he was a tiny kitten barely 4 weeks old. He was separated from his mother at too early an age, and was never properly weaned. So when I first took him home, he'd lie on my neck and suck on my ear, trying to nurse and purring his little kitten head off.
Anyway, this story and recipe are excepted from my book (you can watch a demo of this dish I did as a video for WNYC's Leonard Lopate show here) and I thought I'd post them here as a little tribute to my shrimp-eating kitty. May he rest happily in the big catnip field in the sky.
Shrimp For a Small Kitchen (Shrimp with Capers, Lemon and Feta)
I’ve lived in New York City nearly my entire life, which means having grown accustomed to apartment kitchens smaller than the average suburban shower stall. But for the tiniest kitchen of all, my apartment on 27th St. and Lexington Ave. takes the thimble-sized cake.
That kitchen was so miniscule that it could only hold two bodies if one of them happened to be feline, like my old cat Harry for example, who liked to weave in between my legs while I was stirring my morning oatmeal. Granted, I couldn’t really separate my legs quite enough to give him a pass through unless one of my feet was planted out the doorway. But Harry didn’t mind my half-in-half-out status as long as I let him lick the milky oatmeal pot.
I could make an entire meal without moving the bottom half of my body, just reaching my arms from stove to fridge to the cutting board I positioned over the sink. This arrangement gave me what had to pass for counter space, otherwise I’d be chopping on the floor, or on the dining table in my living room.
I suppose I could have used the top of my mini-fridge as a counter, but that was the only place to put the microwave.
Now the unusual thing about my relationship with my teeny, tiny kitchen is not that I would cook full meals for several guests in it. It’s that I also used it as the base for a very small, highly illegal catering company.
Somehow within its confines, I could whip up tandoori chicken skewers, shrimp dip, caviar canapés and miniature quiches with homemade pastry for 40. To make the pastry, I stood on a step stool to reach the food processor I stashed on top of the microwave. I kept my stockpot under my bed, filled with sweaters that were easily dumped out when the soup siren sang.
Although I only lived there for a year, I developed several go-to dishes that I could pull together in one pan, with minimal chopping and cleanup. This shrimp dish was my favorite. The lemon, garlic, and capers gave it a zesty pungency without much work, while the feta melted into a creamy pan sauce, luxuriously coating the shrimp.
It was, it should be noted, Harry’s favorite too. For obvious reasons.
Shrimp For a Small Kitchen (Shrimp with Capers, Lemon, and Feta)
Time: 10 minutes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and cleaned
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 to 2 tablespoons capers, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or basil, plus additional for garnish
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, stirring, and cook until fragrant but not browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the shrimp, then add the feta, lemon juice, capers, salt, and pepper.
2. Continue stirring over the heat until the shrimp become just opaque and the sauce begins to thicken. Add the cilantro or basil and stir to combine. Serve garnished with additional herbs, if desired.
Serves 2 to 3.