My first trip out of the country was a few weeks after college graduation in 2008. I had been desperate to travel to Italy for years before that but for some reason, I never went despite my school’s amazing study abroad programs and the fact that I minored in Italian
When graduation rolled around, my parents asked me what I might want as a gift, and I knew that their help towards a trip to Italy was exactly what I wanted. I’m a lucky girl. I thought about going for a few weeks and traveling by myself, hitting up the big cities and small towns I always dreamed of visiting and taking the train between each. That idea turned out to be a bit more expensive than I had anticipated so I searched for alternatives and found a travel group of people between the ages of 18 and 25 that was going at a time that was convenient, so I booked the trip and anxiously awaited the departure date.
I was surprisingly unafraid to go by myself, meet up with a bunch of strangers in Milan and then be forced to <gasp> make friends. It was probably one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I remember sitting on the plane, about to depart from JFK on a peaceful spring night in May, not really sure what to expect, but knowing that my travels would be different than anything I’d ever experienced before.
When I arrived in Milan, met up with the rest of the group, explored a bit, and then headed to Venice on a bus with 30 people I had never seen before in my life, I was exhausted, wishing I had thought to pack my toothbrush and deodorant in my carry on, and suddenly I became slightly intimidated by all the people there. It was a classic, “Will I be able to make friends here?” moment and it scared me. I looked out the window at the night sky of Northern Italy, and realized I’d make that experience the best it could be for myself, and everything would work out as it should.
We checked into our hotel and I was put into a room with a bunch of amazing gals who traveled alone, as well. We all hit it off immediately and talked til we fell asleep. The next morning we headed to Venice. Typical for me, I left the group pretty much as soon as we got there. I can’t handle tour guides and knew that our time there was limited and that I’d be far better off exploring by myself, so I broke off from the group and spent the entire day wandering the streets of glorious, mystical Venice with no Smartphone in hand to tell me where I was, marveling at Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, the outdoor markets, a gondola ride, a lunch of fettuccini bolognese (one of my last meat-filled meals) and red wine in a small restaurant off the beaten path, and taking a trip to La Fenice, which thrilled me beyond comprehension because I had just begun my opera obsession and taking serious voice lessons about a month before.
Despite my initial concerns, most everyone in our travel group became wonderful friends and we frolicked happily (and nauseatingly) through Florence, Rome, Assisi, Sorrento, Capri and Florence together, eating amazing meals, tons of gelato, and seeing all of the amazing, timeless sights everywhere we went. I hold this experience close to me, especially on days when I’m particularly frustrated with work, overwhelmed by the to-do list, or just in a bad mood. I don’t speak regularly to my travel buddies these days, but because we’re all on Facebook, it’s fun to catch up every once in a while and see how everyone is doing. Then there are the photos, too.
While the experience of traveling to Europe for the first time was grand and life changing in so many ways, I’ve found that since this experience, and many other wonderful, notable ones along the way, the challenge has been more about finding beauty and magnitude in small, everyday things. It’s the quintessential events that matter so much of the time, the smile from a stranger on the street, the little victories at work, the chat on the subway home with friends – all of that is worthy of our attention, and is what we should work towards appreciating. The big stuff still matters, but the little stuff does, too. I’m still learning this every day.
Sometimes the little stuff that stays with us, especially if you’re reading this, is the food we make. I’m all about risotto and the carefully frosted layer cakes, but much of the time, simple, unfussy sorts of meals are my favorite. I never expected that shrimp and broccoli roasted with a few spices would turn my head all that far, but it did and I welcomed that surprise on a random Monday night as we sat down to eat dinner at around 9PM after a crazy day, and we savored every bite.
I’m pretty new to the food community and I’m just beginning to learn all the names out there that are repeated over and over again, but I understand now why Melissa Clark is so respected. Every recipe I’ve encountered that came from her pen has been perfect, and her column is one I have been looking forward to every week. Now I just have to get my hands on that book of hers.
If you don’t think roasting shrimp is something you’d normally think of doing, I assure you that it’s nothing to fear. Don’t worry about over cooking it; as long as you make sure that it doesn’t stay in the oven for longer than 10 minutes, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Roasting broccoli is one of my favorite ways to draw out the best of what it can do. When it roasts, it browns slowly and acquires a deep, savory caramel flavor that is accented in this dish by coriander, cumin and chili powder. You wonder if you’re even eating broccoli anymore. The shrimp are roasted until tender, and the zip from the lemon zest and lemon juice binds the whole dish together in to a bright, approachable heap of goodness.
While roasted shrimp and broccoli might not be exactly as exciting as a trip to Italy, it’s a dish you’ll welcome onto your dinner table after a long day, and plan on making again as soon as you’ve finished it.
Roasted Broccoli and Shrimp
Yield: 4 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
Luisa has made the adjustments for those of us who only have ground spices on hand since the original version calls for whole cumin and coriander. I served this with a side of farro, one of my new favorite nutty, chewy grains.
2 pounds broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon hot chili powder
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 1/4 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss broccoli with 2 tablespoons oil, coriander, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and chili powder. In a separate bowl, combine shrimp, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, lemon zest, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
2. Spread broccoli in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Add shrimp to baking sheet and toss with broccoli. Roast, tossing once halfway through, until shrimp are just opaque and broccoli is tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Serve with lemon wedges, or squeeze lemon juice all over shrimp and broccoli just before serving.