Friday, April 30, 2010

Mediterranean Orecchiette, Cooked Risotto-Style

How great is Groupon, right?

I came across a Groupon for Fox & Obel the other day, and my fellow Chicagoans know that it's an amazing gourmet market located conveniently (dangerously?) close to my office. As if I needed another excuse to shop there, the Groupon provided me the perfect opportunity to browse the shop and pick up a few things I needed. One of the produce treasures I came across was a pack of "heirloom peppers." I had no idea if they were going to be sweet or spicy, but I am not one to turn down a pepper of any variety, and certainly not an heirloom edition.

As it turned out, they were a variety of red bell peppers, but their thin flesh made them crisper and much sweeter than your average red pepper. They also had an intriguing, elongated shape, reminiscent of Cubanelles. If you happen to find them in your local market, definitely pick some up. They're a nice change of pace.

Among the other things I found at Fox and Obel was a box of Italian orecchiette, one of my favorite pasta shapes, but it's not always available at the regular supermarket. With a few other treats I had around, I had the perfect beginnings for a pasta dish, and I had been wanting to try cooking it risotto-style ever since I saw Mark Bittman do it on his blog a few months ago.

It's exactly what it sounds like - you add dry pasta to a base of oil and butter, and gradually add liquid while stirring, just like risotto - only instead of arborio rice, you use a short pasta. Just like with the rice grains (but to a lesser extent), the pasta releases its glutens slowly, thickening the sauce you cook it in and creating a rich base - all without having to add anything but the broth.

Despite the fact that this blog's subtitle is "How To Wine and Dine Daringly," I almost never share with you my adventures in vino. What a shame! Consider this my first step toward a remedy. We enjoyed this wine (photo above) with dinner, and at about $8 a bottle at Treasure Island, it was an absolute steal! In fact, I may just wrap this up and have another sip or two...or three....

Makes 4-6 servings

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 heirloom red bell peppers, sliced, ribs and seeds removed
2 T. butter
~2 c. dried orecchiette pasta (or other small pasta, like shells or rotini)
zest and juice of one lemon
1 container (the box) low-sodium chicken broth
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
fresh chopped thyme
fresh chopped oregano
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered (not packed in oil)
~1/2 cup frozen peas
handful olives, halved (use good quality black or green olives, or a combination)
~15 shrimp, cleaned, peeled, and deveined (if using frozen, thaw first)


In a large Dutch oven or pot with lid, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper. Add a little salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook until beginning to soften. Add the butter and dried pasta. Stir unti the butter has melted and coated the pasta.


Add the chicken broth about a cup at a time, stirring almost constantly (the chicken broth should be at a steady simmer). Add the rest of the ingredients except the peas and shrimp, and continue to add the broth and stir.


Taste a piece of pasta. When it's just shy of al dente, add the shrimp and peas and the rest of the chicken broth, stir, and cover. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are cooked through and the pasta is tender but not mushy. Adjust seasonings if neccessary. Serve and enjoy!

Eat well and enjoy life, friends! More soon...

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