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Cajun Shrimp Chowder

I first had shrimp chowder in New Orleans in a little hole-in-the-wall a friend took me to. This recipe includes the Cajun trinity: onion, celery and bell pepper. I substitute leeks for the onions and use a red bell pepper instead of green because the sweetness of the ripe pepper complements the shrimp better.

Makes 4 servings

1 pound shrimp, peeled (reserve shells and heads, if you have them, for stock)

3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (a mixture of spices available in the spice section of most grocery stores)

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups shrimp stock or bottled clam juice

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large leek, white part only, cut into half rounds (about 3/4 cup)

1 medium stalk celery, about 3/4 cup diced

1/2 red bell pepper, about 3/4 cup diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 cup half and half

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Scallions, chopped (for garnish)

Toss shrimp with 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning in a small bowl.

Heat a 12-inch saute pan over medium heat. Add butter and swirl to melt. Add shrimp and cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, turn over and cook another minute. The shrimp should be opaque, but not quite cooked through. Remove from heat.

Bring shrimp stock or clam juice to a boil in a small saucepan, add shrimp shells (and heads if you have them), reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out shrimp shells and heads, and discard.

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks, celery and bell pepper, and sweat for five minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Stir in flour and cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, for 3 minutes. Whisk in clam juice; be careful, it will thicken quickly.

Stir in half and half and tomato paste. Bring to a light simmer, add shrimp and simmer 1 more minute.

Serve garnished with chopped scallions.

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