To make breadcrumbs quickly in a food processor, remove the crusts from slightly stale bread; tear the bread into pieces, and pulse in a food processor until they form coarse crumbs. It is a great way to preserve those last few slices that have gone a teensy bit stale.
For the breadcrumbs (optional):
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups coarse bread crumbs, store-bought or homemade (see Recipe Note)
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch ground black pepper
For the shrimp:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large fennel bulb
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo, Maras, or other crushed red pepper
- 2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
- 2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup water, or as needed
- 1 pound extra large (16 to 20 count) shrimp
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley (for garnish)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges (for garnish)
1 Toast the breadcrumbs (optional): In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the bread crumbs, thyme, salt, and ground black pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden and crisp. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.
2 Prepare the fennel: If there are any brown spots on the outside of the bulb, use a vegetable peeler to remove them. Cut a sliver off the bottom of the fennel bulb, but leave the root intact to hold the wedges together. Slice off the stems close to the bulb, and reserve some of the fennel fronds for the garnish. Cut the fennel bulb into 8 wedges.
3 Sauté the fennel: In the skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the fennel wedges and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, turning them with tongs occasionally, until they are golden on the outside. Transfer the wedges to a plate.
4 Cook the onions and seasonings: Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat, and add the onions, garlic, celery, thyme, salt, and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the vegetables soften.
5 Add the tomatoes and simmer: Add the tomatoes, their juices, and 1/2 cup water to the pan. Bring to a simmer and nestle the fennel wedges into the tomatoes.
Cook for 12 to 14 minutes, turning the fennel with tongs occasionally, until the fennel is tender. If the liquid in the pan looks dry, add more water, a few tablespoons at a time.
6 Add the beans and shrimp: Stir in the beans and return the stew to a simmer. Spread the shrimp on top, cover the skillet with a lid, and simmer at very low heat for 2 minutes.
With tongs, turn the shrimp over in the stew, cover the pan with a lid, and remove it from the heat. Let the shrimp cook in the residual heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are opaque in the center.
7 To serve: Transfer the stew to a serving dish, or serve it straight from the skillet. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs, parsley, and reserved fennel fronds over the top and finish it with a squeeze of lemon. Serve with additional lemon wedges.