Simple Art of Cooking: Remember James Beard, Celebrate Carla Hall

The Chew's Carla Hall at Chefs & Champagne.
The Chew's Carla Hall at Chefs & Champagne. Photo credit: Barbara Lassen

Everyone would like to have Carla Hall in his or her life. Carla was the honoree at the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne gala benefit at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack last month, and at the event she simply oozed warmth and charm. With her infectious laugh you can’t be anything but happy with Carla around. As a former contestant on Top Chef she brought her spirituality through meditation and yoga along with her effervescent personality and a kind of quirky side that made her a stand-out and she was subsequently selected as co-host on The Chew, the daily TV show she now co-hosts with Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Daphne Oz and
Clinton Kelly.


The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to nurture and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and the Christian Wölffer Scholarship awards were created to help educate future chefs and winemakers. Funds are raised through the dinner prepared by more than 40 outstanding chefs. I thought that there was an exceptional array of creative combinations incorporated into the variety of tastings. Combinations like fennel pollen dusted shrimp on a bed of roasted corn and tomato confit, a super refreshing crab gazpacho, grilled oysters with chipotle butter, a luscious pistachio cake with anise biscotti and plum preserves—and many more. Carla Hall fit right into the chef’s scene having recently opened her own restaurant, Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen in Red Hook. Her assorted petite gourmet cookies and mini jam sandwiches were indeed a treat. Wines and cider from Wölffer Estate Vineyard and beer flowed throughout the evening. A culinary food and wine bash indeed!

James Beard, cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of food, who died in 1985, was a champion of American cuisine. Through the Beard Foundation his legacy continues.

This recipe is an adaptation of the fennel pollen dusted shrimp offered by the Manhattan restaurant Delicatessen, one of 40-plus restaurants featured at Chefs & Champagne, the gala summer event held at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack.

Note: The fennel pollen is omitted, as it is simply not available except online according to the restaurant. I substituted ground fennel seeds, which offered marvelous flavor.

Serve as appetizer for 6 to 8

To marinate shrimp

1 pound large shrimp, 16 to 20 size, shelled and deveined with tail on
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 smashed garlic cloves
2 to 3 fresh thyme sprigs
a sprig of fresh rosemary

For the corn and tomato salad

kernels from 2 to 3 fresh ears of corn
extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 small jalapeno, finely chopped (seeds removed, if desired)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 to 8 ripe plum tomatoes
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 to 3 finely sliced garlic

To finish

1/2 cup dry fennel seeds

For the smoked chili oil (optional)

Whisk together 2 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika with 1/4 cup canola oil in a small saucepan. Over low heat, heat to a simmering 160 degrees, about 3 minutes. Stir the mixture well and, with a rubber spatula, scrape into cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl and allow the smoked chili oil to drip into a small glass for several hours.

1. Have shrimp cleaned and ready for marinating; place in a bowl. In a small saucepan combine olive oil, garlic cloves thyme and rosemary sprigs. With lid ajar and the pan on the lowest heat, bring the mixture to the edge of a simmer. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes and remove from heat. Cool thoroughly and pour over the shrimp. Cover bowl and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 375°F

2. Prepare corn and tomato ahead. Place corn kernels in a bowl and toss with just enough olive oil to lightly coat, about 3 to 4 tablespoons. Add shallot, thyme leaves, jalapeño and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer corn to a baking dish and roast in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and adjust seasoning if necessary. Can be prepared up to one day ahead. Refrigerate covered as necessary.

Preheat oven to 225°F

3. Quarter tomatoes and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Arrange the quarters cut side up. Scatter thyme leaves and slice garlic over the tomatoes, Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast for 2 1/2 hours. Cool and place in a suitable container and refrigerate for up to two to three days.

4. When ready to serve, grind the fennel seeds in a spice grinder to a powder and transfer to a work plate. Bring the corn and tomato confit to room temperature or warm in a microwave; then divide equally on serving plates. Preheat a cast iron or sturdy nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes and film with oil. Take each shrimp by its tail and swipe both sides lightly in the fennel powder then place each one in the hot oil. This will have to be done in two batches or use two skillets. Cook the shrimp for 1 1/2 minutes on each side and divide equally, arranging two shrimp over each serving of corn and tomato salad. Garnish with a drizzle of smoked chili oil, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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