Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “All-Aboard”

The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are going out on their friend’s new tug boat and bringing a picnic lunch.

The Menu: Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad, Roasted Eggplant Spread, Coconut Cake, Fresh Lime Daiquiri

0:46 – Jeffrey thinks they should get a boat, Ina imagines having to “swab the deck” so they’re tagging along with friends instead. Smart girl.

1:18 – First up: Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad. Ina is cooking the shellfish (peeled, deveined, etc.) in the oven. Brilliant. The fewer pots of boiling water needed, the better.

2:27 – Pro Tip #1: Dress the cooked orzo while it’s still warm so it absorbs the flavor.

3:31 – Pro Tip #2: Use fresh herbs in this salad and if there are extras, chop them and freeze in small containers. (This totally works, especially when the herbs are going to be cooked anyway!)

4:02 – The veggies – scallions, red onion, fresh parsley, cucumber – are in the salad and now the roasted shrimp along with their olive oil and juices are stirred in.

5:13 – I assume that the shrimp and pasta are roughly room temperature at this point since Ina doesn’t seem concerned that the herbs or feta will wilt.

6:45 – Off to the local boat and fishing supply shop to source nautical table décor. Ina wisely sidesteps using an American flag as a table cloth, but finds a cool yacht ensign instead.

9:24 – Back at the house to make the Coconut Cake, an adaptation of her wildly popular Coconut Cupcakes recipe.

10:36 – As with many of Ina’s desserts, this one is taking no prisoners – 3 sticks of butter and 5 large eggs.

11:09 – Pro Tip #3: Sifting the dry ingredients serves a dual purpose: mixing and removing any lumps or small pieces.

12:11 – This is an interesting mixing process – eggs, butter and sugar; then alternating the dry ingredients with milk. I wonder why?

13:28 – As Ina bakes the cakes and frosts them with cream cheese frosting we see the boat being prepared for their voyage.

14:33 – Pro Tip #4: When making a layer cake there are two options. For a modern, flat surface turn the top layer over so it’s bottom side up; for a rounded, old-fashioned look put the layer on top side up.

15:20 – I don’t especially care for Coconut Cake, but even I can get behind a cake that is forgiving to the inexperienced froster – thanks shredded coconut!

19:14 – Next up, the Roasted Eggplant Spread, which I think is basically baba ganoush. Now, try to tell me you didn’t just imagine Owen Wilson shouting “baba ganoush!”

20:47 – We continue our table setting adventures with some white nylon cord sourced from the sailing supply shop.

21:02 – And do I detect a hint of shade being thrown in Sandra Lee’s direction? Ina says that talk of “tablescapes” makes her “craazy.” Preach!

22:50 – Napkin folding is over, time to finish up the Eggplant Spread, which Ina says she’ll serve with pita bread. I like that you can clearly identify all the ingredients – pieces of red pepper, parsley, red onion.

27:08 – Ina’s really on a tear today – she’s baffled by drink recipes that mix a single cocktail, because “who drinks one cocktail? I’m having a party.” Well said, well said.

28:40 – Today she’s making Fresh Lime Daiquiri, because if they’re on a boat then it has to be a rum-based drink. Works for me!

29:32 – They’re out on the dock sampling the cocktails and digging in to the eggplant spread.  Seriously, I think somebody let Ina pre-game this party; she’s having a grand old time.

29:57 – Sailing off into the proverbial sunset with plates of coconut cake. Sounds pretty good – invite me next time, please!

Final Thoughts:
Ina never ceases to amaze me with her ability to pull off an elegant, simple and portable (!) menu.

I really need to remember Ina’s Pro Tip #5: make cocktails in batches the next time we have a party.

One of these days we’re going to see Ina just buzzed enough to confirm my suspicions that she’s hilariously snarky. Closer and closer my friends… 

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
You’re probably asking yourself, “what could you possibly learn from making Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad? It’s just pasta and some shrimp right?” Well friends, I contend that every time you cook a recipe, whether it’s the first time or the 1,000 variation that there’s a lot to be learned, even from the humble pasta salad.

Timers: When the ingredients and cooking method are simple it’s essential to be precise. The same way a drop of red wine on a crisp white shirt is glaringly obvious, gummy pasta or rubbery shrimp have no where to hide. When the difference between “just right” and “oh, dear…” is about 30 seconds it pays to set a timer!

Shrimp: That said, roasting shrimp is really, really easy. I defrosted and peeled them before drizzling with olive oil, kosher salt & pepper. They turned lightly pink after about 4 minutes and were fully cooked a few seconds later.

Pasta: Ina recommends dressing the orzo with lemon juice and olive oil while it’s still warm so that the pasta absorbs the dressing. Great idea, but to keep the texture “al dente” even with the added liquid I just slightly under cooked the pasta draining it about 30-45 seconds before the recommended cook time (for Barilla orzo it’s 9-10 minutes, I drained mine at about 08:45)

Herbs: Think of the fresh parsley and dill like you would arugula or baby spinach in a traditional salad. The herbs in this salad are a leafy green addition of vibrancy and texture, more than a garnish or seasoning, although they obviously serve that purpose too. Dried herbs have their place. This salad is not it. (Sorry spice rack.)

Onions: If you look closely you’ll notice that I skipped the red onion in this dish – for me the scallions added enough flavor and “heat” and I liked the way everything except the shrimp fell in the cool jade green color category. Your mileage may vary, but something to consider.

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Sorta, kinda. I used a baking sheet, a medium mixing bowl, a large pot, medium sieve, medium cutting board and a chef’s knife. I also needed a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, small spoon (for scooping out the cucumber seeds), mixing spoon or spatula, and parchment paper.

The Verdict:
I’m a sucker for pasta salads in vinaigrette and Roasted Shrimp and Orzo Salad one has a great balance of tangy feta, cool cucumber, and mildly sweet shrimp. Normally the thought of combining seafood and cheese sets off alarm bells, but in this case the shrimp and feta work well together, especially when paired with the crunch from the cucumber and leafy green herbs. This salad would be perfect for a light, but satisfying summer dinner, or as a “dish to pass” for a backyard party. It’s definitely easy to increase the quantity and I have a feeling that the leftovers will only grow in power, so making a little extra will be well worth the effort…

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Shrimp, Feta & Orzo Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith