I've mentioned that we are enjoying a visit from my Mother-in-law, Bunty. She's an enthusiastic supporter of my blog, but we've always had very different preferences in food. Bunty likes plain fare and is suspicious of food that's been "tricked" up with things like garlic, herbs, and spices. And those are the very things near and dear to my heart. So, my challenge has been to prepare food during her visit that will appeal to both of us. I was a little nervous when I decided to make this dish for Presto Pasta Night, an event created by Ruth at Once Upon A Feast. I think it's a simple recipe (compared to those I often make) but it has garlic, saffron and fresh oregano in it, items Bunty would never use. Indeed, as I was preparing the dish, she looked at the cookbook and asked me, with alarm written on her face, "What's saffron?? Is it spicy??" Knowing that she would soon read that six cloves of garlic were also in the recipe, I gently removed the cookbook from her hands and told her, "I can't let you read the recipe because it may scare you. Trust me, you will like this dish." Then I said a silent prayer that my assertion would prove to be true. To my relief, she enjoyed it very much, eating two servings.
This was a very simple recipe, if you discount the time spent peeling and deveining the shrimp. It's also low in fat, with only 1 Teaspoon of olive oil. Besides the good flavor, the method of cooking the shrimp produced perfect results. I mixed the raw shrimp into pre-cooked orzo and veggies and baked it, which shielded the shrimp from direct heat. They came out silky soft, not rubbery. I might have added a bit more spices, including a pinch of cayenne, but I left them out in deference to Bunty. The saffron and oregano gave the dish a lovely flavor that we all enjoyed. As you can see, I sprinkled some feta cheese on top.
Oven Baked Shrimp and Orzo
(Cook's Illustrated, The Best Of America's Test Kitchen)
Note: Make sure you don't cook pre-cook the orzo too long, before you bake it. It should still have a slight hardness in the center before it's baked, where it wil continue to cook.
I lb. orzo
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 red onion minced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
pinch of saffron
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
1-1/2 pounds uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
4 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
4 scallions, sliced thin
1. Preheat oven to 400. Brush 11×9-inch glass baking dish with oil. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper, set aside.
2. Saute onion, bell pepper, oil and 1/2 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Cover and cook over medium low heat until the veggies are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Stir in the orzo and and saffron and cook, stirring until the orzo us coated with the oil and starting to brown--about 4 minutes. (Because there is so little oil, the orzo may stick to the bottom of the pan if you don't stir it.)
3. Stir in the broth and water and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the orzo becomes softer, but still has a slightly firm center, about 12 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, peas, shrimp, and oregano.
4. Pour into a 9 X 13 inch pan and sprinkle the feta cheese over the
top. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, when the feta will begin to
brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the scallions and serve.