In this Mediterranean recipe, you will coax orzo pasta to a rich, creamy texture, as if making risotto. A fragrant broth* of brandy, aromatic vegetables and shrimp shells is the cooking liquid for the orzo, infusing the dish with richness and subtle sweetness.
The shrimp themselves are added only after the orzo is al dente so they remain plump and tender. This adaptation from Milk Street takes a simple approach to the cooking with fewer ingredients than the Greek original, but retains the delicious, bracing flavors.
Ouzo is a Greek anise-flavored spirit; it’s added at the very end of cooking to accentuate the licorice notes of the fennel seed. Milk Street suggests that you don’t choose large zucchini for this recipe. Look for small to medium squash (ones that weigh 6 to 8 ounces each), as they have fewer seeds to remove. Well our supermarket didn’t have any smaller ones so we got a large zucchini before reading this tip, and it worked out fine.
To seed the zucchini, use a small spoon to scrape along the center of each half. Also, if making the shrimp broth, when simmering, don’t allow it to boil or simmer vigorously or the liquid will evaporate too quickly and the finished volume will be too slight.
*Since we already had homemade shellfish stock on hand, there was no need to make the broth and thus omitted the red bell pepper, celery and onion, and started at Step 5 with seasoning the shrimp. We also used frozen shrimp without shells since we weren’t making broth. These two things saved a large amount of time in prepping and cooking. We did however add the brandy to our homemade stock and included the bay leaves in the cooking process.
Shrimp, Orzo and Zucchini with Ouzo and Mints
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 lb. extra-large (21/25 per pound) shrimp, peeled (tails removed) and deveined, shells reserved
- 3 medium celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- ¼ cup brandy
- 1 cup orzo
- 2 medium zucchini (about 1 lb. total), halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 lb. ripe plum or cocktail tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- 1 Tbsp. plus 1 teaspoon ouzo
- 1½ tsp. grated lemon zest
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh mint, chopped
- In a large pot over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the shrimp shells and cook, stirring just once or twice, until bright pink and dry, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the celery, bell pepper, onion, bay and ¼ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to release moisture, 2 to 4 minutes.
- Add the brandy and scrape up any browned bits. Add 4 cups water, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
- Cool for about 10 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve set over a 1-quart liquid measuring cup or medium bowl; press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible (discard the solids). You should have about 3 cups strained broth.
- Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; set aside. In a 12-inch skillet over medium, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the orzo and stir to coat.
- Add the zucchini, tomatoes, fennel seeds, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes begin to release their liquid, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add 1½ cups shrimp broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high. Cook, uncovered and stirring often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 6 minutes; reduce the heat as the mixture thickens.
- Add another 1 cup broth and cook, stirring vigorously and adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer, until the orzo is tender and the consistency is slightly soupy, 3 to 6 minutes.
- Add the shrimp and another ¼ cup broth, then cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Remove and discard the bay, then stir in the ouzo and lemon zest. If desired, thin the consistency by stirring in additional broth, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the mint.
This was an adaptation of a recipe by Courtney Hill for Milk Street