Orzo With Peas and Shrimp

Boy, I really need to come up with a zippier title for this post before it goes out…note to self.  Because honestly, this is an absolute STAPLE dish.  When it is TOO hot in the galley to spend more time than you have to, nothing truly exciting on offer as far as ingredients, and — key to our cravings tonight – you’ve been eating WAY too richly of late (in our case, a party the night before where 2 out of 4 courses featured bacon and the other two had beef and salami) … well then, THIS is your saving dish.  Clean, fresh, simple, but flavorful.  Kinda boring looking, but when you had fanciful presentations of bacon by the pound the night before…boring looks sort of good.  And quick sounds even better … more time for working off that bacon chasing the dog on the beach.

Orzo With Peas and Shrimp

For a print-friendly recipe see below

1 package (16oz) orzo
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup dry white wine
Juice and rind of one lemon
Small handful (~4 tablespoons) fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1 bag (16oz) frozen peas, thawed
1-1/2 pounds fresh shrimp — the bigger the better

Orzo, to my mind, is sort of the lazy Pirate’s risotto.  You can do similar things with it, flavor-wise.  It acts the same as a matter of serving and that gross-sounding but descriptive quality that professional foodies/wine people call “mouth feel” — “you want risotto?  Here, try this…satisfied, huh?”  That kind of thing, but you don’t stand over a hot stove stirring slowly for an hour (and this is a Cajun-country Pirate who makes a roux the right way…stirring slowly over a hot stove for an hour.  I’m not comprehensively lazy; I just pick my battles.  Very Piratey approach to life.)

To start, put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a good-sized skillet and bring it to almost-smoking over a medium-hot flame.  Add the dry orzo and cook, stirring occasionally, for maybe a couple of minutes.

The idea is to have maybe 20-percent of the kernels turn brown — toasting dry pasta like this gives a nice nutty flavor and a heartier crunch to the eventually-cooked pasta.  See how a few kernels have browned in the photo below?  Keep going a few more minutes until there are maybe 3-times as many browned kernels.

While this quick but delicate browning dance is going on (it’s like a culinary tango…), finely mince 3-4 cloves of garlic.  I used three and wished I had gone for more, in case you were wondering.  And yes…this is another perfect time for an Ulu and bowl — you have mint leaves and possibly lemon rind to mince as well … efficiency, Pirates!

When the orzo has browned sufficiently, throw in the minced garlic and give it 30 seconds or so to make you wish you hadn’t planned on sleeping in the galley-adjacent salon space tonight because of heat (i.e. until it’s “fragrant” as the foodies say).

Add the white wine, and cook for maybe a couple of minutes until the crazy boozy smell has burned off (and presumably the nice winey flavors have retreated into the pasta for protection).  Then add four cups of water and bring back to a simmer.  You are going to cook this over medium-high heat for somewhere between 12-15 minutes until the water is absorbed and the orzo is al dente — good news is, you are going to do this uncovered and be right next to it prepping the next step, so no worry!  As it starts to near completion — i.e. get more dry than wet — give it a stir now and then.  While the orzo is cooking, zest your lemon and chop your mint.

When the orzo is cooked, add the butter, lemon rind, chopped mint, and lemon juice (if you are Lazy Pirate who expects their crew to work, pull out obvious seeds, but then just squeeze that citrus into the pan and let your diners deal with any rogue seeds!) Stir these through thoroughly, and add salt and pepper to taste, stirring them through as well.  The idea is to get the seasonings (lemon, mint, salt and pepper) distributed as evenly as possible — by adding butter to the cooked pasta, but not the bulk of the peas — and getting the taste right.

When the flavor is right, add the peas.  Stir this through and transfer to a platter, covering with foil to keep it warm — don’t worry, it’s just as good room temperature.

Now turn to your shrimp.  Get the biggest, most lovely ones you can, because this is your meat course.  I’m still becoming familiar with the shrimping season (it’s complicated…) here in Louisiana.  You get it fresh of the boat, is the good news; but like farmer’s market produce, that means you get what is genuinely in season.  My fresh shrimp from the local purveyor was smaller than usual today…it was too busy (I go when it’s right off the boat) to ask for a tutorial, but I’ll learn more later.  Point is, this is your entree…do it proud!  To start with, shell them and save those heads and shells for stock if you have time to boil them up, air the galley out, and get rid of the evidence!

Salt and pepper the tails.

Heat another tablespoon of vegetable oil in the same pan you used for the orzo, again until almost smoking over medium heat.  Place the shrimp in the pan in a single layer and cook for about ONE MINUTE per side — which is to say, when you see the underside start to go pink, which will be at about the one-minute mark, start flipping furiously (or take off heat, flip, and give another minute or so until pink on both sides).

When cooked through, arrange as purposefully as you can atop the orzo and place strategically saved lovely mint sprig tops aloft the whole thing to act like you created some masterpiece of culinary creativity.  Don’t worry … it will be good enough that NOBODY will complain.  Pour any remaining pan juices over the whole shebang…they can only make it better with all their residual shrimp, lemon, wine, mint flavors.  Feel free to serve with shaved or grated parmesan cheese — it is a lovely addition…we were just sort of over-cheesed tonight and happy with fresh citrus and mint as our taste-bud stimulants.

In case you doubt my sincerity … our dinner the night before (and lunch today, with a few leftovers) was Pirate Caroline’s Bacon Blue Pinwheels, Sliders, and Bacon Jam with a cheeseboard.  So yeah … we needed CLEAN!  Bon appetite in a “detox” kind of way, fellow pirates!


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