While the beans were cooking, I made shrimp stock by boiling the shells with water to cover for about 45 minutes. That tasted a little thin, so I added some chopped vegetables. That still didn't fix it. So I added some white wine. Finally, some chopped parsley stems gave the stock the finish it needed.
When it came time to eat, I sauteed the shrimp over high heat in a little butter, then added some very coarsely chopped tomato. When the tomato began to soften, I added some of the drained beans. It turned out that the carefully made shrimp broth wasn't necessary at all; the shrimp and the tomatoes themselves gave off enough moisture to bind the stew.
I started out adding just enough basil to give it an accent, but when I tasted the dish, the basil was so good I added some more. And then some more. Not only did it complement the tomatoes, as planned, it somehow provided a bridge among the three flavors and added an herbal snap all its own.
Most important, it passed my ultimate dinner party test. As people began to taste it, conversation gradually came to a stop for a couple of minutes while everyone ate, only to pick up even louder and happier afterward.
Just the way I planned it, you understand.
STEW OF SHRIMP AND RUNNER BEANS
You probably won't be able to find mauve runner beans unless you shop at the Torrance farmers' market. Don't let that stop you from trying this dish. Any dried bean can be substituted, preferably those with nuttier flavors--runner beans, chestnut beans, black beans, etc. In a pinch, it would even be good with pintos.
If you want, make stock by combining the shrimp heads and shells, 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 cup white wine and water to cover in large pot and simmering 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and freeze for future use.
3 pounds head-on shrimp (2 pounds head-off, 1 3/4 pounds cooked, peeled)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound dried mauve runner beans or other dried beans
4 cups water
1 dried chipotle chile
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, very coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup lightly packed torn basil leaves
Remove heads from shrimp, peel and, if necessary, remove black sandy vein in back. Place shrimp in plastic bag with 1 teaspoon minced garlic, olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mix well, seal tightly and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
In medium pot, combine beans, water, chipotle, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Bring to boil on top of stove, cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Check from time to time to make sure water has not evaporated.
When almost ready to serve, drain beans (reserving liquid, if desired, to use in soups). Heat butter and remaining 2 teaspoons minced garlic in large skillet. When garlic is fragrant, add shrimp and cook until opaque, about 2 minutes. Remove to bowl with slotted spoon, add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they soften, about 2 minutes. If there is much liquid in bottom of pan, boil quickly to reduce juices.
Return shrimp to pan. Add beans and heat through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in basil. Serve immediately.
8 appetizer or 6 main-course servings. Each appetizer serving contains:
149 calories; 522 mg sodium; 174 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 19 grams protein; 0.71 gram fiber.