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Small Plate Big Flavor Shrimp Starter

Image of shrimp polenta appetizer
Here’s a small plate appetizer recipe submitted by Kyle Peterson of Melissa’s Retail Sales Team that comes along just in time for a June tradition – the kick-off of patio/deck cocktail hour season! Kyle uses three items from Melissa’s Italian flavors collection to create a tasty little bite that is both light and hearty at the same time. A small plate appetizer is supposed to do just that— stimulate the appetite—and these scrumptious little polenta rounds certainly perk the palate! As to the aforementioned season of libations on the deck, this dish pairs nicely with a refreshing cocktail on a warm summer evening. For Kyle, however, this is also a dish of memories.

“The inspiration for this recipe came from my 95-year-old Italian grandmother,” explained Kyle. “She has been making polenta for every special family occasion since I was a kid and still does – like for my birthday every year! While she usually tops her rounds with a homemade spaghetti sauce (that the cherry tomatoes represent in the recipe), I also remember the distinct aroma of a pesto she makes that would permeate her kitchen. So, for me, this recipe brings back both those delicious memories. The shrimp is my own touch just to make the dish a bit more substantial; plus, I think it provides the main component for the flavors of the polenta, cherry tomatoes, and pesto to support.”

A delightfully delicious support team, indeed! Kyle layers those flavors of each component in sequence with three quick sautés. It’s such a simple, three-part, one-pan preparation that belies huge flavor results! The best approach to this recipe is to measure and prep all ingredients before starting. Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs) is a French term for having all ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated, etc., before starting a recipe. The dish is best served warm, so having all components readied beforehand will make for a quicker cook and assembly.

While I chose to use a relatively small shrimp to accommodate two per polenta round, one could also use one larger variety of prawns instead. In either case, the shrimp are lightly seasoned for Kyle’s first sauté, which leaves the essence of shrimp in the pan’s oil that melds with the seasonings and cherry tomatoes in the second sauté. Lastly, the drippings from the shrimp and tomatoes flavor the polenta rounds in the third frying. For a timely assembly, warm-up Melissa’s Basil Pesto right out of the jar while the polenta rounds are cooking so the sauce is ready to drizzle over the goods. Of course, the choice of refreshing beverage to complete the experience is a matter of taste!

Image of Kyle Peterson
Kyle Peterson has been a member of Melissa’s Retail Sales Team for three years. Technically, one could say that Kyle has just one customer. That is, he oversees what is known in the business of fresh produce as the DSD Merchandiser for several regional stores of one of our largest retail chain accounts in Southern California. Direct Store Delivery (DSD) means delivering our products directly to a store in collaboration with in-store managers, thus bypassing the retailer's distribution center. DSD is a very hands-on program that puts the responsibility of stocking Melissa’s products in our hands, not the stores’. So, Kyle spends much of his time in the produce departments of the stores in the program or visiting other stores in the client’s network to expand Melissa’s brand distribution.

“I find my job both fascinating and fun! Every day is different with new problems to solve or new products to introduce. Plus, my own personal education is constantly being expanded as there are so many facets, factors and fresh produce items to learn about in this business,” Kyle reflected. “Another interesting part of this job is working directly with both the produce managers and meeting their consumers. It can also be great fun to introduce a customer to a new product they may never have seen or tasted.”

When Kyle’s marketing duties are done for the day, his two most demanding “customers” get his full attention. That is, his wife Tammy gets a break from Kaley (4) and Colston (1) as Kyle takes over as recreation director. At four, daughter Kaley is learning where food comes from the old-fashioned way by tending to a small garden that she and her dad work on together–planting some of her favorite fruits and vegetables as the seasons allow. (Hmm, methinks the seeds of a future Melissa’s team member are also being cultivated!). Son Colston is just getting the feel of things under his feet at one year old, though Kyle says that he already enjoys throwing and catching a baseball. (Another hmmm…methinks maybe a future bonus baby (no pun!) is also being groomed?).

And speaking of America’s game, when asked whom he would most want to invite to his table for a meal, Kyle was quick to answer.

“If I could invite any well-known person to enjoy a meal at my table, it would definitely be Vin Scully,” Kyle responded without hesitation. “Just to be able to listen to all the stories from his lifetime in sports broadcasting would be amazing. Plus, his style is so compelling – he has a way of turning a simple story about baseball into a moral or extremely captivating life lesson. It would be a very long evening and a life-changing experience.”

Dare I say it...Kyle Peterson hits it out of the park with his Shrimp-Polenta Appetizer!

Shrimp-Polenta Appetizer
Serves 2 (2 polenta rounds per plate)
Image of ingredents for appetizer
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 shrimp size 51-60
Salt & Pepper to taste
10 Melissa’s Baby Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes
1 tablespoon Melissa’s Spice Grinder Italian Seasonings
Salt & Pepper to taste
4 Slices Melissa’s Italian Herb Polenta
8 tablespoons Melissa’s Basil Pesto, warmed

Image of Shrimp
Season shrimp with salt & pepper to taste, then sauté in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until cooked through, set aside and keep warm.
Image of cooking tomatoes
Add another tablespoon of oil to whatever is left in the skillet and sauté the cherry tomatoes, seasoning with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, until roasted but still whole. Set aside and keep warm.
Image of frying polenta
Now, add the remaining oil to the skillet and fry the polenta slices until the edges turn golden.
Image of polenta shrimp appetizer
To plate: Place two polenta slices per plate, top each with two or three cherry tomatoes and two shrimp, then drizzle with a few tablespoons of warmed Melissa’s pesto.
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