Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mediterranean Shrimp Bake & Spinach Orzo

4 friends. 5 (or was it 6?) bottles of wine. 3 courses. Innumerable conversational topics. One amazing night of feasting and catching up on fun that was long overdue.

When my friend Emily told me that our mutual friend Ashley was a huge fan of my blog (and no shrinking violet in the kitchen, either), and that Ashley wanted to get together to have dinner, we put it on the calendar immediately! Ashley and Katie hosted and provided the first course (sadly, there are no pictures, but they wouldn't have done it justice, anyway): grilled crostini spread with mascarpone cheese, garlic, and artichokes (yum-o-rama). I brought the main course, as you'll see in detail below, and Emily made dessert, the perennial summer favorite, Strawberry Shortcake (cold whipped cream and fresh berries on hot biscuits...mmmmmmmmm.

Since you all couldn't be there (it was a night not to be missed, I can assure you), here is a sampling of our conversational topics (well, the ones fit for public consumption, anyway): single-white-female-esque behavior patterns, trust funds and how we'd like to have some, the pros and cons of gainful employment, questionable spooning incidences, and adventures in babysitting.

Much vino was, ahem, sampled, and we even made it out on the town later...I seem to vaguely remember a dance-off or two...



1 and 1/4 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
25-30 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 container feta cheese crumbles
fresh dill, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped
fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes

1/2 lb. dry orzo
About 8 oz. raw spinach leaves, chopped into smallish pieces
1 jar piquillo peppers, drained and chopped
juice of one lemon
glug olive oil
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
dried herbs such as oregano, basil, etc.
fresh dill, chopped
fresh parsely, chopped


Rinse shrimp and thaw, if using frozen shrimp. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil and saute the onion until it's translucent and beginning to brown on the edges. Meanwhile, chop the stewed tomatoes into smaller chunks, making sure you keep all the juices. When the onion is almost done, add the garlic to the pan and cook for another minute, seasoning with salt and pepper.


Add the chopped stewed tomatoes and all their juices to the pan with the garlic and olive oil. Add the chopped herbs. Cook for a couple minutes, just until the herbs are wilted. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down a bit.


Place a layer of shrimp on the bottom of a semi-deep baking dish. When the tomato mixture has cooled some, pour about half of it over the top of the shrimp. Add another layer of shrimp over that, then pour the rest of the tomato mixture over top. If you want, you can pull a few shrimp out of the sauce so that they are visible in the dish.


Spread the olives evenly over the top of the casserole. Don't put the cheese on until right before you are going to bake it. Preheat the oven to 375. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, until everything is bubbly and the cheese is getting lightly brown in a few places. Garnish with lemon wedges and extra herbs if desired.


While the oven is heating and the shrimp is baking, boil a pot of salted water and cook the orzo until al dente; throw the spinach in the pot with the orzo about 3 minutes before the orzo is done, so that the spinach wilts a bit. Drain the orzo and spinach and return to the pot, off the heat. Stir in the rest of the ingredients while the orzo is still pretty hot so that it soaks up the olive oil and lemon juice. Set aside until ready to serve (I served the orzo at room temperature and the shrimp bake piping hot over the top, right out of the oven).

The shrimp bake came out great! I was really, really happy with it. I was worried that the dill or the olives or the cheese might overpower the other, more delicate flavors, but I think it worked really well. This is the perfect meal for relaxed dinner with friends: it's low-stress, low-maintenance, and it makes a lot of food without that many ingredients. And everyone seemed to really love it, yay!

The orzo was a nice side dish; I always like when a carb-y side dish and a vegetable can just coexist in one dish so that you really only have to make two things, not three. You could easily serve a salad with this, too, although the crostini were an amazing complement to the rest of the meal - I will definitely be making those soon.

It was the kind of super-fun night that makes you wonder why you don't do it more often. Thanks so much to Katie and Ashley for hosting and for the first course, and to everyone for judging and eating with gusto! (Check out the comments soon for the judges' feedback.

Thanks for reading! More soon...


Emily said...

Delicious! The baked shrimp was a a savory medley of flavors that melted in your mouth! I was temped to drink the juice right off my plate but thought better of it. My only suggestion would be to use more of a plain base such as bulgar wheat instead of the orzo so you can really focus on the bake.
Lovely lovely meal and superb company to boot!


Trashley said...

The Mediterranean Shrimp Bake and Spinach Orzo was a well-balanced combination of delightful flavors Everything complimented each other so well. I particularly liked the lemon and dill in the dish, it was a refreshing summery addition. I think the best part of the dish is you could make it so many different ways by substituting the shrimp for chicken or some delicious kielbasa! Although, the shrimp was perfect for my tastes. Thanks again for sharing your cooking expertise. Can't wait for next time!

Ashley H

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