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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Garden Update III

July 26, 2010

This spring, we planted a two-acre garden to supply our restaurants with fresh, organic produce.

We’ve had some wins and a few losses in the garden, so far. Almost 3/4 of an acre, in a second plot a few hundred yards away from the main garden, was planted in corn and cucumbers. They didn’t make it. I don’t know enough about gardening to know why we failed there. Just before we planted, we cut trees and cleared the land. My guess is that the soil wasn’t balanced or prepped correctly.

Nevertheless, we have 1 1/4 acres flourishing. The restaurants are getting stocked almost every day.

In the Purple Parrot Café we are making fresh, organic gazpacho with our Roma tomatoes, succotash using our bell peppers and butter beans, and ratatouille with our squash, zucchini, and eggplant.

In the Crescent City Grill we are using Romas in all of our salads and pastas, jalapeno peppers in our salsas, okra in our gumbos, and fresh herbs in almost everything. Though the stars of the garden, so far, have been squash and zucchini.

We use squash and zucchini in our steamed vegetable medley, and when we stir-fry vegetables, but where we have not been able to keep up with the demand is with a daily special we have been featuring— Baked Shrimp and Squash.

The Baked Shrimp and Squash dish is flying out the door. The reason, I suspect, is not because the ingredients are coming from our garden, but because it’s just a great-tasting, local dish.

I created the Baked Shrimp and Squash dish about 10 years ago, during my first foray into gardening. I plated 400 linear feet of squash and was knee deep in the stuff for weeks. I was desperately trying to create dishes to make use of the surplus when I remembered a baked squash casserole that my mother used to make. I took that recipe, modified it, added shrimp and more seasoning, and one of my signature dishes was born.

Baked Shrimp and Squash was one of the most popular recipes in my first cookbook “A Southern Palate,” it was included in my Top 40 Recipes of All Time in my latest book “Dispatches From My South,” and out of all of the dishes I have prepared while traveling and doing cooking demos on tour, Baked Shrimp and Squash is served most often.

I talk about Baked Shrimp and Squash when giving speeches, and when answering questions about my style of cooking. It is the perfect example of local cuisine from this part of South Mississippi. It combines fresh shrimp from the Gulf, Creole seasonings from Louisiana, and fresh vegetables from the South Mississippi garden.

It can be prepared in a large casserole dish, or served in individual rarebit dishes as we do in the restaurant. It is perfect for a summer lunch served with roasted asparagus or fresh fruit, and is the go-to casserole I deliver to someone’s home.

Baked Shrimp and Squash is versatile, it is local, and— for the next several weeks— is coming from our organic garden.

The honeydew, Cantaloupe, and watermelon are almost ready, but in the meantime we’ll keep picking squash.

Baked Shrimp and Squash

6 cups Squash, cut into 1 /2-inch cubes
1/4 cup Clarified butter, canola oil or bacon grease
1 Tbl Garlic, minced
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper, freshly ground
1 Tbl Creole Seasoning
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
3 cups Fresh Shrimp (36 – 42 count), peeled and de-veined
1/4 cup Clarified butter or canola oil
1 Tbl Old Bay Seasoning
1 Tbl. Garlic
1/2 cup Onion, medium dice
1/4 cup Red Bell pepper, medium dice
1/4 cup Green Bell Pepper, medium dice
4 Tbl Butter, cubed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Sour Cream
1/4 cup Green Onion, sliced
1 Tbl Hot Sauce
1 cup Ritz Cracker crumbs, crumbled fine
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
2 Tbl Parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, sauté the squash, butter, garlic, salt, pepper Creole seasoning and green onion over medium-high heat until the squash is cooked. Place squash in a colander and press out excess moisture with the back of a spoon (this is very important). Pour squash into a stainless steel mixing bowl, discard the drained liquid.

In the same skillet sauté the shrimp, butter, Old Bay, garlic, onion, and bell pepper until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to the mixing bowl with the squash. Discard the excess liquid.

Immediately add butter, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onion and hot sauce to the bowl with the hot shrimp/squash mixture. Gently stir until butter and cheeses are melted. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 casserole dish.

Mix together the Ritz crumbs, parmesan and parsley. Top casserole with the cracker crumb mixture and bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly.

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