Shrimp and Orzo Baked with Tomatoes and Ricotta Salata

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This is similar to a cajun shrimp jambalaya or spanish paella in flavor.  However, today we are in a Mediterranean frame of mind, using ricotta salata and orzo pasta…a little Italian, a little Greek…we could be standing in Sicily today!

This dish has the advantage of being able to be made in advance up to a point, and frozen, only to be thawed and baked at a later time.  Gotta love that!  With school starting, it’s helpful to have dishes that only need to be put in the oven for a few minutes.

You will need:

  • 1 cup orzo pasta (whole wheat works well here)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine, or water
  • 1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (you can use the herbed ones, if you have it)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 ounces ricotta salata, grated or diced
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice

Cook the orzo in well-salted water, making sure to undercook by two to three minutes since it will finish cooking in the oven with the tomato and shrimp juices.  Drain and set aside.

In a medium skillet, saute the onion with the olive oil.  Add the minced garlic and the red pepper flakes.  Saute till onions are translucent.  Add the white wine, the fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes.  If you have lots of fresh tomatoes that need to be used up, this would be a good time to use them.  Add the oregano and salt, and let simmer for about 5 minutes to bring the flavors together.

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If you are using fresh shrimp, now is a good time to peel those shrimp.

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To assemble this casserole, place a little bit of olive oil in the bottom of the pan, and spread around.  Place the orzo along the bottom.  Lay out the raw shrimp, and sprinkle with parsley, or oregano, or some dry italian seasoning.

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Add the tomatoes, and cover with bread crumbs and ricotta salata or feta.  Sprinkle the lemon or lime juice over the top.  Bake now, or freeze for later.

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If you want to make this for the freezer, at this point you can combine the uncooked shrimp, orzo and tomato mixture and place in freezeable/bakeable containers.  Top with ricotta salata or feta and sprinkle with lemon juice and freeze.  To bake, let defrost for 24 hours and then bake at 350 about 20 minutes until shrimp are cooked through.  It is really important that this is thoroughly defrosted so that some shrimp don’t get overcooked..

Serve with more grated ricotta salata or pecorino, and a nice, chilled pinot grigio.  With a green salad, or watermelon salad on the side, and a little french bread too…pretty yummy!

Notes: Small shrimp work well here, as well as IQF shrimp. Although if you have access to some fresh gulf shrimp, the flavor is unbeatable.  I think some red bell pepper, either fresh diced or roasted, would be an excellent mixed with the ricotta salata.

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Note:  I liked the ricotta salata here, my friend didn’t.  She said it was too grainy.  And she was right.  It is a dry cheese, and doesn’t really melt.  I think, whether you use feta or ricotta salata, the flavor and texture of both these cheese might be better if the cheese is added right before serving.  A soft goat cheese would be excellent that way, too.

 

Update: June 1, 2014 – I just thawed the second casserole from the freezer.  I let it thaw for 2 days in the fridge. I poured about 3 tablespoons of heavy cream (that’s all that was left!) over the top prior to reheating to help with the dryness that we had complained about with the first casserole; I had made two at the same time. .  I re-heated it for 25 minutes at 350 degrees, took it out, checked it – shrimp were pink. But it back in  for another 9 minutes – because I had something else cooking on the stove.  Mistake. The shrimp were tough.  Would have been perfect the first time.  Still, tasted great.   I let it sit for about 10 minutes for the juices to get re-absorbed by the orzo pasta, much like a lasagna.  So, yes, it did turn out to be a good freezer casserole dish with the shrimp uncooked this way.

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