Scampi with Sherry and Lavender

Many people use lavender – as perfume, or bathing, or a variety of other things, but have you ever considered using it as a seasoning?

Lavender is part of the same family as rosemary, and as such, generally works fine in any dishes where rosemary can also be used.  It has a strong, sweet but a little harsh scent (familiar to most if not all).  A small caution for using lavender in food – it can turn slightly bitter if you go too generously with it.  Use the same guideline as you would with hot spices – try a little and gradually increase the amount if you feel it’s not enough.  On the other hand, because of how strong the fragrance is, a little really does go a long way.  There is no need to pour it on by the teaspoonful – a few dried flowers scattered over your meal do more than enough to impart the flavor.

This is a dish of giant prawns in which I incidentally decided to use up some slightly-softening tomatoes and a bit of sourdough bread from the day before which was going slightly stale.  The reference to “scampi” is not in terms of what species of crustacean I use, but the American prawn or shrimp dish, of which this is a more robust variation.

It takes nearly no time, tastes fantastic and uses up leftovers all at the same time.  It can go really well paired with a salad of some sort of bitter greens such as baby leaf salad or arugula, but it’s just fine as it is on its own as well.

What you need (feeds 2):

  • 8-12 giant prawns or 300g tiger or whiteleg prawns (the commonly sold varieties), shell cut on top, and deveined.
  • 2 tomatoes
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • Pinch of red chili flakes
  • Pinch of dried culinary lavender buds. Note: when buying lavender, please make sure it’s untreated and suitable for consumption.  Spice shops and gift shops in botanical gardens will frequently stock it, but I am sure it is possible to get culinary-grade lavender on the net as well.
  • 75ml sherry (not sweet, I use Amontillado)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • A few slices of sourdough or other crusty bread with strong crumb (somewhat stale ok).  Really, you can probably do this well with just about any decent bread, but for the love of little green apples, please, please don’t try this with the insipid white spongy bagged … stuff (I hesitate to call that bread), it will disintegrate on contact with liquids and you will get disgusting mush.
  • Some chopped flat-leaf parsley to decorate (entirely optional).

What to do:

  • Drain your defrosted and deveined prawns in a colander.
  • Preheat broiler (top grill) of your oven to 220°C.
  • Blitz garlic in a food processor to small shreds.  Add tomatoes and blitz to a coarse slurry.
  • Add sea salt, chili, lavender buds, sherry, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and blend to combine.
  • Place your prawns in a bowl, pour over the sauce you’ve just mixed, and swish around to combine.  Ensure all prawns are at least moistened by the sauce.
  • In the meantime, cut up the bread – reserve a few of the nicer slices for toasting and cut the rest up into 2-3 fingers lengthwise each.  Drizzle the slices reserved for toasting with the remaining olive oil on both sized (use more if needed) and allow to rest.
  • Pour the prawns and sauce into a ceramic or glass baking dish and spread out into a single layer.  Add the cut-up fingers of bread at a tilt (close to horizonal) in a sort of a falling-domino pattern around the edges of the dish, submerging the edges of them in the sauce.
  • Place a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat to preheat.
  • Place the prawn dish under broiler (about 2nd rack from the top of the oven) and cook until the prawns are red and curled up, with edges beginning to char lightly.  The time will depend on your oven, how far the rack is in it, and how large your prawns were, but at a guess, they can be ready in as little as 10 minutes or as much as 20 (my giant ones took a while).
  • While the prawns cook, lightly toast the reserved drizzled-with-oil bread slices in the pan and arrange them on plates.  Sprinkly with flaked sea salt and some lavender buds if desired.
  • When the prawns are ready, remove from oven and plate the prawns and the sauced bread quickly.  You can sprinkle them with a little chopped parsley if you like the look of greens among all of that gold and red, but I was happy with it as-is, with a few piercingly purple-blue lavender buds scattered on top.

Black tea with a touch of honey or coffee will work equally well with this.  Or, if doing this for dinner, a crisp white wine would work really well too.  The sauce, for the record, tastes utterly amazing and the toasted sourdough is great for sopping it up after the prawns are all gone.  Just thought you should know.  ;)

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