I absolutely love doing a "Chopped"-style dinner. This is when we don't want to shop and instead work only with what we have in the pantry and fridge - especially when we have limited stock. This dish came about based on Quay's guidelines on what I could use:
- the vine tomatoes we have on the counter
- olives and capers
- the shrimp in the freezer
Now, to be honest, I had to return a useless cooler at HEB in the morning, so she did ask that I get green olives on that trip - but I would have done the same dish without them.
Bonus: I found Bell's Octoberfest at HEB and got a 6-pack.
In any case, this was a solid challenge, because I'm not a huge olive fan.
The vine tomatoes are very ripe and ready to use. We had a couple of leftover half heirloom tomatoes that went in, too.
I didn't bother skinning these guys but did remove the stem area with my paring knife.
I just roughly chopped the six tomatoes along with the two halves and added them to a pan on medium heat. They takes about an hour to cook down.
I added five cloves of smashed garlic, cracked black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. No need to add salt at this point.
These are the green olives and capers that I used. Quay eats both right out of the damn jars, which makes me palm my forehead. I just don't get it.
Growing up, and even now, when my dad does a "palm-to-forehead rub," we all know something went awry. When he does a "double palm-to-forehead rub," we know something really got jacked up. 🤦🏽
Even Leela has the look of: WTF?
I chop up six olives and a tablespoon of capers that are added to the tomato sauce.
Right, then. I totally finely chopped a beautiful shallot that was supposed to cook with the orzo... and I totally forgot to add it. So forget about the shallot - save it for another day. The one cup of orzo is the main focus here.
I always prep something that I forget to add into a dish. Like clockwork. And I'm not proud of it.
There's really no shrimp prep with this dish. Simply dry them on a towel and keep 'em ready to poach in the red sauce.
See the brown in the orzo? I toasted it in the pan with some EVOO before adding liquid. This is similar to what you do with risotto. It brings an element of flavor that would otherwise be missing.
Leela says: Don't write the post if you're not gonna toast.
Check this out. It's the red sauce with thyme, olives, and capers cooking down. There's still a bit of water that needs to evaporate before the shrimp goes in, but this is probably about 10 minutes out.
Now that the sauce is reduced, it's time to add the shrimp. I love the color contrast here.
After a couple minutes on the first side, the shrimp are flipped to the other side. This cooking process is really quick, only about 2-3 minutes a side, and you don't want to go longer or the shrimp will be overcooked and tough.
Basil was also added by Quay just prior to the poaching.
Here we have it! The finished dish. Something I've never done, and wouldn't have thought of doing if Quay didn't have her great dinner ideas. This is when things are really fun. It came together in less than 90 minutes (much quicker next time), was deliciously flavorful, and is a new approach for cooking other things in the same manner, like tofu and fish.
🐶 Leela Storm's Suggested Pairings
- 🎵 Santana - Soul Sacrifice 1969 Woodstock
- 🍷 Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet
🍽 Kitchen Critique
I've never been a big fan of olives aside from them being smashed up in tapenades for bread-dipping. I've always like capers in Italian chicken dishes and carpaccio. As we get more into Mediterranean and Spanish dishes, both become more prominent, and I've gained a new appreciation for them.
I still don't see myself eating either right out of a jar like Quay does.
When I used to think about transforming a red sauce, it was mainly based on the addition of different herbs, spices like cumin (learned from Quay!) or even garam masala, or something like red bell peppers which provide a nice underlying sweetness. But the brine and flavor from things like capers and olives are incomparable. They really do take the sauce into a very different world that you should try.
Basil is a must! It not only brightens things up, but it pairs so well with the sauce. Red pepper flakes and black pepper provide a nice back heat as well.
Final verdict? This never-before-created dish was a stunning success. Orzo is a perfect change from noodles. It's soft and spoonable, creating perfect bites with the shrimp and sauce. Even the shift from fork to spoon is a nice mental change - similar to using chopsticks instead of a fork.
- Take your red sauce in a different direction with olives and capers. You won't be disappointed.
- This dish is so versatile, and you can try anything with it: rice, noodles, tofu, fish, chicken thighs, etc.
- Get out of your comfort zone and use ingredients you might not "think" you like.