Jim Hagenbuckle is one of my favorite artists. He paints slightly twisted photorealistic canvases of old airplanes, pirate ships, portraits of his friends and classic Florida scenes that are stunning in their attention to detail and exaggerated color. Hagenbuckle, who lives in a charming Spanish-style house in Pass-a-Grille, Fla., is as good at entertaining as he is at painting. He has a knack for bringing together interesting people from diverse disciplines, and his dinner parties are done with an artistic simplicity that causes widespread envy and blatant imitation. An evening of Artists' Salad with Emerald Isle Shrimp, was such a meal. ARTISTS' SALAD (6 servings) 2 heads lettuce 2 large tomatoes 1 large green pepper 6 scallions 6 radishes 8 ounces feta cheese 12 Greek olives 6 pickled peppers 12 slices canned beets Oregano Oil, vinegar and garlic for dressing
"Even though I've given you all the ingredients," Hagenbuckle teases, "Artists' Salad can only be made by an artist. Anyone can go out and buy the paraphernalia for a salad, just as anyone can go out and buy the materials for a painting. The real artistry comes into play a bit later... after the ingredients for the salad have been washed, for example.
"Artists' Salad, like painting, is a matter of texture and color, from the first lettuce leaf right to the final drop of dressing. Pay attention... and see how it fills up.
"Start with the outer leaves of lettuce and 6 individual salad bowls. Make cups of the leaves in the bottom of the bowls and then thinly slice whatever lettuce remains. Cut each tomato into 6 wedges. Halve the green pepper through the waist, not from head to foot. Cut 3 rings from each half. Flute the scallions and radishes and cut the feta into 6 slices. Each salad will also get 2 Greek olives, 1 pickled pepper, 2 slices of beet and whatever quantity of lettuce you deem artistic.
"When you've built the salads, sprinkle a good dose of oregano on each and refrigerate until serving time. The dressing, which should be added at the table, is vinegar and oil with an X-rated amount of fresh pressed garlic." EMERALD ISLE SHRIMP (6 servings) 4 medium onions 4 medium green peppers 2 carrots 3 pounds medium shrimp 2 medium red sweet peppers 8 cloves 2 bay leaves 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds 1/2 teaspoon dill seeds 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1/2 teaspoon coriander 1/2 teaspoon allspice
Chop onions, peppers, and carrots. Combine unpeeled shrimp, vegetables and remaining ingredients in a large pot (or slow cooker). Top off the pot with cold water, cover and turn the dial to medium heat.
"The idea is cook them slowly, " Hagenbuckle says. "You just want to get them pink; that perfect shrimp pink, you know? Keep tasting and testing them. It should take anywhere from 20 minutes if you use the stove to an hour in the slow cooker."
Hagenbuckle covered his large, rosewood dining room table with newspapers and constructed a centerpiece of fresh wildflowers and four white candles. The table was set with silver salad forks on cloth napkins, wine glasses, water glasses and two silver pitchers of ice water. He served two bottles of nice French white wine, the salads and the shrimp, which had been placed in a gorgeous Waterford bowl.
After dinner Hagenbuckle rolled up his shell-littered newspaper tablecloth and served butter almond ice cream drizzled with an almond liqueur. You can bet your last Picasso it was a clever dinner... delicious, fun, artistic. And its preparation took minimal time and effort.