OK, I’ve had my fill of comforting bowls of soup. Enough already! Time for something else during this fluctuating spring. Maybe something with a hint of summer. Damp weather and gray skies still require something to take the chill off, so let’s make something warm. Not that I usually look into the freezer for inspiration, but I happened to open the freezer and found (because a freezer is like a bad closet) this bag of shrimp, that I completely forgot purchasing who knows how long ago. It’s a good start. I thought of Saganaki, aka Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta, something I love to make during the height of tomato season when they are bursting with flavor and readily available at farm stands. Well, as much as I prefer this dish made with fresh plum tomatoes (incredibly good), I want to eat it now, when it’s not even close to summer, which means I must turn to my favorite off-season tomato: the canned San Marzano diced tomato. When these babies are on sale, I stock up. Combined with sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil, they create an easy, saucy bed to nestle shrimp in.
As I am part Greek, I need a certain amount of feta cheese in my diet just to stay alive (I have the same feelings for olive oil). My favorite is Mt. Vikos, made with sheep and goat’s milk. Slightly creamy and tangy, it’s ideal for this recipe.
A few minutes before the end of baking, scatter the feta over the top of the shrimp-tomato mixture and warm for a few minutes in the oven. Are you hungry yet?
Back to the shrimp. I often (until I discovered above bag of E-Z peel shrimp in freezer) use fresh gulf shrimp, which need to be peeled and deveined . Delicious, but what a PITA, especially when I want to just zip through this recipe. However, these E-Z peel fellas, which come deveined (yay!) are just fine for this recipe and they can be peeled in no time. I love that. The night before, pop the bag in the fridge to begin to thaw. If you forget, then take them out of the bag and transfer into a colander with a plate underneath and let them thaw in the fridge for 6 – 8 hours, or worst case scenario, thaw on the counter for an hour or so. I can’t say I’m so organized to remember to do the night before thing (because 98% of the time I don’t know what we are eating for dinner tomorrow). The lively tomato sauce gives them plenty of flavor for the off-season version of this recipe.
I’m a huge fan of Aleppo pepper. I started using it after making a few recipes from Paula Wolfert’s fabulous book, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean: 215 Healthy, Vibrant, and Inspired Recipes, back in the day when you had to hunt that spice down. Penzey’s was the only well-known mail order source, but now there are others. I’ve basically stopped using crushed red pepper flakes and substitute Aleppo pepper instead. I dislike taking a bite of food and crushing one of those little red pepper seeds (that inevitably come with the flakes), between two molars, it’s like stepping on fireworks – takes over your whole mouth for the next two bites. Aleppo, provides an even, smooth heat throughout the dish, and the more you use, the hotter it is. A little goes a long way. So much better. You’ll find a myriad of uses for it. Trust me. Get some.
Serve this tapas-style as an appetizer with sliced baguette to sop up the sauce, or for a complete meal, any sort of simple starch will do – orzo or rice being my preference. Leftovers? Yummmmm….the sauce is even better.
This comes together fairly quickly and easily, and like all of cooking, the more you make it, the faster it gets! You’ll be a pro by summer….
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 ½ cups finely chopped onions (1 large onion)
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or to taste (or crushed red pepper flakes)
- 35 ounces canned diced San Marzano tomatoes, drained (1-28 oz. and half of a 14-oz. can)*
- ½ cup dry white wine, divided
- 2 tablespoons capers in brine, drained and rinsed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (see Note)
- 2 pounds large (16 – 20 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 7 - 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled and divided, more for passing, if desired
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- Adjust a rack to middle of oven, preheat to 400 degrees. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering, add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and ¼ cup of white wine and capers, season with pinch of salt and black pepper (see note below about salt), lower heat, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Scrape tomato mixture into a 2 ½ quart glass or ceramic baking dish and set aside while you prepare the shrimp.
- Wipe out skillet, place over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and heat 1 minute. Add half the shrimp, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute, then turn them over, and cook for another minute, until just pink (they will not and should not be cooked through, as they will finish cooking in the oven). Add shrimp to tomato sauce, and repeat process with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and uncooked shrimp.
- Place empty skillet over medium-high heat, add remaining ¼ cup of wine, stir constantly to scrape up any browned bits and reduce liquid by half. Drizzle reduction over shrimp and stir to coat shrimp with sauce.
- Bake for 12 minutes, remove from oven, stir and check to see that shrimp are firm and opaque (if they are not, then bake for a few more minutes). Sprinkle with feta, and parsley, and bake for another 3 to 4 minutes to slightly soften and warm feta.
- Serve immediately, passing additional feta for the feta fanatics at your table.
2. Are you concerned with not using the whole can of tomatoes? Don’t be, because there are so many things that you can do with them – add them to a soup, or cook them up with some herbs for a little sauce for scrambled eggs. Lastly, should you decide to use fresh tomatoes -- 4 cups finely diced ripe unpeeled plum tomatoes, (that have been cored and seeded) should do it. Don’t ask me why, but I find I need a little less fresh tomato than I do when I use canned.