Baked Pasta With Shrimp, Tomatoes and Feta
An Easy Weekday Dinner
- Servings: 4 to 6.
I love the flavor combination of pasta, shrimp, tomato and feta cheese but I've never favored the popular Greek version with tiny orzo pasta. That's because the small pasta absorbs so much liquid from the tomatoes, its texture gets soft and loose and becomes, at least to me, unappealing. Plus, I like some balance in the size and texture of the main ingredients in any recipe where each makes an impact on the taste.
In this recipe I simply replaced orzo with a larger size pasta such as ziti, rigatoni or farfalle. I also use more shrimp than in the classic orzo version because I want the shrimp to be as much of the main event as the pasta. If you buy pre-cleaned shrimp from your fish monger on the way home from work, you can have this dish on your dinner table in 45 minutes. Just remember to turn on the oven as soon as you walk in the door and start a large pot of pasta water right away.
- 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp with shells removed and de-veined/cleaned (there are usually about 25-30 large shrimp per pound so this amount will get you about 40 shrimp)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pinch dried red pepper flakes
- 2 or 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 large (28-32 oz.) can crushed or whole San Marzano tomatoes (discard any basil that may have been in the can). If you have whole tomatoes, crush them with your hand or an emersion blender so that they're in small pieces; keep the juice
- 3/4 pound short cut pasta such as penne, rigatoni, fusilli or farfalle. Dry pasta is preferable to fresh.
- 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled (equal to about 1/2 cup)
- Preheat oven to 425º F.
- Start a large pot of water in which to cook the pasta. Add a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil. When the water is at a full boil, add the pasta and cook according to the instructions but be careful to not over-cook because after the cooked pasta is added to the shrimp and tomato mixture, it will absorb more liquid and get softer. So only cook the pasta to just barely al dente.
- In a sauté pan or large fry pan, combine olive oil, onion, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. Cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened and the garlic is a light golden color (but not too dark because the garlic will get bitter).
- Add wine and let it boil down, reducing by half, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook the tomato mixture at a robust simmer until slightly reduced and thickened, about 3 minutes. Don't over-salt at this point because the feta you'll add later will also be salty.
- Add the shrimp to the sauce and simmer until cooked through, about another 3 minutes. You'll know the shrimp is cooked through because they will become opaque and shrink slightly smaller.
- Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- When the pasta is cooked almost-but-not-quite al dente, reserve a 1/2 cup pasta water and then drain the pasta thoroughly. The pasta will cook a bit more when it's baked so that's why you slightly undercook it before combining with the other ingredients.
- Add the drained pasta to the tomato/shrimp combination and as much of the reserved pasta water you need to get the mixture to combine.
- Have ready a 13 by 9 inch oven-proof Pyrex or ceramic baking dish.
- Transfer the tomato/shrimp/pasta combination into the baking dish and sprinkle the feta cheese on top, stirring it a bit so that some of the cheese gets mixed in with the pasta combination.
- Bake in the preheated oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until the pasta is completely heated through and the cheese has slightly melted.
Tip: When choosing feta cheese, its country of origin can make a big difference in how it tastes and crumbles. Greek feta is usually the saltiest and most firm, French is the mildest and creamiest, and Bulgarian is in between. If you're not sure which to buy, as for a taste of each first.