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Recipes For An Intimate New Year's Celebration From Chef Kathy Gunst

Shrimp scampi. (Kathy Gunst)
Shrimp scampi. (Kathy Gunst)

I often feel sentimental at year’s end, thinking back on great times with family and friends, outstanding meals, travel and discoveries. But I won’t shed a tear to see 2020 fade out. Bring in 2021.

How do you say goodbye to one of the worst years in memory? Is celebrating even an appropriate response?

I say we need to celebrate now more than ever. As we wrap up a year that has brought such hardship for so many around the world, we need to find light and look to the future. And creating a memorable meal is one of the best ways I know to celebrate.

This will not be the year for a party. This will be the year that just you and that special someone, or a few members of your immediate family or quarantine pod getting together, staying safe and sharing some delicious food.

For some, the New Year’s holiday means purchasing extravagant, over-the-top food and drinks like caviar and Champagne. But, in looking at New Year’s food traditions around the globe, you find simpler foods with deep meaning. They vary from state to state, region to region, and country to country.

For instance, in the American South, black-eyed peas and leafy greens are eaten for good luck during the new year. In many cultures fish, whole fish in particular, is eaten because it symbolizes abundance. Scandinavians prefer to eat pickled herring, a symbol of fertility and long life. Noodles, particularly in Asian culture, are also said to bring long life, while rice is a symbol of fertility and wealth. Lentils, with their coin-shape, are said to bring prosperity and often show up as part of Italian new year celebrations.

Tamales, wrapped in corn husk, are a Mexican tradition celebrating family. And eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight is a Spanish tradition, each grape is said to bring good luck in the coming year.

Whatever your tradition, make your meal on the last night of this very rough year something memorable. But remember that delicious doesn’t have to equate extravagance or over the top eating and drinking. Somehow that doesn’t feel right this year.

Pop open a bottle of sparkling wine (add a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds which symbolize fertility, beauty and eternal life) for festive color and crunch. Crank the music and start cooking.

This year I will make a simple shrimp scampi with loads of garlic, a gorgeous salad featuring bitter, crunchy chicories, fruit and nuts, and a gratin of winter leeks. And for dessert: the simplest chocolate mousse (made from 4 ingredients) topped with vanilla-scented whipped cream.

May 2021 be a fresh start for all. To a happy and healthy New Year!

A Salad For A New Year

Vibrant color, crunchy textures, and sweet and sour flavors. That’s the profile of this celebration salad. You’ll need to search for a few ingredients you might not have lying around. Even if you only can find one or two it will be worth the effort. The base of the salad comes from a variety of chicory — endive, radicchio, escarole and frisée, a curly endive green.

Chicory greens are hardy, slightly bitter late fall/early winter greens and make a great salad. Look for beautiful radicchio (maroon and white spots or stripes) at your local farmers market or grocery store. Use one, two or several varieties.

The salad is topped with pomegranate seeds and persimmons, an orange-colored fruit that is more savory than sweet. Look for the Hachiya variety of persimmon, orange with an elongated base. You can always substitute apple or pear slices.

The salad is then topped with nuts and a light lemony dressing. And the salad and the dressing can be put together a few hours before serving and then tossed at the last minute.

Serves 2 to 3.


For the salad

  • 3 cups mixed chicory (radicchio leaves, escarole leaves, endive spears, and/or frisée — use one, or a combination of all, cut or torn in bite-sized pieces)
  • 1 Hachiya persimmon, peeled and cut into thin slices, (you could substitute a pear or apple)
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup almonds, Marcona almonds, pistachios, or walnuts, left whole or coarsely chopped

For the lemon dressing

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon or Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate juice (from the pomegranate above if using), or orange juice, optional
  • 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Arrange the chicory on a salad plate or bowl.
  2. Surround the persimmon or pear slices around the greens. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and nuts.
  3. Make the dressing: In a small bowl or jar mix all the ingredients and taste for seasoning. Add more oil, salt and pepper if needed.
  4. The salad and dressing can be made several hours ahead of time.

Shrimp Scampi-Style

There are many versions of this classic seafood dish, but lots of butter and garlic are key. The garlic is minced and also sliced and sautéed in copious amounts of butter. The shrimp are tossed into the garlicky butter along with dry white wine, scallion, parsley, lemon juice, and a sprinkling of red chile flakes and then cooked in a hot oven and finished off under the broiler.

I like cooking the shrimp in the shell because it keeps the crustaceans moist and there’s less chance of overcooking. If you can find shrimp that are in the shell and deveined it’s ideal. (And a bonus: Once you peel the shrimp you can save the shells to make a simple shrimp stock.)

This dish takes less than 30 minutes to make and is excellent served with pasta (tossed with some of the juices from the skillet), or as a first course with warm, crusty bread to sop up the juices in the shrimp skillet.

Serves 2 as a main course and 4 as a first course.


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (depending on how garlicky you like it)
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, deveined, preferably with shells still on*
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • Pinch salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion, white and green parts
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, optional
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

*Ask your fish store to devein the shrimp for you while still keeping the shell on. If you want to do it yourself, using a small, sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut a slit along the back of the shrimp shells. Using the tip of your knife, a toothpick, or small skewer, lift out the thin black vein. Leave the remaining shell intact.


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a heavy oven-proof skillet large enough for the shrimp to lay out in one layer without overlapping, cook the butter and the minced and sliced garlic over medium heat and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the shrimp in one layer, top with the wine, salt, pepper, chile pepper, scallion, lemon juice and half the parsley.
  3. Place the skillet on the middle shelf and bake for 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and preheat the broiler. Baste the juices on top of the shrimp. Place on the top shelf under the broiler for 3 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and the lemon wedges and serve hot. Peel the shrimp as you eat them and have plenty of napkins nearby.

Chocolate Mousse With Vanilla Whipped Cream And Candied Ginger

This simplified version of a French classic calls for only four ingredients: chocolate, milk, heavy cream and vanilla extract. You can add other flavors if you like — think grated tangerine zest, a teaspoon of almond-flavored liqueur, ground ginger and cinnamon, and more. But keeping it simple is sometimes the best road to take.

If you’re only cooking for two it’s quite easy to divide this recipe in half. Top the mousse with vanilla-scented whipped cream and thin slivers of candied ginger or citrus, if you like.

Serves 6.


For the chocolate mousse

  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate (about 55%), chopped
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the whipped cream topping

  • About ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 pieces candied ginger or orange, cut into thin slivers (optional)


  1. In a medium saucepan combine the two types of chocolate and place over very low heat, stirring with a soft spatula until almost fully melted. Remove from heat and stir until the chocolate is smooth and fully melted.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small pot, heat the milk over medium-low heat until simmering.
  3. Using a mixer, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks; whisk in the vanilla.
  4. Whisk the hot milk into the melted chocolate until smooth. Using a spatula, slowly fold the chocolate mixture into the whipped cream until well blended. Divide the mousse into 6 individual cup size ramekins or small bowls, cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
  5. Whip the cream: Using a mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip a few more seconds.
  6. Top each bowl of mousse with a hearty spoonful of whipped cream. Add a few pieces of candied ginger or citrus around the mousse, if desired.

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This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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